Dad had his chance, and he blew it.
He had a chance to shoot my sister, and he just flat blew it.
It would have been an accident, and her fault to boot. Nobody would have blamed him one bit.
It wasn’t that I wanted him to shoot her. Not really. OK, maybe a little. She was a girl, and even worse, my younger sister. I was around 14 years old, and she was around 12, meaning I’d only spent a couple of years of my life without her around to annoy me. Because that’s what sisters do: annoy their brothers.
So there we were, carrying out our Thanksgiving hunting tradition. Dad got us boys up early, stuffed his pockets with shotgun shells and draped the shotgun over his shoulder. We boys were along as the hunting dogs. Seriously. Our job was to flush the brush for any game we hoped would end up on a plate later that day. Rabbit, squirrel, quail ... we didn’t care as long as it came with a side of potatoes.
Yes, we boys were the hunting dogs. We actually had a beagle, which is supposed to be a great hunting dog. At least we thought we were getting a beagle. Speedy — the worst name for a hound ever — was more of a North American Biscuit Hound. The only hunting he did was sniffing around beneath the kitchen table for any potential scraps we’d dropped. Getting him off the porch for a real hunting trip just wasn’t going to happen. He only woke from his naps long enough to eat.
But we were pretty good as dogs. We barked and charged the thick East Tennessee brush, and if anything was in there, it was coming out. All Dad had to do was sit back and wait for his shot.
This particular morning was different, mostly because our sisters decided to tag along. No matter how hard we begged Dad to leave them at home where we thought girls belonged, he caved in. We were disgusted. Everybody knows girls can’t bark.
Nevertheless, we forged ahead, and if we’d had tails, they’d have been wagging. We were out on Thanksgiving morning, on the hunt. Something was gonna get dunked in gravy that day.
Sure enough, our canine gyrations spooked some game, and it would have been a real prize.
Oh, yeah. That deer didn’t know what to think of three dogs standing and barking on two feet. When it jumped from the brush, it ran straight toward Dad and the shotgun. I could almost smell the venison frying watching it head toward its demise.
Then my dumb sister got in the way.
Let me backtrack by describing my sister Janet for you. She loved animals. We raised livestock, and we knew it was in order to keep meat on the table. When I say “we,” I mean everybody but Janet. She couldn’t stand the idea of killing anything. She was “Save the Planet Janet” before any other environmentalists made their names. She once held a one-person picket line in an effort to save a bull we’d raised for butchering. She tried hiding chickens destined for dates with dumplings. She actually thought the pigs were cute and gave them names. It made it hard to dig into a piece of bacon with which we’d had such a personal connection.
When that deer jumped out and moved toward its destiny as dinner, Janet jumped in front of Dad’s raised shotgun, screaming, “Don’t shoot!”
There she was, right in his sights — my sister, not the deer — and Dad didn’t shoot.
We didn’t lose my sister that morning, but we did lose the deer. I can still hear it laughing as it bounded away to safety. Every time I get hungry now, all those years later, I think about how that back strap sandwich would have tasted if Janet hadn’t decided to starve us with her actions. I couldn’t tell if her satisfied smirk was because she’d saved the deer or because she’d found another way to aggravate her brothers. Probably a little of both.
Thanksgiving. A time for families to gather and celebrate being together and, maybe, to shoot the annoying ones.
The sad part of life is how the years pass, and those gatherings become nearly extinct. I haven’t been back to Tennessee for a Thanksgiving meal with my sisters in decades. Life did a job on us in keeping us apart, what with my brothers and me living here in Texas and our sisters remaining in Tennessee. I guess that’s why we’re supposed to cherish every Thanksgiving we have together. We never know when we’ll have another one. As annoyed as I was with having sisters back then, I’d give just about anything to have another morning of hunting with them now. Dad’s been gone for years now, so as the oldest, I’d be the one carrying the shotgun while my siblings played the hunting dog roles.
And if Save the Planet Janet jumped up in front of me trying to save a deer, I know I wouldn’t shoot her.
The deer, that is.