by John Penn
We got up early, long before daylight on a winter morning. School was out for Christmas. My mother, awakened by our stirring, left her bed and came into the living room to plug in the Christmas lights which were left off during sleeping hours. Hunting was always a family affair. There was cold windy weather out and there were guns, two things every mother had a right to get involved with.
She was an avid hunter herself in her time. I recall crouching in a boat at four years old with her above me, armed with a 20 gauge automatic and seeing fire leap from the barrel in the half-light and over the water a single fowl dropping from a group of 3 or 4. Now she spent her time painting ducks–ducks leaping from water, doting near logs in swamps, black slivers on the horizon like fighter planes. She even managed to sell a few of her paintings, and although she never took her artwork seriously, she was very good.
“Ya’ll gonna be back for lunch”, she said. “I made some pomento cheese you can bring along just in case.” Light from an opening refrigerator spilled out across the kitchen floor. The kitchen and the living room were a single unit in our double wide trailer. She took the sandwiches out and something else that would end up simmering on the stove till later that evening. Pots clanged, water ran, a light came on over the kitchen sink, illuminating a faded blue gown draped over working shoulders. Our mother was wide awake now at 4:35 in the morning.
My brother Robby, 4 years my senior, emerged from a hallway, clopping across the kitchen floor in hunting boots. Mother whispered something about being careful and ya’ll don’t forget to do this, and stay away from so and so’s property. I was sitting on the couch in the living room beside a cracked open .410 single shot shotgun trying not to fall back asleep, hypnotized by the color-changing lights of the Christmas tree. The smell of brewing coffee enfolded me in my twilight as I gently dosed off. I was awakened minutes later by the sound of a Cajun band on some morning T.V. show. An old gas heater with stone grates was now hissing catacorner to the tree. My mother was sitting on a stool by the kitchen counter, making a tinking noise with a coffee spoon. My brother emerged from a hallway again and came and placed a small box of shells in my hunting vest. “Let’s go”, he said.
Our boots clopped together now to the back door, with the sound of slippers trailing. My mother, balancing her coffee, came out behind us onto an open back porch. It was still very dark. My brother lit a cigarette very deftly in the wind proving he’d been doing it probably since he was my age. I was 13. He dragged hard on it and the tip glowed brightly against the procrastinating dawn.
We started off across the yard towards the woods and the way ahead of us brightened suddenly with the beam of a large flashlight in my brother’s hand. As we broke the plain of the trees I looked back at my mother, standing in her faded blue gown under the porch light, coffee in hand, straining her eyes on our disappearing figures.