A young man from Monterey and his younger brother go on their first deer hunt with their minister father and his friends. The setting is 1950s northern California, in country where, from the right height, one can see Mt. Shasta in one direction, Mt. Lassen in the other. It is a region of small, insular towns, and although it is a familiar hunting ground for the Reverend and his buddies, not everyone there welcomes black hunters. Father and son both shoulder their pride, and a racial confrontation seems inevitable.
Among the lessons young Satch learns is the sometime advantage of wit and spine. During their days in the wilderness, the brothers are initiated to the right practice of the hunt and camp and to the ribald talk, needling banter, camp tales, and occasional aggravation of sundry friends. Hunting has a primal nature, but as Satch sees, so may the variable interactions of men.
We’re Burying my dad today. At one o’clock. He died suddenly last Thursday. When he didn’t come home from his office at the church, Mom got worried and called. no answer. One of the deacons went in and found him slumped dead over his desk. He was young, only 63, but he had a stroke like his mother, brother and sister before him. i now know the end that some of my genes may hold for me and my children. But right out of the blue? I bet if he’d had a choice, he wouldn’t have picked this as a surprise for his family and friends.
Feels like ages ago that Deke’s phone call got me up from the dinner table. “Hey, Satch. You better git down here. The Reveren died this evenin.” Just like that. Jesus Christ! So here I am driving that same hundred and thirty miles down to Monterey from San Francisco again. Must be the fifth time i’ve made this trip in the last seven days. I was just there yesterday, but had to go back to the city to pick up my wife and kids for the funeral.
Seems I’ve lived a whole life behind the wheel since last Friday, but this is the last trip for now. Claudia’s quiet and a little tight, but she looks pretty in her navy blue suit and hat. Prim and proper. Michael, Anna and baby Booker are so cute in their Sunday-go-to-meetin clothes. Wish it weren’t their grandpa’s funeral we were going to. Hard thing for an eight-year-old, a six-year-old and a toddler. Poor kids. Poor Mom. Poor Dad. Hell, poor all of us.
What a week! Mom falling into bed and needing the doctor. Bub and Carolyn flying in from Kansas City. Everyone running to me for what to do. Phone calls. Confusion. People pouring in and out of the house. Police escorts, flowers, undertakers, caskets, insurance, everybody and his brother “wanting to say a word” at the service. Pounding back and forth up and down the freeway between San Francisco and Monterey. I feel like a zombie.
What’s that saying—“Life’s a beach and then you’re dead”? One week the Old Man’s cruising along, feeling great—making plans, doing just fine. the next week we’re putting him into a hole in the ground. And here I am doing everything from fathering other folks and deciding what to do to running little jive errands because somebody lost his goddamned car keys. taking care of everything and everybody. Madness. It was my father that died, so who’s taking care of me? What am I supposed to do?
I didn’t need this. I’m not ready to be the head of this family. I’m too young. I need more time, time to get my own life in shape and my kids farther along in theirs. Besides, I wasn’t finished with my dad yet. But no, I’ve got to stiff-upper-lip it. Make sure everything comes out right for other people, manage their affairs. Besides, I hate funerals.
I can just see the hordes of people that’ll be there. They’ll jam the aisles and gather in clumps around the steps up into the church. the mayor and local business people droning on about his service to the community. His preacher friends, black and white, from all over the state praising his “faith in the Lord and his devotion to God’s people.” Same old stuff, but this time about my dad.
The music will be the only good part. No Bach chorales, no sorrow-song spirituals. Just plain, strong Gospel music. If everything about my folks’ religion were like the music, I could dig it. the choir singing “We Are Our Heavenly Father’s Children,” and the singers, the organ and the piano merging into a single sound, one that’s simple and complex, brilliant and dark, that thunders and soars. When they get to the last line, “He knows just how much we can bear,” even if I do have a hole as big as the Grand Canyon in the middle of my guts, I know I’ll feel like everyone else, transported right up through the ceiling toward heaven. What music!
Of course Sandra Wilkins, chubby and cherubic, will sing “Precious Lord, take My Hand,” my dad’s favorite, promising divine guidance on earth and everlasting life in heaven to everyone within hearing distance. It’ll make saints and sinners, birth and death, all one. Bishop Jones’s sermon about God’s faithful servant’s having labored in the vineyard and gone on to his just reward will try to explain what’s happened. Maybe the Bishop’s words will satisfy some people. Make them feel like my dad’s early death was all right, that they and he will have many mansions to look forward to. But not me. no, sir. Hell, no. I’m not convinced God’s eye really is on the sparrow, or me.