Illustration by Sara Wilde
Grandpa owned the road in his Town Car. Expansive like a rec room, it carried steel and velour so fine as to cushion him from the crashes and sirens of an outside world. It was twice the car that I had ever been trusted with. Through the city, up Highway 6 North, then West to The Narrows, Eddystone, away on my first goose hunt. From the backseat Grandpa roars for me to speed up and pass (and some choice words), and my Uncle laughs like he’s heard it all before.
Grandpa was a farm boy and hunter by extension. In the musty closet in the garage, probably trapped there by my older sisters, I found the mallard decoys, shell bags and suits of camo in patterns now so hipster. In the house, his gun collection was on display like art, behind glass, in a custom oak case that set off nice against the bear rug by the fireplace. Wild game was shared on festive occasions and I would receive the feathers and fans and spent ammo. My first time afield was to be a rite of passage, and knowing my Grandpa and Uncle, likely a complete gong show.
On the road, Grandpa soon and often had to “stretch his legs” and in his experience this was best accomplished in dank bars with forever happy hours. Jars of eggs and sass for the waitress, here is where he started in with the hunting stories. Like the year he won big in the card game, chartered a plane to Vegas for all the men in camp, and the weekend turned to a week… and here is where my Grandpa and Uncle became Senior and Junior, and we became friends on a wild road trip of our own. Between stretching stops, my focus at the wheel was to “make good time” so that we didn’t arrive too late to scout.
Doc, Ricky, Freeman, Goose, Hextall, The Butcher: together or apart these men were fit for reality-TV way before their time. We met at the ranch house and they assumed their proven roles in the negotiations as to which fields to hunt, the favours to be exchanged for permission, and what ungodly hour we should reconvene in the morning. After steak dinner and cigars and gambling and more of everything, I am responsible for Grandpa and Uncle and the wake-up call. Out into the night, the Town Car doesn’t hold gravel roads the same and animals appear from the black forest, but Grandpa just lets me drive.
When the sky softens to blues, we are in amongst hay bales arranged as a blind. A chorus and flap stirs on the water in the distance, ducks whistle by, then calls and hiding and guns up and birds thumping. A Canada strays off wounded, and I am tapped to make quick work of it. The awkward chase, kick and wringing, then I slip back into position, shoulder to shoulder, to receive a pat on the back. Grandpa slumps in his chair, done for the morning and I am struck that this hunt is perhaps as much about my first birds than it is about his last birds. I have been introduced to the cast of characters, but gone are the days were we could relive their stories. For now, he has shown me the way to create stories of my own.
Grandpa and Uncle return to me each fall in the smell of a hunting jacket, the sight of a familiar car in traffic, the honk of a goose, and the nervous anticipation. I can escape in my mind to where the hunt is on and there’s never reason to miss the opener with old buddies alive and well. I may never own the road like my Grandpa, but I can still hear his roar to speed up and pass and get out beyond where I’ve ventured before. A good hunt is much about the journey, but you can keep your pick-up trucks, because the Town Car will always be my hunting vehicle of choice.