The writer is a high school student at the Beech Grove Academy near Dover, England. He spent part of his childhood in rural New England, the setting for this fictional story.
My Pa was a man who commanded respect. He was tall and powerful, like the lean brown bear on the mountain. His hair was red; his large hands were rough and calloused, but his eyes were gentle. After mother died, he resigned his job as an earth-moving contractor and moved out of Woodbury into the mountains. Mom had been the social type – getting Pa involved in her activities with the church, the PTA, and a dozen other involvements. Perhaps Pa was unable to face society without her. At any rate, in his grief he had isolated himself from the world he had known and had bought the timber stand.
For the last six-and-a-half years I had lived with Pa in a small cabin, walking down to the bus each morning and, more recently, being picked up by my friend. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy living with Pa at the timber stand; learning to fell trees with a chainsaw, pulling logs with the skidder, the occasional hunting and fishing we did when the work was done was great; but high school was my life.
Walking down the long gravel drive to route 28 to be picked up by my friend Glen in his old truck and stopping at the Texaco for coffee and a doughnut before driving into Woodbury High was only part of it. Glen and I always had a lot of friends, mostly cheerleaders and sporty types from the team. We both went out for football in the fall and baseball in spring. Mr. Bakaro, the football coach, said if I kept playing like I had last season he would recommend me for a college scholarship –my dream. As long as I kept a 2.0 grade point average I could stay on the team and hang out with my friends during break on the lower practice field or the student parking lot.
Then two weeks after I had turned sixteen, Pa pulled me out of school. I was stunned. He had said, “High school is a great place for boys, but son, I want to make a man out of you.” Pa could never change his mind once it was made up so it was useless to argue. I could forgive him for not having come to any of my games – it was all right for him if he wanted to cloister himself in the backwoods – but he had no right to isolate me as well as himself. I wanted my friends, sports, and fun.
After a few months I hesitantly took to asking him if I could head into town for the day to meet my friends around the high school and hang out, but Pa never relented. He wanted to make me into a man, and in Pa’s mind that goal and anything to do with Woodbury High School were mutually exclusive.
On that morning, breakfast was silent as usual. Pa went out and drove the old Dodge up to the stand expecting me at 9:00 AM when the cabin was tidied. I was particularly annoyed. Who did he think I was – his maid? He had said he would make a man of me but really he was treating me like a boy. Angrily I cleaned the dishes and scrubbed the heavy oak table. By the time I had swept the pine floor and hauled in wood, I had come up with a plan. Pa couldn’t stop me from going to town.
I walked out the back door and started down the gravel track towards the gorge. In the distance I could hear the sound of Pa’s big Stihl 460 chainsaw roaring as its sharp teeth bit into the massive soft trunk of a tall yellow pine. I stopped to listen, and heard the muffled crash as the tree thundered to the ground. In the following silence I reached down and hurled a stone far out into the gorge and watched it drop in the creek below. Freedom!
I reached the Texaco station just as Glen pulled into the parking lot in his bright red four-by-four just like he always used to. He was elated to see me. While we munched on our donuts he commiserated with me and told me about all the fun I was missing. Coach Bakaro had announced baseball practice would start today; he said they had a great team this year. It hurt a little to hear him go on about it – how could Glen consider it a great team without me? But Glen always had a way of making you feel all right again. He said that for old time's sake he’d play hooky and show me a good time until 3:00, when we’d show up at the lower practice field in time for baseball.
Glen bought a six pack of Bud Light and we headed up the mountain where we knew there were fewer tourists. Glen kept his fly rods in the back of his truck with the rest of his sports equipment. The salmon had started their run two weeks before and the rough waters of Lackawana creek would be swarming with Chinook and red salmon. I felt exhilarated. This was my kind of life.
Almost twelve hours later I stood and watched the tail lights of Glen’s F-250 disappear in the early twilight before I turned to hike up the gravel road to the cabin. What a day! The fresh run fifteen-pound salmon had really put up a fight and we both had excellent luck. At 3:00 PM we turned up for practice, and I was welcomed like a returning hero. Everyone felt sorry I couldn’t be on the team, and Mr. Bakaro said I could join practice sessions any time. It felt great to be one of the regular guys again. Now as I strolled up the path I felt strong, invincible. For the first time, I felt I had acted like a man. Pa couldn’t control my life forever!
The evening was quiet. The air had a slight chill. I began imagining what Pa would say to me when I walked up to the cabin. Of course he would be angry. “Where the hell have you been...That was blatant disobedience!” he would say. I would give him some wise crack. Pa had to learn I was not just a boy anymore. I even chuckled to myself thinking of the confrontation.
I rounded the bend and saw that the cabin was dark. Strange. Pa would never work on the mountain after dark. Perhaps he was looking for me. I reached the cabin and opened the door. It was just as I had left it. Pa hadn’t even been down for lunch. In an instant my elation turned to panic – where was Pa?
I turned, running up the hill, taking a short cut through the woods to the timber stand. In minutes, and out of breath, I reached the clearing. The old Dodge truck was parked where the road entered the clearing. The skidder stood where I had left it yesterday. A giant pine lay on the far side of the clearing – the only tree that had been cut. Everything was silent. I ran over to the tree. I saw Pa’s big 460 on its side with the forty inch bar bent and the casing smashed where it landed. And then I saw Pa. He lay frozen, his left leg twisted from his body at a bizarre angle, his right leg pinned by the trunk, his head screwed around. Blind terror overwhelmed me and I screamed. Shaking all over in my fright I struggled to bring my mind under control. Finally, still terrified, I knelt next to him and saw his face: it looked white and dead. I put my trembling hand on his chest. Then his eyelids fluttered open, and he looked at me. “I knew you would come in time,” he said.