Friday, March 1, 2013
One afternoon, on the way home from an outing at Daisy Mae Lake, he suddenly veered to the side of the road and stopped the car beside a vacant field. Curious about our unexpected layover, we watched him frantically searching under his seat. A moment later, he clasped a pistol and bounded from the car.
My three siblings and I -- now alarmed -- tumbled over each others' legs to get out of the backseat. Why did Daddy have his gun? Was someone following us with the intent to do harm? Had our father spied an escaped felon in the field? How many beers did he drink, anyway?
"What's going on, Daddy?" we cried. "What is it?"
"Shhhhhh," he said, raising the pistol and pointing it toward the field. "You see that? You see that out there?"
We scanned the field. Nothing.
"What?" I said. "I don't see anything."
"That brown bump out there near the cornstalks," Dad said. "It's a big ol' groundhog."
Sure enough, on closer inspection, we spied him. Lawd, he was fat. Crouched on his hind legs and munching on a dried ear of corn, the critter looked at us more out of curiosity than alarm.
"What are you going to do?" my sister asked.
"Shoot that sumbitch!" my Dad replied. "That's one of the biggest damn groundhogs I've ever seen!"
"Yeah, Dad! Let me take the shot!" my older brother said, reaching for the pistol.
Dad shooed my brother out of the way as my sister asked why he was going to shoot the poor thing. He'd hunted his fair share of deer, squirrel and rabbits, but we'd never had groundhog (to our knowledge, but Mom was prone to covering game with gravy and telling us it was chicken).
Dad shrugged. It was clear that he planned to shoot him, well, because he could.
"Noooooooooo!" I said. "Please, Daddy, no! Don't kill him!"
"Get back in the car with your mother and little brother, Jenny," he ordered.
"Nooooo!" I wailed, tears streaming down my face, refusing to budge. "Daddy, no! Don't shoot him! He didn't do anything to you! Please don't kill him."
My Dad lifted his pistol and once again put the groundhog in his sights.
But I had recently seen Bambi. So with all the bravado an eight-year-old can muster, I tugged on my Dad's sleeve.
"That might be a mama groundhog," I said. "She might have babies waiting for her. What will happen to them if she doesn't come home? Please don't kill it, Daddy. Pleasepleasepleaseplease...."
By now, I was hysterical. My mom stepped from the car, holding my little brother's hand.
"Ron." she said. Never has so much been conveyed in one word. He looked at Mom. He looked at my tear-soaked cheeks.
He took one final glance at the groundhog, then at last, lowered his gun.
"Alright, alright," he said. "Back in the car, kids. Who wants to go to Candy Land?"
We squealed with delight (with the exception of my older brother, who looked extremely disappointed) and scrambled back into the car. The groundhog was saved AND we were going to get chocolate? It was a fine day. Yes, indeed.
The groundhog, oblivious to his narrow escape from death, put down his corn and sauntered lazily across the field. I leaned out the car window and waved to it as Dad pulled away.
"Goodbye, Groundhog!" I yelled, my hair whipping in the wind in those glorious days before seatbelt laws. "I love you! I love you!"
Why do I tell you this story today?
Because it is the first day of March, and in spite of Punxsutawney Phil's Groundhog Day promise of an early spring, it's snowing. It's been a long, dreary, cold winter, and I am beyond ready for daffodils, tulips and lilacs; sandals and sundresses.
Oh, how Phil mocks our hope for sun-drenched days of sweet tea on the porch. Way to repay me for saving your kind, Phil. You bastard.
Sorry, Dad. I should have let you shoot him, cart him home and smother him in gravy. I bet he tastes like chicken.