As luck would have it, and I did need plenty of luck on a day such as today, the old sow bear that denned up in the woods about a quarter of a mile from the cabin, wandered out into the drive with her two cubs, hunting for food, the lake, going for a walk, who knows or cares, all I knew was she was there when I needed her.
"That one!" I snorted, flipping my thumb in her direction.
His eyes focused as his head swiveled in the direction my thumb was pointed, zeroed in on the apparition in the lane, a creature black in color, immense in size, followed by two more diminutive, just as black versions, then, again for what reason, no one knows, she reared up on her hind legs, turned her head in the direction of the cabin, slowly assessed the area for any danger which might be awaiting her or her cubs, then, extended her long, red, tongue, licked her snout as if anticipating a future meal, before returning to all fours and meandering toward the lake.
Jed, eyes wide with apprehension and fear as he viewed a creature in the drive he'd hereto only seen in pictures, the zoo, or television, rapidly came to the conclusion his present situation with me was far more superior, safer, preferable in fact, than taking his chances in the primeval forest where he could encounter all sorts of strange critters which would delight in making a meal of him. If I could catch that sow bear and be allowed to, I'd kiss her for her appearance, since she assisted me in establishing a rapport with Jed, an understanding that while living with me he'd do as he was told, abide by our rules, recognize me as the adult, his father, and it might not be as bad as the alternative. That one incident made an immediate difference in the relationship between him and me, quite different from the original I think he'd intended to establish.
His residency now decided, the rules agreed to and who the boss was, we stowed his belongings in his bedroom, and went outside to begin our day's work. I had a large pile of wood cut, but not yet split or stacked. That'd be our task today, finishing up that wood since it'd then be all we'd need to get us through the next winter or so. I instructed him in the operation of the wood splitter and how to stack the wood before I started the motor on the splitter. It didn't take him long to catch on, so we were soon falling into a steady rhythm of work, changing places every half hour or so. This continued until lunch time when we took a break for a sandwich, milk, chips and a short rest.
Returning to our task after our meal, we again fell into a familiar rhythm of work, speaking very little to each other, except to indicate a change in duties. It wasn't an antagonistic working relationship; without harsh words, or derogatory or negative comments, just amicable. As we neared the end of the pile of wood, I was growing tired and I noticed he was moving a bit slower also, grimacing bit, favoring sore arms and back. I was experiencing the same discomforts, but I'd be damned if I'd admit to him. I was just as certain he felt the same way toward me.
We finished about four o'clock and I complimented him on what a good job he'd done. I saw him smile slightly, wipe his forehead, then head toward the cabin, limping a bit as he did. He was all in but his shoestrings. Once inside, I said, "Jed, why don't you take a shower, put on some clean clothes, and I'll fix us something to snack on and drink before I prepare supper. I hope you like rib-eye steak because I have a couple I'm going to grill. Hard rolls, a salad, and some milk will round out the meal."
Nodding wearily, he headed toward his room to retrieve some clean duds. Once in the bathroom, I showed him where towels, washcloths, soap, shampoo, deodorant (if he thought he needed it), and the laundry basket was located for his dirty clothes. I returned to the kitchen area to begin preparation for dinner and to mix myself a Brandy Old-fashioned Sweet, with extra brandy. I prepared a plate of cheese, deer summer sausage, and crackers, taking it along with my brandy to the porch, where I could enjoy the view of the lake, but still hear when he was done with his shower so I could have his iced Pepsi ready for him when he came to the porch.
Quietly sipping my drink, I listened for the water to stop running in the shower, as sign he had finished. Suddenly, emanating from the bathroom, I heard a loud crash, followed by a muffled cry of pain, words of disgust, anger, and humiliation. Leaping to my feet, I made haste to the bathroom, where, upon opening the unlocked door, I found Jed laying on the floor, naked as the day he was born, tears streaming down his face, a nasty abrasion on his right side, trying to reach the prosthesis which completed his left leg, missing from just below the knee. The end of the missing limb exhibited a red, angry, abrasion where the prosthesis had rubbed during our very active day.
As I approached him, Jed looked up at me, blinked his eyes a couple of times in an attempt to stem back the tide of tears, and said not one word to me in explanation, anger, nothing. Kneeling, picking him up, cradling him in my arms, I carried him to his bedroom, placed him on the edge of his bed and left him there while I returned to the bathroom to retrieve my first aid kit, another dry towel, and a damp wash cloth for cleansing the abrasion on his side.
