Christmas for me still conjures up memories of my grandparents' house in Macon. I cannot recall spending a Christmas Eve and morning anywhere else until I was about fifteen years old. Every year my dad, my mom, my sister and I traveled to Macon and s pent about four days there. We even left a note to Santa Claus telling him where we were (complete with directions on how to get there) so we would definitely receive our Christmas gifts. Amazingly, he always found us.
The annual Christmas trip packing job always belonged to Daddy. He made sure everyone's suitcase, all presents, all toys (necessary for keeping two sisters quiet--and alive--on the ride to Macon), and other necessities were packed. Of all the other n ecessities, only a few were really important, namely, Daddy's Remington 1100, 12-gauge shotgun and a box of shells.
Every Christmas season brought a return to frontier roots for the men in my family. The "men" in my family included my dad, my granddaddy, my uncle Gene, my uncle Bobby, and my three cousins, Kyle, Greg, and Shane. Modern conveniences such as grocery stores stocked with meat meant little to them. December meant hunting down their own grub, killing and cleaning it, and knowing that what they would eat later in the year came to sit on their plate by their own two hands. Personally, as I look back on the scenario many years later, I think it was all just an elaborate excuse to get out of the house, but as a young girl, I wanted to be a part of that world. I was a Daddy's girl trying to "prove" myself to my older cousins--all boys. Being the only gir l in my grandparents' house at Christmas was an adventure, but it was not always a pleasant one. Older male cousins can be downright devilish when they are bored. So I decided I was going to make it known that I was just as "manly" as they were.
One year when I was about ten years old I decided I wanted to go deer hunting with my dad the next morning. After hours of begging, still I had gotten nowhere with him. All he could say was "You wouldn't enjoy it, sweetie." I heard every possible re ason not to go. I would have to get up early. I would be very cold. I would have to stay quiet and not talk . . . at all. I would have to be still and could not move around once we got to the stand. Still, I was adamant. I wanted to go with my dad. Finally, he gave in.
"Fine, you can go," he said, "but you have to stay until I get ready to come back. No coming home thirty minutes after we get there."
I was elated.
The next morning at about five o'clock Daddy came in to wake me. Eagerly, I bounded out of bed and dressed in the warmest clothes I had. Bundled in layers upon layers of T-shirts, sweaters, long underwear, and jackets, I was ready to go. So, off we went, behind my grandparents' house down the path that led to the woods.
"How long will it take us to get there, Daddy?" I piped.
"Not long, but be quiet."
A few minutes passed with my walking gingerly along the ground so as not to break too many sticks. I wanted to do just what my dad had said to do. I would make him proud. I would show him that girls could go hunting, too.
"Are we almost there, Daddy?"
"Sorry. I'm just getting tired."
"I know, but it's not much longer."
Then suddenly, there it was . . . The Stand. Built by my granddaddy years earlier, The Stand was the spot for hunting deer. Other stands existed, but this one epitomized deer hunting. Nestled at the bottom of a small ravine, The Stand was dif ferent from "normal" deer stands. This one was not in a tree. It resembled a small frontier fortress, with peep holes and narrow openings for a hunter's gun. Covered in black fabric of some sort, it blended in with the black woods and dirt of the ravin e. The Stand had been in that spot for so long the deer thought it was just another part of the scenery, making this spot absolutely perfect. As Daddy and I entered The Stand, I plopped myself down on one of the two, built-in bench seats. Daddy sat dow n on the other seat and looked out the peep holes. Oh, I wished I could see out, too, but I simply was not tall enough. I just knew Daddy would get a deer that day.
"Daddy, when will the deer---" I never finished that question; Daddy's finger on his lips signaled that I was not to talk.
So the wait began. Sitting in The Stand, I heard sounds I had never known existed before. At the crack of dawn, the woods awoke. Small squirrels and nameless rodents scurried everywhere. Sticks popped, and I just knew a huge buck was standing outsi de The Stand. But Daddy never moved. He sat as still as a statue, never saying a word and only glancing in my direction every now and then.
