The Other National Holiday (Part 5 of 5)November 24, 2014
Carla was in the kitchen finishing the dishes when the phone rang. It was 9:45. The sun was streaming through the window. She put down the dish rag and picked up the phone. “Hello, this is John” said the voice on the other end. “Is Pat available?” Carla tried to contain the naked mix of fear, anger and frustration surging up within her. She knew who this was and what he wanted. “Why can’t they leave us alone for one week?” she fumed to herself. “Doesn’t Pat give enough? Pat is such a hard worker and dedicated trucker he often has left unexpectedly to cover an overbooked load or help relay a load for a driver who had an emergency and needed to get home.” No, John, he’s out taking his son on his first deer hunt,” she responded, “They are in a tree stand somewhere.” “Sorry to bother you,” John apologized, “Have a good day and ask Pat to call me when he has a chance. “ Carla hung up the phone and stared out the window.
Oblivious of the hunters in the near tree, the buck took a few quick steps, stopped and lowered its antlers. It raised its head, slowly ambled behind a tree and stopped. A ray of sunlight coming through the leaves briefly highlighted the antlers. This was at least a twelve pointer, maybe fourteen. It was hard to tell in the brush. The tines were tall and rubbed shiny clean on trees. While the buck was behind the tree, Luke very slowly rose to the standing position and quietly lifted his rifle. He had a serious and resolute countenance. A smile beamed across Pat’s proud papa face.
Pat was startled by the pulsation in his pocket. Damn! It was his cell phone. Fortunately, it was on vibrate. He didn’t like to take the cell phone on hunts, but it was essential in the event of an accident. He swiftly and quietly reached in his pocket and hit the ignore button. The buck, singly absorbed with mating, didn’t notice.
Below and 20 yards away behind an old hickory tree, the buck sported a considerable rack of antlers. Its neck looked like a professional athlete, swollen from the rut. Luke had never seen horns this full except at the sporting goods store on the wall. Straining to see through the brush, Luke saw the head and the rear of the beast but the middle where the vital heart shot should be was blocked by the tree. The buck lingered behind the tree, head down, grazing on acorns. The squirrels recommenced their raucous games. The buck raised its head looking back at the commotion but didn’t advance. The grand animal was behind that hickory tree for a very long time.
The rifle was heavy in Luke’s hands. Luke’s arms started to ache as the oppressive weight of the gun increased. Luke held the Marlin as he had been taught, left elbow directly below the stock and right elbow horizontal to ensure a smooth trigger pull. As he lined up the sights and waited for the buck to emerge from behind the tree, time stopped. It seemed like forever. Luke tried with all his strength to control his heartbeat and breathe slowly, but the interval was exacting. He looked down the barrel to the sight. The tip of the gun did lazy eights as the burden increased. Arms grew weary. Luke drew on all the willpower left in his young body and steadied his rifle. He calmed himself by thinking of his much lighter BB gun and his target range out back.
The gun became lighter. The buck took two steps from behind the tree. Luke aimed for the heart, held his breathe and slowly squeezed the trigger. The projectile whizzed towards the target. Luke was so excited he hardly heard the shot crack and echo throughout the forest. The buck jumped high in the air, twirled and crashed through the bushes out of sight. Another loud shot dropped the doe in her tracks. Luke looked back and saw Dad smiling as he lowered his Weatherby.
Luke wondered if he missed his shot. “Did I undershoot? Did I shoot over his back?” Luke speculated, “I hope I didn’t wound him.” Deep in thought, Luke replayed the shot over and over in his head. They settled back down on the bench up in the tree. There was no longer a need to be still. “Should we go look for him?” Luke asked his father. “No,” Pat advised. “If he was gut shot, that would scare him and he would just run into the next county on adrenaline. Let’s wait about 30 minutes and then we’ll track him. That will give him a chance to lie down and die. I’m pretty sure you hit him.”