When I returned, he was still sitting where I placed him, still naked, still staring at me, saying nothing. Clearly, this was a young man who wasn't unaccustomed to pain, physically or emotionally, and bearing it in silence, not unlike the father he didn't know until today. I dried his face, hair, and upper body, then draped the towel across his lap to conceal his nakedness. Using the damp cloth, I gently cleansed the dried blood from the nasty abrasion on his side. It wasn't serious enough to require bandaging, but severe enough to be damned sore and in need of some of the antiseptic spray I pulled from the first aid kit.
"This will sting a bit at first, but we need to get something on it so it won't get infected," I commented as I gave it a good spray. He winced, but said nothing, preferring to continue his staring gaze into my eyes. "God," I thought, "he could look into your very soul, measuring your worth, testing your sincerity, seeking any of your secrets while revealing none of his own and do it in a very quiet, almost secretive manner.
Finishing up, I casually asked, "What happened?"
Finally speaking, Jed looked at me and replied, "You mean the leg?"
"No, in the bathroom," giving a sideways nod of my head.
He inhaled deeply, shook his head in resignation and responded to my question, "It was my own fault. I should've been more careful and less in a hurry. There were no handholds and I slipped when I lost my balance getting out of the shower."
"We'll take care of that in the morning," I said firmly to him, "after we make a trip to the hardware store. If there's any other place we need to put railings or handholds on or near, help me make a list. What should I put on your leg? Evidently, dust or dirt got into the socket of your prosthesis and irritated the shit out of your leg. Should I use this antiseptic or do you have something else that is more effective and hurts less?"
Smiling, for the first time since I picked him up in the bathroom, he said with a chuckle, "I don't know if I can take another application of that stingy crap you sprayed me with, unless you enjoy inflicting pain on people. In my duffle, there's an antiseptic spray that contains lidocaine. It's an antiseptic and numbs the spot its applied to. It'll be alright by morning if you don't mind me hobbling around on my crutches."
"Won't bother me a bit," I said, rummaging around in his duffle until I found what he wanted along with a clean pair of boxer shorts, a tee shirt, and some board shorts. Laying them beside him, I cleaned up his leg with the damp washcloth and then gave the sore spot a quick spray with the antiseptic.
"Where are your crutches?"
Jed pointed at the rather elongated cardboard box standing against the foot of the bed. Opening it, I found a pair of aluminum, arm and hand grip crutches, and place them on the bed with his clothing. Looking at him, smiling what I hoped was a warm, accepting, paternal smile, I gave a flip of my head and said, "After you're dressed, come on out and I'll have a iced Pepsi ready for you and a bit of snack before supper. I think we've earned some time out. Oh, you might want to slip on a sweat shirt or light jacket since it can get a bit cool when the sun starts to set."
I returned to the porch, refreshed my drink, which meant more ice and lots more brandy since I had no idea what to expect from him or what he'd do. He really hadn't said he was here to stay so, I could only hope his decision would be to stay here and accept me as his father. It wasn't long until I heard the metallic squeaking of the crutches and a soft "thump" as his right foot impacted the cabin floor. He entered the porch, seated himself at the table while I filled an ice-filled glass with Pepsi then I slid it toward him along with the plate of sausage, cheese, and crackers. Jed sipped his drink, stacked cheese and sausage on a half-dozen crackers, engulfed the first one in one bite, and sat back to slowly savor the rest. As he ate, he viewed, as did I, the lake stretching out in front of the cabin, it's sparkling water despoiled only by my dock and fishing boat, then, swinging his eyes and head, viewed the surrounding woods, my large fenced in garden, the garage and storage building, and the array of solar panels. We sat a bit more, not saying much, but knowing I had to broach the subject sometime or another, I led off with, "Why didn't you tell me your leg was getting sore, we could've slowed down or taken a break"
"Yah, right," he snapped, "the cripple can't carry his own weight. Just what I need you to say or think, then throw my sorry ass out like she did."
The last part of his comment confused me, really caused me some concern, wondering who in the world, in their right mind would reject this boy? Holding up my hand, interrupting his angry chatter, I looked directly at him, saying, "Hold up right here! Your leg has nothing to do with the situation! It was a lack of common sense on my part. I was so interested in wearing you out, making you so damned tired you couldn't leave tonight if you wanted to, wanting to get to know you better, that I failed to see you were hurting. For that, I am extremely sorry. I'm not going to throw you out, why should I? You're my son and I owe you, no, that's wrong; I want to provide for you as a father should, giving you a home, making a place for you. Haven't you been through enough? Now, I want to know who threw your ass out and why, and I want the entire story, not just snippets."
