My Son, the Hunter
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My Son, the Hunter

By Maria Daddino

The minute I turned the corner, I knew something was seriously wrong. Two of my sons, Tommy and Michael, were pacing in front of our house anxiously. That could mean only one thing: their brother, Bobby, had done something terrible.

Quick, I thought, just turn around and drive away. Too late, they already saw me. I drove very slowly, with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach—a feeling that most single moms, especially those raising three boys, know quite well. It must be really, really bad. They didn’t even wait for me to stop my car.

They came running. “Wait till you see what’s hanging from your favorite tree. You’re really gonna be upset.” Oh, no. Now the sinking feeling became knots in my stomach. I had a pretty good idea of what was hanging from my favorite tree. I was just hoping that it wasn’t true. Tommy and Michael couldn’t wait. They practically pushed me into the backyard.

And there, to my horror, hanging upside down from my favorite Kwansan cherry tree, was a very beautiful, but very dead, deer. How could I—a lover of nature and wildlife, who raised and nurtured so many hurt animals, who worked with wildlife rehabilitators—have raised a son who hunts, who kills, who deliberately and in cold blood murdered Bambi’s father, the Great Prince of the Forest?

Bobby joined us, expecting appreciation of his marksmanship, but he didn’t get any compliments from me. Instead, he saw his usually even-tempered mother crying and screaming hysterically. Bobby tried to tell me that he was providing food for our family, and I angrily countered with, “I don’t need that kind of food—I go to the supermarket!”

I know all the arguments: there’s not enough food for the deer, better to be shot than starve to death, the herd has to be culled to ensure survival of the fittest, they have no natural predators, and on and on. And I also know that it is an important rite of passage into manhood for some boys—but not mine! I went upstairs and threw myself on my bed, still wailing. I was sure the entire neighborhood heard me.

Then the tug of war began: “You eat meat, don’t you? How can you be such a hypocrite? Who’s more important, your son or a deer?” I hate to admit it, but it was actually a very hard choice for me. I finally made peace with myself and, later, with Bobby, and for posterity Tommy took a picture of the three of us—me, Bobby and the dead deer in the middle. I tried very hard to smile, to look like a pioneer woman whose son had brought home sustenance for the harsh winter ahead. But it was truly difficult.

True to his word, Bobby stocked up the freezer, and the boys ate deer meat all winter. And in keeping with some ancient male hunting tradition, the buck’s head, replete with six-point antlers, was duly mounted and hung in Bobby’s bedroom.

In the following winters, Bobby went hunting, and I braced myself, but each time he came back empty-handed. I knew that Bobby was an excellent marksman. So that wasn’t the reason why his hunting trips were no longer successful. Bobby was sure that I had cast some sort of spell on him, because whenever he had a deer in his sights, something always happened and the deer miraculously escaped. I preferred to think that, deep down inside, he didn’t really find pleasure in shooting something so beautiful.

Now, years later, whenever Bobby comes to visit, we watch in awe as my evening visitor, a truly magnificent 10-point buck, John J. by name, regally surveys the delicacies of my well-loved garden. And then a look of sheer mischief comes into Bobby’s eyes as he reminds me that there is one sure way that I can have John J. around forever, to admire him whenever I want. That’s when I start throwing pillows and anything else I can find at him.

Maria Daddino writes the “From Fourth Neck” column for the Western Edition of The Southampton Press.

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