As I sat in The Stand, what started out as my "dream trip" to the woods, the "boys'" world, became somewhat of a drag. I had wanted to bring my Nancy Drew book with me, but Daddy quickly squashed that idea with his "No! Turning the pages will make to o much noise!" So, I turned to The Stand for entertainment, and I did not have much success. A splinter in the wood looked promising; I could pull on it. Daddy stopped that endeavor with The Look. From then on I just examined the walls quietly, walls I had seen a zillion times before when I used this stand as a hideout from tormenting cousins. Cobwebs, now void of the summer spiders (Thank goodness!), hung in the corners, and I was so much colder than ever before--must be due to the cracks in the wal ls. I had never noticed them before.
After about an hour, I heard a couple of louder-than-normal pops as sticks broke under the weight of an animal, and I heard the brush move in the wind, or so I thought. Slowly, my dad stood erect and looked out the "window" of The Stand. He quietly t urned to me and signaled that I was to remain motionless. His lips never moved, but his eyes and body language spoke volumes. Daddy had spotted a deer, and I knew I had better not jeopardize his "kill."
The next time he glanced at me, I mouthed the words, "I want to see." I could see the gears grinding in his head. He was torn. Here was his shot at a deer, and he would never live it down back at the house if he missed it. However, on the other sid e of this dilemma sat his little girl, and she wanted to see the deer. What to do? Then his decision was made.
As he motioned with his hand for me to come to him, he spoke with his eyes that I was not to make a sound. Cautiously and carefully, I maneuvered my way across what seemed like 200 yards of ground between us. Finally I reached him, and he picked me u p and placed my feet on the seat beside him. Then I saw it.
The deer. He was beautiful. The color of leather, he stood nibbling at a few pieces of surviving greenery, his huge antlers waving to me. To my ten-year-old eyes, the deer seemed to wear a hat of fifty antlers. His eyes were big and did not seem to miss a thing, except The Stand. I was amazed that he did not even know I was there, only a few hundred feet from him. That is the beauty of The Stand. As I stood on the seat, I watched his every move. He heard every noise in the woods and weighed eac h one in his mind---dangerous or not? Innocuous noises dismissed, he resumed his grazing. Even as a ten-year-old, I could appreciate the quietness of nature, the awe of it, the enjoyment Daddy must get when he is out in the woods hunting. I turned to D addy for him to help me down and then it happened . . .
I did not want to look up. I knew what I had done. Now I had to face my dad. His deer . . . oh, God, his deer. There was no way he stuck around after that noise. As I stood up, the first eyes I met were not the beautiful, loving, and adoring eyes I had seen only seconds earlier; these eyes were anything but beautiful and friendly. They belonged to my dad.
"I--, I--, I'm sorry" I whispered.
No response. All I could do was stare at him. Then I saw it---the gun. Daddy had been all set to shoot that deer. The gun was ready to fire. His mind had been set on go. Now with no deer to shoot, I just knew I was next in line. He slowly raised the barrel of the gun, and I saw my life flash before my eyes. His eyes never left mine, and they seemed to hold me to the very place where I stood. I could not move. Finally, he moved; he grabbed his gun case and mumbled on his way out, "Come on; let 's go."
I had walked the path through those woods a million times before. Never before had the road seemed as long and treacherous as it seemed on that day. Daddy carried his gun case, but the shotgun was not in it. I was convinced that just around the next bend he was going to take his anger out on me. If only I had stayed at home, he would have his deer. If only I had stayed at home, he would be the envy of the other men in my family. If only I had stayed at home . . .
Then home came into sight. I decided I had better make my apology now if I was going to make one. So, I summoned every ounce of courage my ten-year-old little body could muster and spoke.
"I'm sorry, Daddy. I didn't mean to scare him. I just fell. I'm sorry."
Silence. He was not going to forgive me . . . ever.
"Really, Daddy. I---"
"Shhh. I know. It's okay. He wasn't big enough anyway."
Liar. I had seen that deer. I might be a girl, but I knew what constituted a "big enough" deer to the men in my family, and this one had been HUGE!! Somewhere deep inside I knew Daddy was trying to forgive me, but what would he feel like once everyo ne else heard what happened? Sure, it was easy to forgive me outside in the cold with no one else around, but inside that house with all the other mighty hunters was going to be a different story, and I knew it.
As we entered the house, I braced for the shame.
"So, did ya' see anything out there at The Stand?" my cousin Kyle asked. "Man, that's the best spot there is!"
Daddy paused; I tensed.
"No," Daddy said, "we didn't see a thing."