I recently went shopping with Cheryl at Trader Joe’s in Chicago. In the building parking lot outside the store, was this perfectly restored 1974-76? Toyota Landcruiser. Precious memories flooded my soul. I laughed and had to take some pics and tell this embarrassing, yet funny story. Here it is.
I was 13 years old with a .243 Remington rifle in my hands – very cool! – all alone on the “stump”, the place that my dad and Alva Blankenship put me that first day of Deer Season, 1977. Deep in the woods of Clay County, WV, past Peach Orchard, was the place where I almost shot Alva’s 1976 Toyota Landcruiser.
Snow was on. We four-wheeled up to the top of the mountain, a place that we would hunt for many years. We unloaded our gear. Alva parked his Landcruiser within sight of where I would be placed so that I could have a point of reference in the woods. Alva took off over the other side of the mountain on foot. Then dad set me up with the rifle, one magazine with four rounds, and we walked down in the dark to “the stump” – a felled tree by lumberjacks and a sweet spot in the woods that became famous for taking bucks. I have no idea what dad said to me, you know, “don’t . . . .” and “be sure to . . .” and “if you need . . .” I can’t remember any of that stuff. I do remember that I got bored, like really quick. Dad slipped away into the dark, past the Landcruiser, and on around the bend, assuring me that he would be only about a couple hundred yards away on the other side of the ridge.
It’s light now. It’s cold. I think I hunted a whole 30 min., an eternity to a 13 year old with ADD to the tenth power, before I started doing what I was taught not to do.
I was taught to never put your finger on the trigger until you had the real target in sight, you looked beyond and around your target, you take the safety off, then and only then do you put your finger on, relax, breath and squeeze. But I was bored out of my brain. So, I began to pretend to see and shoot a 10 point buck: “there it is – a wall mount for sure . . . safety on . . . looking through the scope . . . this is it . . . squeeze . . . fake boom . . . I’m the king of the hill.”
I went down that little escape adventure, back and forth for about 30 min., until . . . I got so distracted at pretending, I lost focus on whether my safety was either on or off. And then, “I turned . . . and there was another one . . . this one was bigger than all the rest . . . he’s running up the hill . . . now he’s standing right in front of the Toyota Landcruiser . . . so what, I can take him . . . breath . . . squeeze . . . no, now he’s running away . . . standing broadside . . . this is it . . . breath, squeeze . . .”
And that’s when the pretending ended. For real: KABOOM!!!!!!!!!! I’ll never forget the feeling, like, the whole universe went up in smoke. Every cell in my body was literally on fire with adrenaline – I couldn’t breath, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t hear, and as far as I knew, I was swept out into the universe by some massive thing-a-ma-jig. I’m hot as fire now – sweating like all get out. Yes, I had actually shot and killed a tree. And only two seconds earlier, I almost shot a Toyota Landcruiser. “What am I going to do . . . I know, I’ll go get another round from the Toyota so that dad will get his four rounds back and I’ll tell him it was someone else. “Aauughhh – Come on !!!!!!” Alva’s truck was locked. Thinking about it a bit more, “. . . that wouldn’t work anyway – dad knows the sound of this rifle and he’ll smell the barrel and know that I shot it. I got it . . .”
So I made up a cockinmanny story about how I missed a huge buck. Here they come to check on me. With excitement and anticipation, they gleefully tracked that imaginary whitetail for hours looking for a blood trail. I felt sick. From that day until now, I have never, ever, ever, ever played around with my safety button and trigger. From that day to now, every time I’m in the woods with a gun, that incident hits me in the face. But, there’s one more thing to this story,
I was about 28 years old, sitting on the porch one beautiful summer day with dad, home on vacation. And as he was often to do so, Alva stopped by to visit. As they talked, it came to me to confess what I had done. Now and then I had actually thought of spilling it but had never had the nerve to tell them. I thought, “just do it . . . what can they do now?!?!”
“Hey dad, Alva, I have something to tell you.” Dad looked at me with that raised eyebrow, as if he knows something stupid is about to come out of my mouth. Alva just looked at me with that straight smile of his – waiting. I began, “Remember when I shot and missed that buck on the stump when I was 13?” – they’re just looking at me with no response. And then I told them straight out what I just told you. There was total silence. Alva lost his smile – now with pursed lips with his squinty beady eyes. Dad . . . he looked at me with . . . I’m not sure really because . . . I looked away. Looking back at dad now . . . he looks at Alva. Alva looks at him. They look at me. I think Alva is going to get up and punch me. I think dad is going to let him.
Alva begins to laugh.
Dad: “You beat everything – were you out of your mind?!?!?!?”
We had a good laugh that day. Miss you so much dad . . .