It’s deer season in Kentucky (bow I believe), and if my last trip to the shop to roast coffee is any indication, all the deer are on I71 East of Louisville. For the record, I’m not a hunter, although I am a gun guy. My dad was a hunter, his brothers were all hunters and when I was a teenager, I joined them on many of their adventures.
My dad’s family was from Brown County, IN. Brown County is known for beautiful fall leaves, the little tourist town of Nashville, John Mellencamp’s recording studio, Bare Ass Lake and some of the better motorcycle roads in the State of Indiana. Just up the road from Stone Head, Story and Pike’s Peak (no, not that one), was a little gravel lane called Shepherd’s lane, named for my ancestors. This area was known as Blaneyville (pop. 8…no, I’m not kidding). A lot of dad’s family still lives in the area and for several years we hunted and camped on their properties.
One of Dad’s relatives, Dorothy and Alfred Michelfelder, owned a little one room cabin in Blaneyville, on Ind 135. They lived in Indianapolis in the winter and the cabin during the summer. Across the road from them was another relative who we called “Red.” They lived a very simple life: no running water, no inside plumbing. Dorothy was a real character. The best way to describe her would be to think of the character “Ma,” that Ruth Gordon played in the old Clint Eastwood movies about the truck driving fighter, Philo. She cussed, spit and swore in a gravely, ragged voice, not unlike the Wicked Witch of the West. And to a ten-year-old boy, just about that scary. I remember always dreading to visit. On the drive over, my stomach would be in knots: would I have to eat the beans that were always cooking on the wood stove? Would I be able to stomach the “unknown” aroma that filled the cabin without getting sick? Would I be able to escape this visit without being given a much dreaded “beer kiss!” “Chawlie (that’s what she called my dad), does your boy drink beer? Want a beer pop, boy?” (I was still in elementary school, for God’s sake!). “Let me give you a kiss.” Yikes!
Eventually, Dorothy sold the cabin and 60 acres of wooded hillsides to my dad. It became our hunting lodge and personal playground. It bordered the Hoosier National Forest and Brown County State Park…no private property at all. We stayed in the cabin and hunted those hills for years. By my late teens, I stopped hunting deer and focused my efforts on getting drunk and chasing girls.
Of all the crazy times and fun stories I could share about those days at the cabin with my father, uncles and cousin, there is one that stands out the most. I suppose I was about 15 or 16 at the time. My dad and I headed up into the woods one morning to hunt. He carried his trusty Browning Sweet 16 and I had my 12 gauge pump Remington 870 (I still have both guns). We headed toward the edge of our property when, suddenly, Dad stopped. And cussed. Up in a tree about 100 yards to our left was a man in a climbing stand. Dad recognized him instantly as the guy he had caught dragging a deer from the property the previous year. He told him to never come back. Technically, he hadn’t. He had obviously discovered the fence buried in the leaves and put his stand just across the line. To say that my dad was angry was an understatement. It pissed him off in a big way. I will say it now; what we did next was wrong. The guy wasn’t trespassing. He was on the Hoosier National Forest. Sure, I understood the provocation, but we should have let it go.
Dad looked at me, explained that this guy was “the enemy” and like a commander giving directions to the Swat Team, Dad pointed where he and I would station ourselves. He left me with these instructions: “If you so much as see or hear anything move, shoot your gun in the air, make noise. Just make sure that prick doesn’t have a chance to kill a deer today.”
Dad proceeded to walk past the guy, make some noise and station himself against a tree just beyond the intruder. It wasn’t long before the guy figured out what was going on; his hunting trip was over. Well, it pissed him off too, so he came down out of that tree and headed straight for my dad. I realized the situation was changing, and not in a good way, so I headed over to where the two men now stood, verbally assaulting one another.
Dad and this unknown hunter, a man clearly larger and younger than my father, were becoming very aggressive toward one another. Even though he wasn’t a physical match, my dad was a pretty stubborn cuss, and he wasn’t backing down. Neither man had laid a hand on the other…yet. In the course of arguing and posturing, my father found himself with his back to a tree, the intruder stepping forward and yelling. Then he said the one thing that changed everything: “I was in Vietnam and I killed a lot of men!” I suppose it was intended to be an intimidating threat, but it didn’t seem to faze Dad. It did me, in a big way. Instantly, it became one of those slow motion moments where you immediately see the future unfold in front of you, and it was not a pretty sight. I saw where this was leading. In a moment’s time, I said to myself, “What am I going to do when this man strikes my father, or worse?” You see, I had done some “posturing” myself and I now found myself standing directly behind the guy, gun in hand, chamber loaded, finger on the safety. And in that same moment, I knew what I “might” do. So, I took control…all 15 years and 130 pounds of me. I immediately stepped forward, strong and aggressive, pushing past the intruder, and grabbed my dad by the jacket collar, pulling him from the tree and past the man. I turned to the guy as I passed and said, “This is not worth it.” My dad looked at me in complete shock, unable to stop my adrenaline fueled tug. The stranger looked back at me, shook his head and said, “You’re right. It’s not worth it,” and stormed off into the woods.
My dad was immediately angry with me for intervening. It took him the entire walk down the hill to the cabin before he stopped, looked at me and said, “You just saved my life.” I don’t know what would have happened up there if I had not stepped in. Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. Maybe I’d be writing this from a prison cell, or not be around at all, I don’t know. I’m glad I never found out.
Some years later, my dad decided to sell the cabin. The whole family later regretted that decision. I genuinely miss that wonderful place. The good memories far outweigh that one frightening day. If we did still own it, I’d walk in the woods and enjoy the beauty, spend some weekends roughing it in the cabin and maybe even ride a trail bike around the hills once in a while. But if it’s all the same to you, when deer season rolled around, I’d just stay home and let you have it.