Friday, November 30, 2012

Through The Fire And Flames.

It started innocuously, as a nice Thursday evening dinner at Rib Crib with my family.

Aven challenged me to a game of Tic-Tac-Toe, and I'm here to tell you, he actually beat me one out of four times. The boy beat me. 

This was essentially the look I gave him after he won.
He looked up at me and said, "You let me win that one, didn't you dad?"

Faced with a crossroad, I decided to actually tell him the truth, in hopes that it would encourage him to feel better about himself, and let him know he's capable of doing great things if he tries. 

Then I beat the brakes off him in the last game. 

Just because I want him to do great things doesn't mean I want to lose.

For those that don't know, I'm practically deaf in one ear, and I really can't hear out of the other. Although I've had my hearing tested, and the doctor said it really wasn't that bad, I still think it's terrible. 

So you can imagine my surprise when I started overhearing a conversation at the table just in front of me. 

And then you can imagine my surprise when I started hearing this guy use every curse word I've ever been privileged to know while discussing the television show "Duck Dynasty" with his family. 

I've never watched the show, but with wisdom like this dripping from the mouths of the cast, I might have to. 
You might even be able to imagine my surprise when I saw that his family consisted of a little girl around 10 years of age.

My friends, I do try not to be a hypocrite.

I have used curse words in the past. 

Hell, I use them now (sometimes). 

But what I don't do, EVER, is use them in front of my children. 

Now listen. If that's your thing, or if you've accidentally let the F-bomb slip in front of your 5 year old, I'm not judging you. I'm absolutely positive that if a situation called for it, and my carefully placed "kid-filter" wasn't firmly situated, then I'd change my rules on cursing in front of children in an instant. 

But I don't go to Rib Crib on a Thursday night and talk about an insanely popular TV show sprinkling the conversation with profanity as one might sprinkle salt on their catfish dinner. 

As die-hard readers of this blog, or die-hard fans of my stories will know, I do not like confrontations. However, having children has somewhat changed that. 

While being mildly offended myself, I recognized that our kids weren't listening to the man at all. They were engrossed in their corn dogs and grilled cheese, blocking out all ambient noise, and the boy was busy kicking me in the leg thinking it belonged to the table. 

I decided to withhold a confrontation about the language until after my wife and kids left the table. I told The Missus what I was going to do, and I sent them on their way. 

I got up, my mind racing with possibilities. 

I walked over slowly, my body going cold, anticipating the man's movements, trying to ascertain how aggressive he might be, and how he was going to react. 

I was, to put it bluntly, scared to death. 

I approached the table and smiled. I looked at the man and said, "Sir, I apologize for interrupting, but the language you're using is absolutely terrible, and there are kids all around." 

He glared at me. 

"Well, I have the right to free speech. So why don't you f*ck off." 

My temper flared. 

"Yes sir, and I have the ability to take that right away from you if I have to." 

He caught my meaning, and unfortunately, he called my bluff. 

He rose from the table at a Rib Crib on a Thursday night, cocked his fist, and hit me square in the jaw, knocking me out...

...I got up, my mind racing with possibilities. 

I walked over slowly, my body going cold, anticipating the man's movements, trying to ascertain how aggressive he might be, and how he was going to react. 

I was, to put it bluntly, scared to death. 

I approached the table and smiled. I looked at the man and said, "Sir, I apologize for interrupting, but the language you're using is absolutely terrible, and there are kids all around." 

And, in the most surprising twist of all, the man looked up at me with actual shame in his eyes. 

"Sir, I apologize for that. I'm very sorry." 

I smiled, thanked him, and walked out the door. 

It turns out, standing up to myself is a lot harder than standing up to others. Hopefully I remember that next time.

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear." - James Neil Hollingworth




Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Riding In Trucks With Girls.


Sometimes an event happens that inspires a blog. Sometimes it's a collection of events, and you never know when inspiration will rise, kicking and clawing its way to the surface of your mind, demanding attention, wanting to be released. In that instance, you have choices. You can choose to stifle the inspiration, and eventually it will consume your thoughts, hindering your creativity, and rendering your writing useless. This blog has been a long time coming. 

***

It doesn't happen often, and certainly not often enough, and perhaps that is what makes it special. Maybe if it happened everyday I wouldn't appreciate it for what it was, just a dad and his daughter, riding somewhere together.

