katzpawz - 12/1/2009 1:44 AM ET
This eloquently captured one special moment in time. Well done!
| Carson Pruitt sat in a padded folding chair in a small typical funeral parlor. He didn't know what to say or what to do. He didn't want to say or do anything. He was devastated and felt as though the walls were closing in all around him. Carson knew that this day would come. But it wasn’t a day that he was prepared for. His father was sick, and there was no telling how long he may live. That was almost three years ago. In the course of those three years, his father’s condition had gone from bad to worse, to good, to better, to…
Now, staring at the casket that contained Henry Pruitt, a harsh sense of reality finally hit. No more talks. No more laughs. No more breakfasts. No more hunts. It’s over.
Carson heard the familiar voice, but nothing was registering. He couldn’t stop staring at the casket.
“Carson”, the voice asked again.
This time, Carson slowly broke his gaze and turned to look at Mary.
“Are you okay, dear?”
Am I okay, Carson thought. Of course I’m not okay. What kind of dumb…
Carson regained control of his thoughts and started to slowly nod his head.
“I’m fine”, he lied. “Thanks for asking Mary.”
Mary owned Heaven’s Gate, a small diner where Carson and Henry would have breakfast every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday before Henry’s dialysis treatments. Eating before the treatments was always easier for Henry than eating after the treatments. After the treatments, he was always exhausted and sometimes sick to his stomach. It was an unusual name for a diner, but the food was fantastic. Mary always loved to use the line, “Eating here is just a taste of Heaven!”
“Is there anything that you need? Are you eating? I could drop off…”
Carson interrupted, waving his hands, “No, no Mary, I’m fine.”
“Okay dear, but if there is anything that you need, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“I will. Thanks Mary.” He said it sincerely. He knew she as almost as broken up as he was. Henry and Mary had known each other for nearly forty years.
As Mary walked away, Carson looked around the funeral parlor. There were a lot of people here. He guessed maybe half of the town. In a small town like Fowler, everyone was close. But there were even people here from his father’s dialysis center, staff and patients alike. They made the thirty mile trip from Newberg to pay their respects. Three days a week for three years in a dialysis clinic, a person will form some strong bonds.
Carson felt like he had to move around. There were too many faces looking at him, too many people that felt like they had to say something to him. The parlor seemed too small right now. He felt like he was being smothered. He really didn’t want to field anymore questions like the generic, “How are you?” or “What can I do?”
Father Dan saw Carson walk toward the front door and crossed the parlor with a look of concern on his face. He knew that losing a loved one was difficult, but he always tried to tell families that this was a celebration of life! People gathered here today to remember Henry. His life, his accomplishments, the way he helped others and made them laugh. Collages of pictures were all around the room reminding people of these things. Someone even put together a slideshow with Jack Johnson’s Better Together and IZ Kamakawino’ole’s Somewhere Over The Rainbow playing as background music. This was supposed to be a beginning, not an ending.
Father Dan reached out his arm, placing it on top of Carson’s shoulder. Carson stopped and turned around.
“Is everything okay?”
“Everything is fine Father. It’s just a little hot in here. The suit, ya know?”
“Ah, yes, I suppose it is a little warm in here. Would you like me to get some fresh air with you?”
“No Father, it’s okay. I think that one of us should stay in here.”
“Right. Good idea.”
Carson turned to walk out, but didn’t get more than a few steps before Father Dan called out, “Carson?”
“Yes Father”, Carson replied without turning around.
“We’ll start the Memorial Service in about twenty minutes?”
“That’s fine Father”, he said as he walked out the door.
Carson made his way behind the funeral home. There was a door that was used for employees to enter and a bench where they could sit and smoke. The stench of stale cigarettes filled the air. At least it’s quiet, he thought, looking at the ashtray overflowing with butts. Carson sat on the bench, undid the top button of his shirt, and loosened his tie. The fall breeze was brisk, but felt cool, nice.
As he sat there, he tried to organize his thoughts. His father had left everything to him. There wasn’t anyone else. His mother had passed away fifteen years ago. It was hard back then, but this seemed harder. Was that fair to his mother? It was a long time ago. Maybe it was this difficult. Maybe it wasn’t because he had his dad for support. Now he was alone.
There was a lot to do. He hadn’t been to the house to sort through all of his father’s belongings. He hadn’t looked at bills. He hadn’t thought about going back to work.
Carson let out a big sigh. As he sat there, he looked at the leaves covering the ground. Dad loved this time of year, he thought. We both did. His gaze drifted to an old Maple Tree. The tree was bare, except for a single bright red leaf on a small skeletal-like branch. Soon, that leaf was the only thing in Carson’s world. The longer he stared at it, the more everything seemed to fade away…
“Like this Dad?” whispered Carson.
“Just like that. You have to look before you step. Shine the light where you are going to step next. Make sure you make as little noise as possible. We don’t need to get there fast. That’s why we left early”, Henry whispered back.
Henry was almost as excited as Carson. Carson was finally old enough to hunt. This was their first hunt as father and son. Last Christmas, Henry bought Carson a Youth Remington 870 20 Gauge Shotgun. Carson had been so excited. Henry had made sure that Carson understood that this was not a toy before taking him out to learn how it worked. He wanted his son to know that it’s not just pointing and shooting. It involves constant care and cleaning. Most important is that involves safety, safety, safety. Carson learned all of this in the Hunter Safety Course required by the state, but Henry believed it to be his responsibility to make sure his son was ready to accept the responsibility. For the rest of the winter, Carson learned the ins and outs of the 870 and made sure that it was oiled properly and taken care of.
