Growing up, we lived at the edge of town in an old farmhouse that had big rooms, high ceilings, sloping, wooden floors and windows that rattled when the wind blew.
There was this gigantic gas heater in what we called the “living room” that I burned my nekkid butt on one time when I backed up a little too close and lost my towel after leaping, shivering, from the tub one cold November night while running to the only source of heat in the house.
I am still haunted by the sound of all of my sisters’ laughter. I am also secretly proud of the pink spot on my behind that vaguely resembles a G.I. Joe with no arms or legs.
The scar on my butt, however, has absolutely nothing to do with this week’s column, which, obviously, is about one of my best Thanksgivings ever.
One Thanksgiving Eve — I was 10 years old — I couldn’t sleep, so I huddled under the covers in the darkness of my room and agonized through each hourlong minute waiting for three in the morning, when my old man was supposed to wake me up and take me with him on the annual Thanksgiving morning deer hunt. It was to be my first time hunting and, laid out by Mama at the foot of my bed, was a heavy coat, two pairs of socks, a knit cap, thick jeans and a pair of gloves.
Under my bed was the birthday present I’d gotten from my dad only a few weeks before: a brand-new double-barreled 16-gauge shotgun with a walnut stock, still in its box, smelling of gun oil and magically aglow with the promise of guidance out of childhood and into the world of deer-killing men.
I remember hearing the faint clatter of pans from the kitchen as Mama made cornbread dressing and sweet potato pies and, awhile later, the smell of roasted turkey curled under my door and into my room. Somehow, I eventually drifted off to sleep
I was awakened by a hand on my shoulder and the old man telling me to get up, get dressed and get my gun. When we went outside to get in the truck, I was startled by the sting of sleet on my face. I was mesmerized. In that part of south Georgia, things such as ice falling from the sky rarely happened.
The old man scraped the windshield clear and I remember putting a handful of the ice in my mouth, then quickly spitting it out because it probably had bird doo-doo mixed in it. Then we drove the five or six miles through the dark on red dirt roads to a place out in the county everybody called “The Crossroads.” We got out and trudged 15 or 20 yards into a grove of pine and the old man lifted me up and sat me on a limb about six feet off the ground. He loaded my gun and handed it to me and then gave me my one and only lesson in deer hunting.
“If you see a deer, shoot it,” he said.
He told me he’d be back to get me in a little while and that if I got down from the tree before he got back, he’d kick my butt. Then he walked away.
I heard the truck leave and watched its headlights fade away. I was alone and it was dark as hell, and even colder than that. The wind was blowing and the sleet was crackling through the pine needles.
I remember wondering why I would want to kill and eat a deer when Mama had already cooked a turkey. Then I started worrying that if I stayed out there too long, I’d miss seeing the “Under Dog” balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television.
I stopped breathing once when I, swear to God, heard laughter to my right and saw a shadow dart from behind one tree to hide behind another. So I scrambled out of the tree and stumbled to that mud-slicked red dirt road. I started walking through that rare south Georgia ice storm in the direction the old man went.
About the time the sun had just peeked up over the pine trees a mile or so later, I saw this old house set back off the road with a bunch of trucks parked around it. The old man’s truck was there, too. The windows of the house glowed with inviting light and smoke was curling from the chimney. So, I sidled in.
The old man and all of his buddies were laughing and carrying on and playing poker and drinking Wild Turkey and Jack Daniels around a big, oak table. All of their guns were propped over in one corner, so I propped mine there, too, then eased over to the fireplace, warily eyeing my dad.
He looked at me but didn’t say anything. Later he came over and gave me a Coke and one of those side hugs, which was as close as I knew he’d ever come to admitting he just might have, maybe, been up to something he wasn’t supposed to be up to. I knew, too, it was his version of an apology.
Then he told me it probably wouldn’t be a real good idea to let Mama know about the cabin or about the secrets of the traditional Thanksgiving morning deer hunt. I’m pretty sure she already knew anyway.
For a month or two after, he gave me anything I asked for.
And that was one of the best Thanksgivings I’ve ever had.
Think kindly on those without this year, and pray hard for the men and women fighting for us.
Happy Thanksgiving from me and Love-Weasel and Boy and Other Boy and Miranda, Queen of the Cats.
Happy Thanksgiving from our home to yours.