I sat patiently while Jed sorted out his thoughts before he began to speak.
"The only mother I've ever known, until just four days ago, was Grandmother Jacobsen. She was the one that raised me, cared for me, enrolled me in school, and held me when I was hurting. I knew my mom was divorced, living somewhere in the state, but we never had any contact with her either way. When I started school I asked Grandma why she raised me instead of my real mother and all she'd say was my mother was unable to, didn't say incompetent, which would've been more accurate, but just she was unable to. Grandma didn't go into detail and I didn't ask. I figured if no one but Grandma wanted me that was fine."
"Grandma waited for me every day when I jumped off of the city bus that hauled me to school. No matter what the weather was, she'd be standing on the front steps of our apartment building waiting, ready to give me a hug and ask how my day went. Up the stairs we'd go, me glad to be home, and her happy to have me there."
"When I was in second grade, on Valentine's Day, we had a party at school and some kids gave me some valentines and I made one for Grandma. At that age, she was the only sweetheart I had and I wanted her to know it. We had a real wet snow during school hours and the city bus slipped and slid a bit when it came to my stop. I got off the through the back exit and evidently the bus driver was in a hurry because he started to move before I could step on the curb. I slipped and the rear wheels of the bus ran over my leg. Anyway, it was so bad they had to take it off just below the knee. I was laid up for a long time, but Grandma and I made it through and eventually, I became accustomed to the prosthesis. Later it came in handy because I didn't have to take physical education like the rest of the class. I still had to take it, but with different exercises."
"Then, last week on Wednesday, I came home from school and she wasn't waiting for me on the steps. I traipsed up stairs, expecting her to be by the apartment door. When she wasn't, I let myself in and found her sitting in her chair. As first, I thought she was sleeping, but when I touched her, I knew she was dead. I sat and cried for a few minutes and then got her purse from the bedroom. She once told me if anything happened to her, there was an envelope in her purse with instructions in it and I was to do that first before I called anyone. When I opened the envelope, I found a telephone number for her attorney and a phone number for my mother, plus some other things she wanted me to know, you know, how much she loved me and such."
"I called the attorney and told him what I found and he told me to call the police. I did, right after I called my mother and told her. She really could've cared less, but said she'd be there in a couple of hours. Then I called the police. When they came, the coroner said she was probably dead shortly after I left for school. They ruled it heart failure since she had suffered from heart disease for several years. Mother dear showed up just about the time the cops were finishing their preliminary investigation. While they questioned her, I went into Grandma's bedroom, picked up some pictures and other stuff Grandma's letter told me to, so I'd be certain to have them, you know, just in case something else happened. I really didn't like my mother from the minute she walked in the door. It didn't take me long to figure out she was on the prowl, hunting for money, whatever, especially when her live-in showed up a little later. By that time, I was in my room, just trying to absorb it all."
"All mother could fuss about was where Grandma kept all of her money and I told her a dozen times, we just didn't have that much to live on and we didn't. Grandma raised me on her social security, her widow's pension, and the little bit of pension she got from the city when she used to work in the city attorney's office. Mother never even asked about funeral arrangements. I thought she ought to know so, I told her Grandma had a pre-paid funeral and the attorney was making the arrangements. Still not satisfied that there wasn't any money around, they started going through the apartment with a fine toothed comb. When they came to my room, they just tossed the place, not completely, but enough to make a mess. They left me alone for a while to go get their stuff. About four hours later they showed up with suitcases and pizza from a carryout place. She and that big, ugly brotha, just moved in, announcing she was going to live there and really didn't care what I did."
"That night, they slept in Grandma's room and let me alone. The next morning, Thursday, as I was getting dressed, her man barged into my room and saw me putting on my leg. He raised cane with me and started shouting how I was nothing but a damned cripple and how were they going to take care of a cripple. I could see the handwriting on the wall and knew it wouldn't be long before they decided to do something about me, so I gathered up my suitcase and some boxes and started packing things away. Friday, we had the visitation, with lots of people from the neighborhood and our church, plus people from the city she used to work with. The funeral on Saturday was alright, as far as funerals go, and afterwards, when we ended up back at the apartment, they started drinking, him more than her."
