Opening Day

Saturday, Nov. 8, 1986
I kneeled on the green living room couch, facing backward and watching Dad walk up through the back pasture and into the woods.

He was easy to spot against the frosty white field behind the barn; even after he crossed into the woods. Green wool pants, red-and-black checkered wool jacket, red wool cap rimmed with big, black ear flaps, his old .308 Winchester slung over his right shoulder.

He was easy to spot, even through tears.

“La La, sweetie. You need to lay down and rest. Your oatmeal’s about ready.”

“I will Mama,” I said, wiping away snot and tears with my pajama sleeve. “I’m just watching Daddy go.”

Mom pulled the oatmeal off the hot burner and walked into the living room, sat on the coffee table behind me. A gentle tap tap tap nudged my left shoulder.

“Excuse me? Ms. Comstock? This is your mother speaking. Please lay down.”

I shook my head at the gentle voice, not budging in the slightest from my spot at the window. Dad was only a splotch of color bobbing deeper into the woods now. I scowled and scraped at the light frost along the edge of the window. Mom moved onto the couch, sitting right next to me and leaning back against the cushions until she could see me.

“Oh, kiddo,” she said, unsuccessfully trying to run her fingers through my snarled hair. “This really stinks. I know. And if I could be sick instead of you, I would. I hate seeing you like this.”

One of my mother’s many gifts was knowing exactly what I was feeling and being able to speak to that in a way that wrapped my heart in a cozy blanket.

“I know, Mama,” I said, feeling my chin puckering beneath my frown. “I’m just so sad. I wanted to be out there hunting with Daddy.”

Mom rested her head against the top of the couch cushion and looked at me with soft, compassionate eyes.

“Of course you do. You worked so so hard for this, and then you wind up with this nasty bug. Bad enough just being sick, La La. But now you can’t go out for your very first opening day of deer season? That just plain sucks.”

My eyebrows shot up, and my tears stopped. I looked at my mother in a state of complete and utter shock.

“Mama! We don’t say that. It’s a rule!”

She shrugged.

“Sometimes you just need to say how something is. And what you’re feeling this morning … it’s not just feeling bad or sad or upset. It sucks. It really sucks. Right?”

I grinned, feeling like part of a mischievous conspiracy.

“Yeah,” I said. “It does.”

“Does what?”

She was grinning back at me.

“It ssss …”

“Go ahead.”

“It sucks.”

Mom laughed and clapped her hands in triumph.

“Yup. There you go, kiddo. Tell it like it is,” she said, sitting up and readjusting her flannel nightshirt. “Now lay down, let me tuck you in, and I’ll get you some oatmeal. And while I do, you go ahead and tell me why this sucks.”

I did as she said, grabbing a Kleenex on the way to laying down. Mom pulled the blankets up to my chin and tight under my raised arms.

“Talk,” she said as she returned to the kitchen.

Looking back, I think that woman would have made an incredible counselor. She could probably get a locked door to open up just by talking to it for a bit.

I coughed, clearing phlegm from my soar throat.

“It’s just … I’ve been planning this since fourth grade. When Daddy told me I could take the safety course and hunt with him when I got old enough. And I was the only girl in this year’s class and got a hundred on the safety test. The only one in the whole class who got a hundred. Not even Barry Folsom did that good, and he’s a junior in high school. And the game warden said I was one of the best target shooters he’s seen in a while, too.

“And I was gonna get to use Grampa’s old 22. Plus Daddy was going to show me the old Gin Cave and let me look for Bigfoot tracks. And Mitch Folsom – that’s Barry’s stupid little brother – he called me a dyke the other day for being a girl who hunts, and I wanted to show him by getting a big buck today. But now, I’m just stuck here being sick.”

“Hold on,” Mom said, scooping oatmeal into bowls. “He said you were a dyke?”

“Yeah.”

“What a little … I’d like to see him say that to your Aunt Patty’s face.”

I laughed.

“Oh boy,” I said. “She’d deck him good.”

“Well, I don’t know about that, but she’d set him straight on a few things, for sure. Like what a dyke is and isn’t and what women can and can’t be doing. Maybe I should talk with Mr. Folsom.”