It's not about where we've left from, and it's not about where we're going. It's about all those moments in between.

***

Watching you get in. That's my favorite part. 

My truck sits high off the ground, and you have to almost jump to get in. I'm not always a perfect gentleman, I have to confess. I don't always open the door for you like I should, to teach you that when you're older, you have to fall in love with a boy who does that. I just like watching you as you clamber clumsily into the cab. You aren't very graceful, but I think one day you will be. 



You get buckled up, I get buckled up, and we take off. You're smiling. It never takes long, and the question always comes. 

"Dad, can you turn on the music?" 

I do. I always do. 

You always sing along. It doesn't matter if you know the words or not. You still sing. I will give you an example, using Taylor Swift's "Mine" as an example. 

You don't really know the words, not all of them, and so it sounds something like this: 

"You were in college hmm hmm ahhh haaa mmmhmmm,
Left a hmm mmm ahh haahmm ahhh."

But then the chorus comes, and suddenly, you're on a stage, you're in your element, and your voice rises with the power of the knowledge of the words. 

"DO YOU REMEMBER WE WERE SITTING THERE BY THE WATER!
YOU PUT YOUR ARM AROUND ME, FOR THE FIRST TIME!"

I have another confession, daughter. 

Sometimes I put on songs I know you'll sing to. 

My mind, in its ceaseless recollection of trivial information and recurring moments, flashes back to something very important in my life. 

I sat at home the night before making the drive to pick you and your brother up. I was trying to think of ways to introduce you to our great big family before you actually met them, and I decided to make a picture slideshow on my iPad for you both to watch. 

I placed pictures in order and captioned them, and then I set it all to the music of "Guinevere," by the Eli Young Band. 

On the way home from Watonga, you watched that video a hundred times. At some point, you figured out the words to the song, and you belted them out ceaselessly. Then you serenaded us with Christina Perri's "Jar of Hearts," which was the only other song I had on the iPad. 

You were gorgeous. You were amazing. And you still are.

Listening to you sing, that's my favorite part. 

Inevitably, your interest in singing wanes, and you start talking to me. Sometimes the craziest things come out of your mouth. Last night, for example, you counted Christmas trees. Then you started spotting cars that looked like your mom's. 

Sometimes we talk about stuff as normal as how your day was, and then there are times such as the other night when you wanted me to explain to you what nihilism was. After telling you my best guess of a definition, you responded promptly. 

"Well, I believe in Jesus." 

I know you do, darling. And nothing makes me happier. 

You always ask for gum. For the last six months, I've kept a pack in my truck just for you and your brother. 

You smack your gum. Loud. 

Which brings us yet to another confession, dear daughter. If anyone else in my truck smacked their gum as loudly as you, I would pry open their jaws, rip the gum from their mouth, and toss it out the window. But you, you're different. I guess it's cute...for now. 

Talking to you, that's my favorite part. 

You want to hear something crazy? 

My truck has a sensor in the passenger seat that measures weight, and turns the airbag off automatically when someone doesn't weigh enough. A little light in the center of the console indicates when the sensor has been triggered and the airbag is off. 

When we first got you and your brother, that light was always on. 

"Passenger Airbag Off" 

Now? Now that little light flickers when you sit in the seat. Sometimes it's on, sometimes it's off. It's not broken. 

You're getting bigger. You see, that light is an indicator in more ways than one. You're older, bigger, smarter. 

But it also tells me something else. 

One day, you'll stop riding in my truck. Instead, you'll get a car of your own, and maybe you'll start riding in trucks with other boys. It is just as inevitable as you singing, and just as inevitable as all of our wonderful trips together have to come to end when we get to our destination. 

You unbuckle and slide out of the truck awkwardly, hanging on to the door handle for dear life. Your feet land on the ground, and your little blond head disappears into the house. 

Watching you get out, that's the worst part. 

To end this, I think I'll borrow another line from Miss Swift, one that happens to be in the same song as previously mentioned, and a line that I have definitely memorized. 

"You are the best thing, that's ever been mine." 


Monday, November 26, 2012

The Untitled Great White Hunter Project

I think it all starts with the first time my dad took me rabbit hunting.