"It must have been around six or six-thirty when he bounded into my room again, hollering at me about where the money was hidden. He was about half-full I would say. When I again denied knowing of any, he grabbed me and slapped me across the face and I fell over the other side of my bed. When I got up, he grabbed me and when he raised his hand to hit me again, I just reached around behind him and stuck him in the ass with my pocket knife. Dumb jerk didn't have a clue I had it. God, did he scream! He let go and I went on the attack, threatening to turn him from a rooster to a capon. He actually ran from me, blood running down his pants. Well, she told me to get my stuff together and when they got back from the emergency room she was going to haul my ass up to you. I had no idea where we were going, but it was better than where I was."
"When she returned, about two hours later, she deposited the boyfriend on the couch with instructions to be there when she got back, ordered me to carry my stuff to the car, jumped in, slammed the door, picked up a Google map, and started off. When I asked her where we were going, all she'd say was 'North', and here I am."
I sat quietly, absorbing all he said, finally realizing the trauma my son had endured this past week. Clearing my throat, I said to him, "Personally, I'm thankful you are. I can't be the person your Grandmother was and I don't intend to try to be. I know you miss her so much and I know I can't cause that hurt to go away, but I'll try to lessen it for you by doing the very best I can as a father and provider."
Pausing, before I continued, I stood, saying, "Why don't you sit here and relax and I'll get our dinner started."
Leaving him on the porch, I went to the kitchen, filled two salad bowls with the bagged lettuce salad I had in the refrigerator, retrieved two steaks, salad dressing, steak sauce, and catsup also, placed them on a tray along with two aluminum foil wrapped potatoes and our plates and utensils, and returned to the porch. I placed them on the table, took the potatoes and steaks and headed for my gas grill outside. As I exited the porch, I said, "Along with the handrails, I'm going to stop by my attorney's office and have him check into what went on last week. If we have to go to court to get more of your grandmother's stuff for you we will. I just can't abide what that so-called mother of yours did. Then, we'll stop in the insurance office and line you up for some health insurance. Living out here, a lot can happen and I don't want to take that chance. I think I can add you to my policy, so there should be no problem. There's still a couple of weeks of school left here, so we'll stop by the School District Office to see what arrangements have to be made to enroll you."
Placing the spuds on the grill, I messed around a bit, knowing it would take them a bit longer to bake than to grill the steaks. I heard, no, I felt his presence near me. Turning, he was standing just behind me, with a not real serious look on his face, but one which made me cease what I was doing, and look at him, as he said, "You don't have to do that."
"Jed, if we want to eat, I do. These steaks are not going to cook themselves."
"No, I mean all that other stuff you were talking about."
I had no idea what he was referring to, until he continued, "Leave her alone. Good riddance to bad rubbish is what Grandma used to say. I have my own health insurance, paid from a trust fund when Grandma sued the socks off of the city. She had it set up so my health insurance, doctor bills, future medical costs, and college education will be paid for, along with a monthly stipend I can use for my care, rent, whatever. Since I didn't use it and she wouldn't take any of it, we invested it in U.S. Savings Bonds, bank certificates of deposit, and a couple of savings accounts in my name. That was some of the stuff Grandma wanted me to get out of there, the trust papers, policies, and the bonds, so don't worry about me."
I know my jar dropped open as I stared at him in amazement.
"Close your mouth," he mused, "a fly might fly in, or, in the case up north here, a mosquito."
Shaking my head, I said, "It's a wonder she didn't find everything as they went through the apartment and your room."
Jed just laughed, "I said they were greedy, not smart. They never thought to look through the cardboard box with my school books and family Bible in it. One look and it was too much intellectual stuff for them, so they stopped."
I laughed along with him, placing my arm around his shoulder, commented, "Well, you won't need any of your money here for your upkeep, I'll take care of all of that. You just continue to save it, O.K.? Why are you telling me all of this? How do you know I wouldn't do the same to you as she did?"
My son looked at me, smiled a genuine, broad smile and replied, "If I'm going live with my father, it is only right that he know about me."
Suddenly consumed by the awesome responsibility of now raising a teenage boy in the middle of a northern forest, knowing, at my age, he could be left alone much sooner than I'd want or he realized, I smiled my thanks to him, silently vowing to take one day at a time, hope for the best, and earn his trust.
His words twisted in my gut, wrenching me to the present, the future, filled with guilt for my past negligence and ignorance; my selfishness, my lack of recognizing the possibilities of procreating this, my son. The axiom "heavy the head that wears the crown" bore down upon my shoulders, burdening me, yet giving me strength, increasing the desire to perambulate life's paths with him as long as possible.
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