My father was the outdoorsy type. He chose well when he chose my mother, also in love with nature. To celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary, they decided to venture deep into the lush vegetation of Canada for a relaxing retreat in a small, two room cabin. My sister and I were just wee ones, so some time alone in the remote depths of the wild was just what they needed.
Or so they thought.
My father was somewhat of a multitasker. Maybe not when it came to certain household tasks, but definitely when it came to killing two birds with one stone. Literally. He liked to hunt. He was good at it. What he brought home from his hunts, we ate. For us little girls, not always happily. But that was important to him. He was not into just bringing home trophies. Obviously, as the planning for this anniversary trip was already in the works, fishing and hunting were on the table. When he called to make reservations, there was mention made about one of the cabins having a bit of trouble with a bear. Dad had never been bear hunting before. It sparked his interest. He booked the bear-battered cabin. Did he tell my mother about the cabin's woes?
No. Of course not.
The first few days were peaceful. Notice I said days. The nights were less so, at least for my mom. She was hearing odd noises, disturbances near the cabin. My father, a bit of a heavy sleeper, would tell her not to worry and return to blissful sleep. Signs of a night prowler appeared. My mother insisted something was trying to get into the cabin in the night. My father let it slip about the bear issue. She was none too pleased about that little piece of information not being shared.
If it was a bear he wanted, she'd help him get it.
My mother makes a great sausage gravy. After a long day of fishing on the lake, my father was welcomed back to a pile of biscuits and a bowl of her best. After dinner, she sent him to wash up and offered to clean up. Which she did. By dumping the remaining sausage gravy right out the door of the cabin. As night fell, they crawled into bed. My father was ready for sweet dreams. My mother was just ready. Kind of.
When the now all too familiar sounds woke her, my mother reached over, shaking dad awake yet again. "There's something in the cabin."
Dad didn't even open an eye. "There's nothing in the cabin. Go back to sleep."
As if on cue, the sound of the splintering wood reverberated through the night, punctuated by crashing pans, tinkling glass. The sounds of destruction in the other room propelled both of my parents out of bed.
"There's something in the cabin," my father whispered.
My mother's glare could have rivaled the Northern Lights. "Where's your gun?"
"In the other room."
Forget the Northern Lights. She was full on nuclear now. "Why is it in the other room?" she growled through gritted teeth.
My father didn't respond. He crept to the bedroom door and peeked into the darkness, a bit of light provided only by the moon. "I think it's a bear."
Without a word, my mother reached down and pulled a 9mm from beneath her side of the bed. She offered it to him.
"What do you want me to do with that? Piss it off?"
It's a good thing my mother didn't have it loaded. This story would have had a much different ending.
"It's going back outside," he whispered.
My father was not a small man. Despite his size, he eased into the other room with stealth not befitting his stature. As he made his way to the .30-06 rifle loaded and ready in the corner, silence resettled in the air. My father moved to the window, eyes searching for the intruder with the patience of an experienced hunter.
My mother, riddled with adrenaline, whispered from the bedroom doorway, "do you see it?"
He turned, finger pressed tight to lips, his back now to the window. The sound of shattering glass returned as the melon-sized paw swiped at my father through the window. The breeze of the near-miss raked down his bare back.
Oh yeah, did I tell you he was in his underwear? He was. Standing in a cabin in the remote woods of Canada in his underwear, ready to do battle with a bear. Classic dad.
"Oh no you don't!" my father yelled as he turned and fired. One shot. Straight through the heart. My father was both a very good shot and very lucky.
Gravy still on its muzzle, an enormous black bear lay dead on the ground. My father got his bear. My mother finally got to sleep.
Today would have been my father's 62nd birthday. Today is the day I leave the mainland and begin my adventure in Maui. I don't really know what dad would have thought about my decision. On one hand, he had a great curiosity about the world and an appetite to explore it. On the other, he was an advocate for making measured life decisions with a clear plan in place. I'm guessing he'd be a little nervous about this somewhat risky venture. What I know with all certainty is that he would be proud. Proud that I had the guts to take a risk and follow a dream. Proud that I was willing to take a little artistic license with my life. He'd (loudly) voice all concerns and support me to the end. That's how it was with us.
You got your bear, Dad. I'm off to get mine.
Note: I took a bit of liberty with this story. Some minor details added, some omitted, but the core, the ending was all accurate. This was my father's story, perhaps his signature story. He told it best. I can't compete with that, nor would I want to. For those privileged to hear one of his tellings, who endured the stomach-wrenching laughter that inevitably accompanied his rendition, I hope that memory returned vivid and pure. He was a storyteller. He was the best storyteller.