My Dad, Ezra Smith, will miss opening day of the deer season tomorrow for the first time in my lifetime. Dad’s lifetime ended this morning at 3:30 am in the Hospice Unit at the Togus Veterans Hospital.
I shall carry a photo of Dad with me tomorrow, and I’ve already set up a seat for him on the woodlot with his photo attached. I know he’ll be there, watching and waiting.
Dad entered the Hospice Unit in April. We celebrated his 91st birthday there. His time in Hospice Unit has been a true blessing, with exceptionally good care. Until the last few days, he was alert and able to spend lots of quality time with us.
Dad was a real Mainer. He never threw anything away. Two weeks ago I found the deer tag for the first deer he ever shot. The envelope noted he’d shot the deer in a neighbor’s farm field in 1942. I will also carry that tag with me this hunting season.
It was my privilege to write and recently publish two columns about Dad, one in the fall magazine of the Bangor Daily News, and one in the current November issue of Down East magazine.
I opened the BDN column this way: I was born a Maine sportsman, raised a Maine sportsman, and will die a Maine sportsman. Thanks to Dad. Just like Dad.
I closed the BDN column with this: Dad is in the Hospice Unit at the Togus VA hospital, unable to hunt this fall. But he hasn’t given up fishing. Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife stocks a small pond on the hospital campus, for the patients. I’ve taken Dad there five times, and casting from his wheelchair, he’s caught brook trout. For sure, at the age of 91 and in poor health, he is still a Maine sportsman – and we are still creating wonderful memories. Opening day of the deer season this year won’t be the same. But I shall return to our favorite spots, think a lot about Dad, and let the memories flow by me. Maybe I’ll even shoot a deer.
I opened the Down East column this way: The crisp autumn afternoon, the stiff point of the English setter, the explosion of a pheasant from the tall grass, the heft of the shotgun as I brought it to my shoulder, the crack which cut the cool air, and the folding of the colorful bird followed quickly by the dog’s retrieve, set my course for a lifetime. Dad’s presence right behind me reinforced the hunting tradition and all its glory. On my office wall, I still have the photo of us with the setter and my first pheasant. I look awfully small but I must have been twelve years old.
I closed the Down East article this way: Dad had been looking forward to turkey hunting this spring, but he’s in the Hospice Unit at the Togus Veterans Administration in Augusta, nearing the end of his 91 years of life, and his legs weren’t up to the challenge of chasing turkeys. So we got in the Subaru and drove around the Windsor and Somerville area where we first hunted turkeys with our friend Harry Vanderweide.
When we got to the place where Dad shot his first turkey, we stopped and reminisced. As Harry drove up the road that day 8 years ago, we spotted a big Tom turkey in the strawberry field where we had permission to hunt. But he was close to the road, so we told Dad there was no way he could sneak up and shoot the turkey.
Dad insisted that we stop. He hopped out, loaded his shotgun, and somehow managed to sneak up on the Tom, using a big tree as cover. When Dad got to the tree, he peaked around it, raised his gun, and shot the turkey. I wish I had recorded the smile on his face as he walked back to the vehicle with the turkey.
As we sat in that spot last May, retelling this story, we looked across the road and spotted a flock of turkeys. Dad was so happy about that! “Well, they’re still here,” he said. And so too is Dad, for which I am so very grateful.
We didn’t have firearms that day, and didn’t kill anything, but that’s the smallest part of hunting, so I counted it as our 54th year of hunting together.
Blessed. That’s what I’ve been, thanks to Dad. If you hunt tomorrow, please do it in Dad’s honor, as I will.