A few minutes passed. It was 10:15. No longer hiding in the shadows, Luke warmed in the morning sun. Pat reached in his pocket and looked at this cell phone. It was a call from his dispatcher at the terminal. There was a voicemail. Pat listened to his voicemail as they sat up in the tree stand. “Pat, this is John,” said the message, “We are overbooked this weekend. I wondered if you could come out of the house and help. Give me a call when you get a chance.” Pat grimaced. Not only had the call almost ruined the hunt, but he had spent the last month, week and three days dreaming of spending a few days with the family. He had planned this week of family time and gave the terminal plenty of notice. He intended to leave out next week and work through Christmas.
Often Pat left home early to help out. The internal debate circled in Pat’s mind. He worried whether refusal would mysteriously cause him to be tendered fewer loads. At his last company, it was well known amongst drivers that dispatchers would retaliate. He didn’t know if this one would. He didn’t want to find out the hard way. He was anxious about making enough money to provide a good Christmas for the clan. Pat knew his plans would be dashed if freight slowed unexpectedly before the holidays. January and February were always slow freight months. He had to plan for that. November and the first part of December are normally good, but one can’t count on it. The economy is uncertain. Things have been spotty. He recently spent hours at truck stops listening to the negative talk of other drivers. Pat removed himself from the scuttlebutt. It was the only way to maintain a positive attitude. There is a lot of time to think on the road…sometimes, too much. One way trucking is a gamble. The only sure thing is the load being offered now.
“And yet my family is the most important thing in my life. The job exists for my family, not the other way around,” he concluded. He looked down at Luke. This was Luke’s special day…his first hunt and maybe his best. Time with his family trumps worries about money. He pushed aside his fears. Pat would not leave. He saw the concern in Luke’s eyes. “Don’t worry, son,” he said, “We’re going to have a great week. It’s already started out pretty good, don’t you think?” A big grin broke out on Luke’s face. Pat returned the call and informed dispatch.
At 10:45, they carefully descended from the tree stand. The safety harnesses were removed and stowed in the backpacks. Pat threw the backpacks to the forest floor and coached Luke as he watched him climb down. The rifles were checked and lowered one at a time on the rope. When they stood on the forest floor, Luke looked back up at the tree stand and stared in wonderment at how differently things looked from below. Exposed, birds stopped chirping and the squirrels fled.
The doe didn’t move. Dad made a perfect shot. They slung their backpacks, picked up, reloaded their rifles and walked noisily through the leaves to where the buck had been standing. Luke looked down and saw a speck of blood on a leaf and a patch of fur. “I hope I didn’t just graze him,” he wished out loud. He noticed a larger speck on a bush five feet up from the leaf. They began tracking the deer and followed the clues through the trees and up the hill until they were 200 yards up in the cornfield. He thought he saw a glint. Luke looked up 40 yards away and saw a large antler sticking out of the grass. The long tines protruded to the sky, gleaming in the morning sun. They approached slowly with their guns loaded. A wounded animal of this size could be dangerous. But as they neared, the buck appeared to be dead. Pat poked it with his rifle just to be sure. It was. They unloaded. “Wow, this is bigger than any buck I’ve shot and I have hunted for years!” Pat announced, “Now, the real work begins!”
The next week, Carla was up late cleaning up from dinner. They had enjoyed venison stew. Luke proudly played the provider seated at the head of the table. As promised, she packed Luke’s school lunch and put some deer jerky and deer sticks, made previously during the week, in the lunch pail. The other kids in school would be in awe.
In town the taxidermist smiled as he worked on the trophy mount. His skills were employed in crafting Luke’s Christmas presents, a mount, a tanned hide, and a gun rack made from the deer hooves. This was the best trophy deer he’d seen this year.
In his room, Luke lay in bed and thought about the week with his Dad. He would dream about this all night. Dad made lifetime memories for the boy.
Pat sat late at night in a diner at the truck stop. He had run hard since leaving home. He was paid by the mile and the only money last week at home was that going out the door in truck payments. He had some catching up to do. The waitress smiled as she looked at the pictures Pat proudly showed on his smart phone…a proud Dad and a happy son posing in front of Luke’s first buck.
And in the gun safe in the basement were two rifles, side by side, carefully cleaned and locked away.
Copyright 2012, Tom Kretsinger, Jr.