Dedicated to my husband and whose story of his childhood inspired this one.
The young boy pulled the rifle close to his shoulder and looked down the barrel as he led the bird in the sights, the bird making its path across the distant sky unaware of the boy or his gun. His little finger carefully tightened on the trigger and took his shot. The bird stopped mid-flight and tumbled to the earth. The little boy watched this as if it were in slow motion. He did it, he had brought down his first kill. The boy turned and looked up at his father as if expecting to get praise for what he had just done but his father was silent.
The man had stood behind his son watching him take the shot. Now he looked down into the face of his small son and knew what had to come next. This young eight year old child was about to be taught the hardest lesson in his young life. The rustling of the brush made by the dog sounded like the deep haunting toll of some far away bell. The man took a deep breath as the dog returned with the bird in its mouth.
The boy wondered why his father hadn’t said anything. Had he done something wrong? Now it was him watching as his father picked up the lifeless bird that the dog had dropped at his feet.
The man took a deep breath. “Son how do you fix this?”
“I don’t understand.” The confusion of the child evident all over his young face.
“How do you fix this? How do you make this bird well and make it fly again?” The man tried to keep the tears from breaking through as he looked at the child.
“I can’t.” The boy now felt like he had done something wrong.
“That’s the point Son. When you pick up a gun and pull the trigger you can never take it back. You can never fix it when you take a life. That’s what you have to remember. Never aim that gun or any gun at something you don’t mean to kill. Life is precious son, all life. Even this bird. This bird will feed us tonight but never kill just for the sake of killing. Someday Son you might even have to pick up a gun to protect your life, your family, even your country but be sure that if you do that you have no other choice. Most important, make sure you can live with what you’ve done afterwards. Do you understand?”
Unlike his father the boy wasn’t as successful at holding back the tears that now burned a streak down his tiny little face.
“Let’s go home Son.”
The man whistled for the dog who had been exploring the surrounding area and turned toward the house. Placing his hand on the boy’s shoulder the man lifted his head skyward while one lone tear managed break loose and slip down his face.
Although this story is fictional it is based on what my husband’s father did the first time Buddy made his first kill and yes he was about eight years old. Buddy’s father may have been a hunter but he knew the value of life. In everything Buddy’s father taught him he taught him well. He also served in WWII and was a navigator and gunner on a B17 bomber. I know he carried the pain of what he had to do in that war with him the rest of his life.
I was never fortunate enough to meet this remarkable man because he died a couple of years before Buddy and I met. I think he and I would have liked one another. I know not meeting him was my loss. This is dedicated to Mr. Matthews. Thank you for raising the wonderful man I married. I also thank my husband for trying to instill in our girls what his father taught him. So far I think he has managed to do a fairly good job of that.