April 7, 2008

The Hunters

I’m guessing it was November 1965 on my grandparent’s farm just outside of Franklinton, Kentucky; it may have been the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It was afternoon, and grandfather, father, my brother Brad, and I went on the last quail hunt of the long holiday weekend, southward toward the hill: one of the highest points in Henry County. Brad and I didn’t have shotguns yet but we loved to watch the hunt. The hunters had a blue belton english setter named King to scour, nose down, the hollows stretched out before us. If we were lucky, while cresting the hill, the three or four jets would come screaming in low, wing to wing, out of the west.

We didn’t know, but soon after we headed south to hunt, my sister, Janet, decided that she wanted to come watch the hunt. Grandma, Mom, and my little sister, Amy, stayed while Janet left the farm house to catch up with the hunters. We had told them we were heading north and changed our minds after we left the farm house, and headed south. Janet put on her sky blue coat and headed north, away from the hunters, across the gravel road to the hollows beyond.

The hunters were cresting the hill. “Here they come!” I said. There was a low rumble to the west and we turned to look left and saw three dots, low on the horizon, approaching fast. The rumble became an ear splitting throaty scream as the jets flew nearly in front of us, so close you could see the silhouettes of the helmeted pilots in their cockpits. In seconds, the jets were miles to the east, the heat from their engines distorting the air around the rumbling, receding dots. The rumbling faded to nothing and from atop the hill you could see for miles the quiet, vast countryside.

Janet had crossed the road and walked down the gradual slope to the tree choked hollow. Walking through the hollow, there were no signs of the hunters. Janet thought maybe they would be over the next rise so she continued on over the hill and down into the next hollow. She felt her panic stir along with rumble of the jets in the distance. Where was her father? Surely he would be close by somewhere. She realized she was lost and afraid to try and find her way back to the farm house and afraid of getting farther away from the hunters. She decided to stay put, sat down on a fallen log, and tried not to cry.

Walking down the south side of the gradual slope from the hill, the hunters saw King on set in the hollow. He was standing stock still, his tail standing straight up, as if in a dog show, demonstrating its best show dog pose. Grandpa and dad clicked their safeties off and slowly walked to King, dad saying “stay...stay” in a slow drawn out way:”staaay”. The hunters were not yet close enough when the covey broke in a riotous fluttering of wings. The covey had been over-hunted and knew what was about to happen if they had stayed much longer. Both hunters shot but it was wasted effort. The hunters swung in a large arc and headed back north to the farm house, deciding that the hunt was over for the day.

Janet heard the two distant shots echo around her, but couldn’t tell which way they came from or whether the shots came from her hunter’s guns. She was getting chilled sitting for so long. She pulled her hood over her head and walked in a tight circle, trying to warm herself. “Father will find me”, she thought. She was sure of it, despite the tears she felt coming on.

Mom was getting things together, preparing for the trip back to Louisville when she saw, through the back bedroom window, the hunters coming into the broad, flat lot behind the house. She ran out towards them, a sick, panicked feeling welling up. “Where’s Janet; didn’t you see her?”

Dad knew Janet had most likely gone north across the road to catch up with them. Dad let me ride with him up the gravel road to where he knew there was a good vantage point of the north side’s hills and hollows. The road made a ninety degree left turn, inclining up. He stopped the car and walked up to the overlook. Scanning with Grandpa’s binoculars he saw Janet’s sky blue coat. “You stay in the car and wait, I’ll be back”.

Janet heard her father calling her name and looked up. He was a half mile east of her, waving his arms. She knew he’d come. She ran the rest of the way to him, feeling embarrassment and relief, wiping the tears from her cheeks. She thought her father would be angry.

Janet rode home that evening between her parents in the front seat, her head resting against her father's shoulder, watching the sun on the horizon come through the clouds in slow cart wheeling spokes, first amber, then red. As she dozed off to sleep in the dashboard’s dim green glow, she dreamt of a low gentle rumble, as if an unknowable yet familiar voice, which surrounded her and gave her perfect peace the rest of the way home.

6 comments:

  1. Barry, Where have you been hiding this talent? You can touch all the senses. Forget computers. You could write a book. Lisa

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  2. Agreed. I always knew you were one of my most creative relatives (although Aunt Jo gives you a tough competition). Thanks for bringing a memory like that to life for all of us who weren't there to experience it for ourselves.

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  3. Your stories bring me back to a time in my life where dreams were reachable and the unknown was what gave us to the drive to continue. Thank you for the memories, they keep me grounded.
    I miss her. Love, Mia

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  4. I guess I didn't do somethink right so I'll try again.
    You really choked us up. Took me awhile to settle down enough to comment.
    Those are fond memories. What can I say? Not only the facts but the way you wrote them. I agree with Lisa!
    Dad & Mom

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  5. Being the youngest in the family I don't remember this instance. You certainly write it so vividly that the reader gets a great picture of this scary and beautiful moment of childhood.

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  6. B-- I agree with Lisa, your talent is fine. You did an extraordinary job in brining this snippet of time to life for all my senses. It's just beautifully written, and knowing more about the subject, it is hard to get on with my work today....

    Thanks.

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