He had gotten me a shotgun for my thirteenth birthday, an old Stevens Savage 12 gauge that I still have to this day. We wanted to get out and test it, and rabbit hunting seemed as good a test as any.

My dad was a paragon of gun safety. He made sure he drilled into my head all the proper procedures for safe and happy hunting, then we went out.

We walked about 25 feet apart so we would have a greater chance of scaring up rabbits. All of the sudden, one appeared in the distance, about thirty feet ahead, and in between us. My dad looked at me and said, "Shoot it son."

I drew a bead on the rabbit, who was frozen momentarily, deciding which way to run. As I looked down my shaking gun barrel at the supposed doomed creature, it suddenly decided which way it wanted to run: right at us.

Being an ambitious and aspiring new hunter, I did what I thought was the smart thing. I kept a bead on that rabbit as it came closer, closer, and eventually passed in between us, when I realized I was now pointing a loaded gun at my father.

He spoke quietly, patiently, but in volumes.

"Put the gun down."

***
My brother Brad has the hunting gene in our family. I read a lot and am generally considered the "book smart" one, Brad is the hunter/gatherer and has the best work ethic, Jordan is incessantly teased about being the milkman's son, and Josh is...well, Josh is now The Marine, but that's another blog. 

In the past few years, my want to go hunting again has increased slightly. I've been rabbit hunting with a few friends since then, and I haven't pointed a gun at anyone, and I think our Sunday School class (which is filled with hunter/gatherers), has kindled a long-dead interest. 

So this year I borrowed a bow and arrow from Brad, bought a license and archery tag, bought a deer blind (since I cannot climb trees due to my symmetry), and The Missus started calling me "The Great White Hunter." 

I did not shoot a deer with a bow and arrow. 

While I have a knack for hitting an archery target, I seem to have trouble actually getting the deer to come towards me, even though I stood really still and smiled a lot.

When rifle season opened, Brad and I talked about going together. So I bought yet another tag, and the date was set. 

On Thanksgiving morning, I woke up at five a.m., took a shower with scent-free soap, purposely neglected the brushing of my teeth, and drove 40 miles to a remote location in the woods with my younger brother, two guns, and a package of wafers that supposedly smelled like deer vagina. 

We set up the blind, loaded the guns, and Brad placed a deer vagina wafer delicately on a tree beside us. 

We waited. Then we Facebooked. Then we heard crows for two solid hours. Then he stuck a deer vagina wafer under my nose. Then he pulled out a deer "call" that sounded like one of those things you get as a prize at Chuckie Cheese. 

We did not, however, see a single deer. 

***
The morning after Thanksgiving, I decided to go hunting on my own terms. 

I woke up at 7:30 or so, got around slowly, and made it to the woods at 8:45. I loaded up my deer blind, my gun, my camera, and The Missus's Nook Tablet, and traipsed through the woods like the proverbial bull in a china shop. 

I found a spot near a deer feeder that was not mine. I thought, "you know what, I bet I can kill one here." I looked for a hunter, did not see one, and set everything up. 

The Lord, as you know, moves. After setting all of my stuff up, I realized I had forgotten my chair. 

I am fat. I need a chair. Sitting on the cold ground does not become either my buttocks or my spirits. 

So I walked back through the woods, got my chair, and started back through the woods to my blind. On the way, I realized that the spot I was set up in was probably not very ethical. I had not spent the money or the time feeding these deer, so I decided I should move. 

I got back to the blind, packed it up, and moved it to a new location, where I set everything up and got everything inside it yet again. 

And...yet again, I realized I had left something behind. 

My gun. 

The Great White Hunter strikes again. 

By the time I got everything set up and gathered in the blind, I was exhausted. I sat in a chair for 25 cold minutes, got up, gathered it all back up, and left. 

***
As I sat in my recliner that evening looking at the pictures on Facebook of all of my friends who had shot a deer, I realized something. I realized that in all honesty, I'm just not a hunter. But that didn't shake the want I had to keep trying. 

I looked at a certain picture of a very good friend of mine, and I commented on it to The Missus. She said, "I bet Zac took him, you should send Zac a text. I bet he'd take you just for the laughs." 

Sometimes my wife is a genius. 

So I sent the text message. 

***
The next morning I woke up at 4 a.m. I decided there was no way I was taking a shower/putting on deodorant/brushing my teeth. I drove to a convenience store where I was to meet Zac. 