As spring came, he taught Carson the basics of shooting. Know what you are shooting at. Know what’s beyond your target. Know where to aim. The last thing that you want to do is wound an animal. Animals feel pain just like you and I. Always breathe. And most important is a slow, steady, squeeze of the trigger.
Carson learned and learned quickly. He understood the concept of shooting – Don’t point your gun at anything that you are not going to shoot and always be aware of your surroundings. He also understood the concept of hunting – We eat what we kill. We don’t kill to kill.
Toward the end of the summer, Henry and Carson scouted the woods where they would be hunting on opening day. There was plenty of deer sign around. His father pointed out droppings, prints and rubs all around the area. Henry would always say, “Good deer sign! A lot of good deer sign!” His father taught him how to be quiet when he walked through the woods as well because deer have exceptional hearing.
Now the day was finally here. It was dark, it was cold, and it was opening day! A nice white blanket of snow enveloped the ground. With flashlights in hand and shotguns slung over their shoulders, they crept toward their tree stand. Fueled with excitement, every sound that they made, every breath that they took sounded as if it echoed for miles in the stillness of the woods.
They arrived at the tree stand approximately fifteen minutes before sunup, the legal shooting time. They carefully climbed the homemade wooden steps into the stand. The stand had been built by Henry four years ago. It sat fifteen feet in the air. He had set wooden planks into the natural ‘V’ of a giant Maple Tree. The tree stand was large enough to fit both, Henry and Carson, comfortably.
This was the perfect time to be in the woods. Deer would be leaving the fields to go to their bedding ground. The tree stand was built here because it was a busy highway for deer. Several game trails converged at this point.
“Now remember Carson”, whispered Henry, “be patient. Don’t rush it. Smooth, Steady…”
“Squeeze”, Carson said. “I got it Dad.”
Henry smiled. “Good boy.”
In the dim natural light of morning, when the sky is a light gray and the sun is just beginning to show its rays, Henry looked at his son bundled up in heavy camouflaged hunting gear, with his shotgun at the ready, and felt choked up. This was a rite of passage; a coming of age. Henry’s father had done the same with him when he was Carson’s age. This was a proud moment for a father. This was a moment that Henry would never forget, and he could only hope that his son would remember it too.
As the morning progressed, the temperature dropped. The snow that had dropped overnight was beginning to get a fresh layer. The drop in temperature and lack of movement had made both hunters stiff. But, Carson never complained. Sitting back to back, Henry felt Carson’s body shift slightly. Not wanting to make any noise or move too quickly, Henry started to turn his body ever so slowly toward his son. Carson was raising his 20 gauge up to a shooting position. Henry, looking over his son’s shoulder now, saw a large doe standing thirty yards away. The doe had stopped in the middle of a game trail and was looking around, its tail flicking up and down, showing the bright white fur that gives it its namesake.
Henry leaned into his son’s ear and, in just below a whisper, said, “Slow, steady…”
It was too late. The deer had been spooked. It jumped back the way it had come and disappeared into the woods. Carson lowered the muzzle of his gun, shoulders slumping.
“That’s okay”, Henry said as he patted his son’s back. “It happens to me all of the time. But you did good. You held your composure. You didn’t take the shot just to take the shot. The perfect shot, just like I taught you.”
“Carson lowered his head. “But I let her get away.”
“Carson, look at me.”
Carson looked up.
“Hunting isn’t about going out and getting deer every time. Look around you. It’s this. It’s camaraderie. It’s freedom. Yeah, it’s a little cold, but there are no bosses or teachers here. No bills. No noise. It’s me, you, and nature.”
Henry pointed just over Carson’s head. “It’s that leaf right there, alone on the tree overlooking everything around it. Just because you didn’t get a deer doesn’t mean that this was a wasted hunt. Understand?”
Carson looked up at the red leaf, and, showing the start of a smile, nodded his head and said, “Yeah. Ya know what Dad, I think I do.”
Henry smiled back at his son and rubbed his head.
“Let’s go back and warm up at the house. I bet Mom’s making her chicken soup.”
“Sounds good to me!”
Carson snapped back to reality. It was Mary.
“Father Dan’s looking for you, dear. He’s ready to start the service.”
“Thanks Mary, I’ll be in in a minute.”
Mary disappeared around the corner.
Carson looked back up at the leaf.
“Thanks Dad…for everything.” A tear ran down his face.
At that moment, a gust of wind blew the leaf off of the tree. Carson watched it fall to the ground. He looked up into the sky and smiled. He got up from the bench, put his hands in his pockets and walked around the corner of the building. Mary was waiting for him.
“Are you okay, dear?” said Mary with her brow creased in concern.
Carson waited before answering. For the first time since losing his father, he felt okay. He realized that the memories would always be there, which meant that his father lived on through those memories, and he was convinced that as long as the wind blew, life would go on.
Smiling, he said, “Yes. Yes I really am.”
“Okay”, said Mary, who looked a little more at ease.
“Do you think that you could bring over some hot chicken soup after this?”
“Why, of course! It would make my day.”
“That’d be great. Thank-you.”
And with that, they made their way back into the funeral parlor.
Comments 1 to 2 of 2
Comments 1 to 2 of 2