It was Thanksgiving 1996, the year my father started looking feeble. His hazel eyes sparkled, but the rest of him revealed thin flesh on bone, ashen face, and shaky hands.
My father had a thing about using the telephone to tell a relative or friend he was coming over. He felt if you had to ask, then you weren't friend or family. When he showed up at our door we were happy to have him. But when we let him in, we were surprised at how much damage gravity and age can do to a man, as if they ganged up on him in some dark alley.
He never stopped smiling, "Oh, dinner sure smells good, he said, and ambled to my recliner. His two grandchildren surrounded him with love. He'd make funny faces, or use the slide of his hand to pretend he was sneaking a peak at them around a corner. He loved life. He loved family.
Our family had a tradition. My father owned land a couple hours from our home in central NY. Every Friday morning after Thanksgiving my wife would pack turkey sandwiches and all the sides for me to venture out with him into the woods and go deer hunting. As usual, he would never call. He told me on Thursday, "Be ready by 4:30am." Sure enough at 4:00am sharp, we woke up to the sound of someone trying to break into our house. It was my father twisting the door so hard I thought he might break it down!!
I grabbed my gear and rushed down the stairs to meet him.
He drove his old Suburban in the darkness until we arrived at camp. Just before the crack of dawn, he insisted on loading the shotgun he provided for me, even though I was almost forty years old. To him, I must have been his sixteen-year old boy.
When he got near his stand, he was so shaky I had to boost him up the tree. I pushed his bony rear up there, and headed for my spot.
It was a good day, but I was nearing my did-life crisis, and had never gotten a deer. My wife said, "Your just like 'John Boy,' too sensitive for the woods. She'd often tell me, it was one of my most endearing qualities. However, I wanted to bring home the venison, and feel like a good provider.
Just before evening, I saw a large doe skirt down the hill between skeletal trees. I had my opening, and from 100 yards I hit the target.
When I reached my father in the cold night beneath a waxen moon, I could see within his thin tired face, he had room for a proud smile.
When we got home from our trip, he told me excitedly, "When the deer is butchered give me call, I want to make some stew."
A week later my meat was ready, but my father never called. If he ever called, it meant I had to drop whatever I was doing.
I had a list of things to do around the house, but every time I started something, it honestly felt like my father was calling my heart. I didn't know why, but suddenly my whole body felt electrified, as if my father had made a connection to my heart. I dropped whatever I was doing and looked at my wife across the kitchen. No doubt she saw the urgent look on my face.
"What's wrong?" She said.
"I've got to get over there honey. I need to check on my father now."
She understood, and pulled the venison from the freezer.
When I got to my fathers house, his door, as usual was not locked. Immediately, I saw him curled up on the living room floor like an old embryo of himself.
I dropped the venison.
I could tell he tried to get to the phone in the kitchen, but he never made that call. Instead, I called 911 from his phone.
But in some way I can't help but feel he'd still gotten a hold of me.
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