|image courtesy of photobucket.com|
I squinted hard to see the clock, but the green numbers just blurred together. I fumbled for my glasses on the nightstand and finally saw 4:32 through the smudges on the lenses. I wanted to burrow deeper under the warm covers because sleep had eluded me most of the night. But, something urged me out into the open space and the coolness of the bedroom air hung on my skin as I stood up.
I shivered for a moment.
I dressed quickly in the darkness and brushed my teeth still unsure if I would leave the bedroom for another destination as of yet unknown. I didn't have to worry about the possibility of creaking floors waking the kids while descending the stairs. They slept safely ten miles away at their grandparent's home.
"Be careful," Lisa said interrupting the darkness.
Downstairs I wrestled on my overalls and carefully arranged the backpack. I put a banana and peanuts in the side pocket along with my knife and rope. In the larger pocket I placed a small, folded towel in between the thermos full of cold water and an extra box of shells. Clanging and rattling would be most unwelcome on this crisp, November morning.
I grabbed a flashlight while hurrying out of the house with my hands full and noticed immediately the sea of stars in the clear sky overhead. In my haste I nearly forgot to get my gun. I put my pack and rifle on the backseat of the truck and sat there for a moment waiting for the windshield to clear.
The time was now 4:57 and the thermometer read 31 degrees while pulling out of the driveway. Next, I looked at my phone and noticed a new email that had come in from my cousin at 12:23 a.m. and then checked it quickly.
"Maw Maw isn't doing well. Pneumonia is worse," it read. My grandmother lay struggling in an Alabama hospital. Nearly two years earlier to the day, I had been there with her and others for the funeral of her husband and my grandfather who passed away November 20, 2008.
Now, I was driving for some desolate spot in the middle of the woods. I hadn't been deer hunting in over fifteen years, but for some reason I bought a license this year and thought about giving it a shot. Ironically enough, my late grandfather had given me the gun now lying in the back of my truck during my freshman year of college nearly twenty-two years earlier.
He was an accomplished hunter who took pride in his guns. Upon his death he wanted to leave each of his grandsons a gun, but decided to go ahead and give me the Belgium made Browning, 30-06 over my Thanksgiving break in 1988.
This grandson he barely knew, but with whom he shared such similar DNA.
After a thirty minute drive deep into the western slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains I parked, got out and loaded five shells into the gun. I put on my orange vest and slung the backpack around my arms. I grabbed the flashlight, but didn't really need it with the abundant moonlight shining down.
I walked a mile or so down the one lane path before getting off to climb a ridge near a creek where I had seen lots of deer years ago. I found a wide tree and cleared out all the leaves at its base. I took the pack off and settled in for the morning. The tranquility of a world mostly asleep surrounded me.
Looking to the east, I saw no signs of the sun rising across the horizon.
The tree felt good against my back and my eyelids fluttered up and down as I tried to stop the relentless onslaught of the sleep earlier missed. At once, my body spasmed and I gasped for air as if I had been holding my breath for some time. My watch, now barely visible in the approaching daylight, read about 6:45. I had been asleep for nearly an hour.
That gun-his gun lay across my legs and I studied it closely there in the dim light of the cold morning. A small chunk of wood was missing from the forward stock and beneath the action my grandfather had scrawled his name: Willard Ashmore.
I touched the letters he crudely etched years ago, trying to find something in the residue of his past currently lingering there. My fingers were numb and I felt nothing but cold metal while tracing their path.
Suddenly, I wondered about him and if he had a new body now. I wondered about the wife he left behind trying to hold on to her own, aging body for just a little bit longer. I wondered where his spirit lived-if he looked down and could see me there on the side of that lonely mountain holding onto his old gun.
I wanted to believe it was true...
That He was true.
That my grandfather lived still.
Mostly, I wanted to believe that she would soon hear his voice once more…
and recognize again,