“No, Mama,” I said, shaking my head even though she couldn’t see me from the kitchen. “Please don’t. Mitch is just a jerk. I don’t think he can help it.”

Mom brought my bowl of oatmeal out, along with a big glass of orange juice. Her oatmeal was one of my favorite parts of cold Saturday mornings.

Instead of the frozen waffles and cold cereal that accompanied rushed weekday mornings, Saturdays in the late fall and winter were the time for Mom’s oatmeal. Not the artificially flavored stuff that cooks in two minutes and tastes like a bag of sugar. The real stuff. On the stove for 25 minutes, sticky in the bowl, warm in your belly well after you’ve finished eating it. And on really cold mornings, the kitchen windows would steam up as it cooked on the stove, making the trailer feel cozy and secluded.

“Thank you, Mama,” I said as she sat the breakfast down on the old pine coffee table.

“You’re welcome, La La,” she said, zipping back into the kitchen to grab the maple syrup and raspberry jelly, my favorite additions to her oatmeal.

She hurried back in again to get her own oatmeal and a cup of coffee.

“Legs up,” she said, returning to the couch.

I lifted my achy legs, blankets rising with them, and Mom sat down. I rested my legs on hers, and she rearranged the blankets to drape over her legs, as well as mine.

“Something to think about,” she said, pouring maple syrup over her oatmeal, “is that even though this is the first day of deer season, it isn’t the only day. The next few weeks, you’ll have plenty of chances to go out with your father.”

“Yeah, but what if he gets one today?”

She laughed.

“La La, you’re father and I have been together for nearly 16 years. In that time, he’s gotten three deer, and the last was nine years ago. It’s not that he’s a bad hunter, but for him, it’s not just about getting the biggest buck. He doesn’t even load his gun most of the time. Just carries bullets in his pouch. Dad likes going into the woods and exploring. So I don’t think you’ll need to worry.”

I swallowed a spoonful of mostly raspberry jelly.

“And you think he’ll still take me to the Gin Cave and let me look around for Bigfoot?”

“I don’t know why you’d want to go around that old cave, honey. It’s creepy and dangerous, and it’s been closed off for years and years. But I’d imagine if Dad said he’d take you, then he will. And he’ll probably still let you look for silly Bigfoot tracks.”

I sat up.

“They’re not silly, Mama. Folks say there’s one around. Ol’ Zadok Thompson down at the store says so.”

Mom rolled her eyes.

“Zadok says a lot, sweetie. Last month he said a UFO kidnapped three of his cows.”

“Yeah, well, I think he’s right about Bigfoot.”

“I know, La La,” Mom said. “How are you doing now?”

“I don’t know. Better, I guess. About hunting, anyway. Still feel pretty sick, though. Thanks for making me feel better about things. Can we watch cartoons?”

She got up and turned on the TV, then adjusted the rabbit ear antennae for a better signal.

“Two cartoons,” she said. “Then you need to rest and do some of that school work I picked up for you yesterday.”

“Will you watch with me?”

She thought for a few seconds.

“If you can help me figure out later what we’re making to bring to Thanksgiving at Grampa’s, I’ll watch for a bit.”

I nodded enthusiastically.

“Ok. Definitely watch Wildfire with me. It’s my new favorite show.”

Mom snuggled up again under the blankets, and I tucked my toes under her legs. We watched the last few minutes of those insufferable Berenstain Bears and their latest boring adventure, and I finished my oatmeal, wondering about Dad and where he was in the forest behind us.

THE COMFORT ROCK CHRONICLES IS AN ONGOING SERIES OF SHORT STORIES ABOUT A FICTITIOUS VERMON TOWN, AN AMALGAM OF ALL NORTHWEST VERMONT HAS TO OFFER. COMFORT ROCK HAS BEEN GROWING IN MY HEAD FOR WELL OVER 20 YEARS. I REALLY LIKE THE FOLKS WHO CALL COMFORT ROCK HOME, AND I HOPE YOU DO TOO.

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