Harry adjusted his wire-rim glasses and smoothed the letter from Ethan, his ten-year-old grandson, out on his rustic kitchen table. The golden light of morning crept through the kitchen window as he read it again. “Chauncey, old boy, would you like me to read you the letter from Ethan? He’s coming in today.” The golden lab curled by the fireplace wagged this tail and smiled.
Dear Grandpa Harry,
Mom says I can stay over Thanksgiving break! She says we need to go deer hunting again because we’ve run out of jerky from the time you took me hunting last year. My friends really want to come up with me sometime and meet you. They all wish they had a Grandpa Harry like I do. Do you think you could teach me how to bow hunt this time?
“Well, old fella,” Chauncey moseyed over to Harry’s side. “It’s been a while since I’ve hunted with a bow but what do you say we teach our young man how to do this? Sure do miss having that lad around, don’t we? I am glad his Momma lets him come up here so much now. We had a good summer with him, didn’t we? He makes us both young again.”
Gladys had passed away ten years earlier and the old cabin they shared their life together in grew lonelier with each passing day until last year when Ethan came for Thanksgiving. Since then, Ethan spent Christmas break, spring break and the entire summer with Harry and Chauncey.
Although they moped around together for a few days each time Ethan returned to the city, they weren’t as lonely as they were before. The anticipation a loved one’s visit takes the edge off of loneliness. And letter writing. After Ethan read some of the letters Harry wrote Gladys during the war, Ethan and Harry faithfully exchanged letters every two weeks. Once again, a trip to the mailbox for Harry and Chauncey became the highlight of their life.
Chauncey’s ears perked up at the sound of tires crunching the carpet of oak leaves on the graveled lane. Suddenly, his arthritis disappeared as he pranced like a 6-month-old puppy. He flew out the doggie-door to meet his buddy.
“Hey Chauncey!” Ethan raced across the yard to tackle the dog in a pile of raked up leaves. “I sure missed you! Hi Grandpa Harry!”
“Hi Grandson,” Harry chuckled with great affection; he liked the way grandson tumbled off his lips.
They soon made their way into the cabin and Ethan spied the various bows spread out on the table.
“Wow, Grandpa, those are cool! What are they?”
“Well, Grandson, you said you wanted to learn how to bow hunt so the first thing is to understand the different kind of bows.”
“This one here is a longbow,” Harry said, picking up a slender bow. “This is the oldest kind of bow because it could be made from a small tree or branch. My great granddaddy traded for this with one of his Cheyenne friends. But it takes a lot of strength to pull on this. Archaeologists have found these that are 5,000-years-old.”
“What about the curvy one?” Ethan asked.
“That’s called a recurve. Longbows are cumbersome in thick woods or on horseback, so a shorter bow is handier.”
“What about the one with all the pulleys and strings?”
“That’s called a compound bow. It was invented about 50 years ago as a way to get more power but use less strength to pull it back. We’ll go try them out in a bit and you’ll find the longbow and recurve are pretty hard to pull back and hold, but the compound is easier.”
“Will I be able to shoot all of them?”
“Well, I’m not sure either one of us have enough rocks in our pockets to shoot the longbow or recurve like it’s supposed to,” Harry joked. “But we can work the compound.”
Their target was straw bale leaned against the barn with a crudely drawn bulls eye on a piece of cardboard wedged between the baling wires. They spent the afternoon target practicing with all three bows while Harry told stories laced with lessons of hunting techniques, the importance of game management and the ethics of being a good sportsman.
On the last night at the cabin before returning to the city, Ethan and Harry sat by the fireplace playing checkers, drinking hot chocolate and eating popcorn.
“Grandpa, thank you for taking me hunting this week. I learned a lot.”
“I’m sorry we didn’t get a deer, maybe when you come back at Christmas we’ll do better.”
“Yeah, it’s a lot harder than using a rifle. But this year was actually more fun than last year. Last year we were done in two days. This year, we were out there every day and I saw things I’ve never seen in the wild before like turkeys, coyotes and that bobcat; that was cool! I hope I didn’t scare any deer away when those squirrels were wrestling and fell out of the tree and I laughed but that was really funny. I can’t wait to tell my friends about this week.”
“Well, maybe you can bring them along some time.”
“Really? That would be awesome! My teacher said she’d like you to visit our class and tell stories. She says people like you were what they call the greatest generation because you lived through the Great Depression and saved the world from Hitler.”
“Oh, I can’t imagine a bunch of young people want to hear stories from an old man like me,” Harry chuckled.
“Grandpa, I love it when you tell stories. The best part of coming here is going back home with new stories I can tell my friends. We all think you need to write a book.”
Ethan left early the next morning, waving goodbye to Harry and Chauncey, both smiling sadly. Soon, the sound of the leaves crunching under the tires disappeared and the old man and his dog made their way back in the cabin. Chauncey curled up on his bed by the fire and Harry filled his cup with coffee and sat down at the kitchen table.
The golden morning light again filtered through the kitchen window as Harry laid a clean piece of paper on the table and filled his fountain pen. Slowly, he began to write:
The Life and Times of Harry Withers