dontravis.com blog post #623
The impetus of the story for the next two weeks is sort of complicated. My father has been gone for many, many years (he died of a heart attack when he was only fifty-three), but for some reason, he’s been on my mind a great deal lately. Most of my memories of him are not great ones. We all know some marriages are a mixed bag, but I don’t believe most of us consider father/son relationships that way. Ours was. For the most part, I blame it on my childhood tuberculosis and dismiss it as: he was physical; I was cerebral. Naturally, it’s far more complicated than that. The following doesn’t attempt to explain our tortured relationship, merely highlights a bit of it.
BUDDY, THE GRAY SQUIRREL
A Biographical Story in Two Parts
My father was a sportsman. Football, basketball, baseball, it didn’t matter, so long as it had a ball attached to the game.
I was not.
Dad was a man’s man, hunter, fisherman, gambler, drinker, good-old-boy, hail-fellow-well-met.
I was not.
I was tubercular—at aged six—and grew up as far away from sports fields as I could get. The library was my dueling arena, not courts and turfs and fields. Any wonder then we grew up with a strained relationship?
Not that he didn’t try. Tried to make me into his image, that is. I don’t know how many times he dragged me out of bed and hustled me off to sit—cold and unhappy—in some boat with a fishing line over the side wondering what I’d do if some poor bass grabbed my bait. Never happened. I do remember catching a sun perch once, but that was the extent of it.
The best fishing trip I ever took—one I about halfway enjoyed—was on a warm summer day and extended overnight. Turned out, it was an excuse for a poker game. Dad and five or six of his buddies came in off the lake and started playing, with me left to stare at the men, the woods, the water, or whatever. I was too chicken to go exploring on my own, especially after nighfall. But I soon discovered something to occupy my time and hold my interest. One of the players asked me to bring him a beer from the cooler. I did, and was rewarded with a one-dollar tip. Someone else asked, and rewarded me similarly. By the time I ran out of steam and headed for bed in the back of Dad’s pickup, I had fifty of those one-dollar bills stuffed in my pockets. That was more money than I’d ever seen in my whole life. I was rich. But as soon as I settled into my blankets for what was left of the night, my dad showed up and talked me out of it, saying he’d had a bad run of luck and needed it to finance his recovery. Needless to say, that was the last I saw of my fifty dollars. Last mention of it too.
Frog gigging (a big thing down in my part of Oklahoma) was the worst. Somebody’d stab one of the unfortunate creatures, and sometimes I’d have to crawl into the water to make sure it was firmly impaled before drawing it into the boat. Then—ugh!—I’d have to rip the poor frog’s carcass off the prongs. Not for me.
My father managed to get me at bat in a softball game once—as a substitute for some other guy. The pitcher threw, I closed my eyes and swung… and hit a two bagger. I was so shocked, they had to tell me to run. The pitcher threw two more outs, so I never got past second base.
Dad insisted I go him hunting with him, and the worst jaunts were for squirrels. He hunted squirrels in the cold of autumn, and in the mountains, the falls were cold. I was skinny as a rail, and the wind whipped right through me, didn’t matter how many layers of clothing I had on. Miserable from start to finish.
On one such trip, Dad planted me at the foot of a big oak and told me to go on watch for the squirrel we heard chattering but couldn’t see. He went on to a spot he considered more likely and was soon out of sight.
I sat on the cold ground, as uncomfortable as could be, and concentrated on keeping warm. An impossible task, by the way. I had no interest in or intention of watching for that noisy critter hidden somewhere in the tree limbs. But after a while, when I caught movement in the branches, I automatically threw up my single-shot, twenty-two rifle, closed my eyes, and pulled the trigger.
To my astonishment, the little rodent fell out of the tree and landed on the ground with a plop. That’s where my dad found me, standing over the dead squirrel gaping at it. He’d heard the gunshot and came to investigate. Should have been a real moment for me. A turning point for us. I’d been man enough (even though I was still a child) to bag and carry home dinner for my family.
Not for me. I’d killed something I didn’t want to kill, and now it lay still and stiff and bleeding on the ground. He made me gingerly pick it up by the tail and put it in a bag with another couple of dead animals, and we went home.
That evening, we had squirrel for dinner. And my poor victim was served to me on a platter. The critter was almost inedible because my lucky shot had entered one eye and run down the spine, splintering vertebrae throughout the pitiful creature. It’s a wonder I didn’t get lead poisoning from the few bites I managed to get down. My dad, of course, ate my victim with relish.
I only recall going on one other squirrel hunt in my life, and that was in the following spring. Next week, I’ll tell you about that one and introduce you to Buddy the Gray Squirrel.
Hope you stuck with me on my journey back into my past. The second part of this particular trip is much lighter.
See you next Thursday.
Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say… so say it!
A link to The Cutie-Pie Murders:
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See you next Thursday.