The night before, he had told me he would supply everything. The gun, the blind, all of it...except one thing, a chair. I needed to bring a chair. 

"No problem," I said, because in fact I had the chair in the back of the truck already. 

So at 4:45 a.m. I gathered The Missus's Nook Tablet, the turkey hat she'd knitted me, a Red Bull, and the rest of my gear and got in Zac's truck. 

Approximately 15 minutes later I realized something. I'd left the chair. 

"No problem," Zac said. "I've got a bucket you can sit on." 

When we arrived at our hunting destination, I told Zac I had brought the Nook with me to read in case I got bored. He told me that was fine, but he was going to keep a lookout because you had to really pay attention to see the deer out there. Sufficiently shamed and feeling like a kid, I left the Nook behind and made up my mind to be the most attentive non-hunter in the world. 

So I sat there, on a bucket, in the cold, for two hours, looking. The sunrise was absolutely breathtaking, and even though the deer blind was nowhere to be found, we both blended in perfectly with the surrounding landscape. 

All of the sudden, I saw a flicker of white around 500 yards in front of me. I asked for the binoculars, and sure enough, there was a deer. 

I made some sort of herky-jerky slapping motion at Zac's arm, trying to ascertain the universal sign for OH MY GOD IT'S A DEER LOOK IT'S A DEER. 

Zac saw what I saw, and he told me to watch it until it got closer. "It'll come down the ridge," he said. 

"IT'S A DEER I WANT TO SHOOT IT NOW LET ME SHOOT IT," was my interior monologue. 

So we waited. And sure enough it got closer...according to him. You see, I had lost sight of it. He kept giving me reference points to its location, but I could not for the life of me see this deer. 

Then, finally, she marched back into my view, but unfortunately, still too far away. Right after that, she walked behind a group of trees, and left me shaking and amped on Red Bull and adrenaline, waiting for her to come out in a clearing where I could get a better shot. 

Zac leaned over to me and said, "Travis, she's walking that way, but she may all of the sudden pop up a lot closer, so you need to be ready." We got his rifle loaded up and got me into a shooting position, and I just did everything in my power to sit still. 

Afterwards, Zac told me, "Travis when I told you it could pop up closer and to be ready, you started breathing real heavy. It took all I had not to laugh." 

We waited. 

Then we waited again. 

Then...

I got a swat on the arm, signaling me to look right in front of me. And there she was 175 yards away, right in the spot Zac predicted she might pop up in. 

"Travis. Shoot her." 

"Travis. Shoot her now." 

"Travis. Just pull the trigger." 

"Travis. Just shoot at her. Now." 

For some reason, my gun wouldn't stay still. I'm not saying Zac intentionally gave me a gun with a bunch of loose parts and a scope that kept jiggling around on the target, and I guess it could have been that I was all jacked up on the afore mentioned Red Bull, but the scope wouldn't stop moving and all of the sudden I just decided to squeeze the trigger and before I knew it the gun had gone off and there was a lot of smoke and through that smoke I saw a deer jump once, twice, three times, and disappear. 

I had missed. 

I looked at Zac and said, "Man, I missed her." 

"Travis, I don't know. She acted hit. Did you see her actually run out of that thicket?" 

I hadn't, but it didn't matter, I knew I'd missed. The gun was simply shaking too much, it was the first time I'd ever shot at a deer, I knew I'd missed. I was sure excited though. I took out my phone and sent a message to The Missus, "I SHOT AT A DEER." 

Zac, firmly believing I had scored at least a hit, decided to go track it. He left me at the site of the shooting, to give him directions on where to walk. He got to the place where the deer had been, and all of the sudden he was waving me over. 

Could it be? 

I practically ran to where he was, and he said, "I see blood." 

I didn't stick around to see it. Instead, I walked to where I thought I hadn't seen the deer anymore, and as I walked over, I saw her, laying there, still. 

"Please, oh man, please be dead." 

She was dead. 

The Great White Hunter had finally won. After three days of trying, forgetfulness, and not brushing his teeth, he had won. 

I pulled my phone out and sent the following to The Missus. 

"I KILLED A DEER!" 
I got a short and sweet text message back. 

"TODAY YOU BECOME A MAN." 

I absolutely love this life of mine.