You know my dad, grandfather and uncle Manuel from East 2nd, were real big deer hunters when I was a kid. And for those who are familiar with the “Buzz-a-rama”, my uncle Manuel was Dolores Perri’s dad. He was a big man who stood about six feet five, and had a loud booming laugh and shoulders broader than the side of a barn.
He was certainly one of those uncles that you always wanted to come over and visit. Just laughing and telling stories and making you feel special, even if you were just eight years old.
And hunting was a real big deal for them. Every November when I was a kid, we would go upstate to our house for hunting season. As the men wandered off into the woods carrying their rifles. We were given specific instructions not to go outside, and also not to make too much noise, even inside the house.
Just a bunch of “hunter-gatherers” as the women and children stayed back in the den.
Now for whatever reason my brother Joseph, cousin Pete and I just never got into the whole “hunting thing”. I mean we certainly were exposed to it every year, and even traveled back to Kensington with a deer tied the roof of the Rambler more than once or twice. And if you want to talk about some strange looks from the Blanks next door, just hang the deer in your garage after you pull it off the roof of your car I tell you.
Yes, the men in my family certainly showed the “natives” of Kensington a thing or two about hunting. "New York Times editors" and "Ferry boat captains" had never seen the likes of the Lopez family, on a quiet street just known as East 4th.
Yeah, a large buck hanging inside the garage in the back of our driveway, and sawed off deer legs for all the kids to play with. These were the only Novembers that I knew as a child growing up here in Kensington Brooklyn.
In 1965, my grandfathers best hunting companion, my dad, died at 39. Leaving the tradition solely on the shoulders of my uncle Manuel and grandfather. And as the years rolled on Pete and I just never showed much interest in the sport my grandfather loved so much. No, for us it was hockey pucks and roller skates, and weekends down at a hockey court simply known as “Avenue F”.
And my uncle Manuel, well, he hunted less and less too, I think he just missed his best friend, that being my dad. And the times up in the Catskills just weren't the same as they were before, especially for my grandfather.
“So young man, would you like to go hunting with your grandfather this year?” I remember the day my grandfather asked me that question, I think I was about 15 at the time. And feeling that maybe that would be something “special” for him, especially after the death of his son ten years before. I reluctantly said yes.
It was always a dream for my grandfather to hunt with his grandchildren you see. And the fact that my dad was gone along with my brother put added pressure on my cousin Pete and I to just do the “right thing” for our grandfather Paco.
Now, we were never afraid of guns, and even used to shoot old cans of tomatoes for target practice once and a while. But the whole idea of shooting a 200-pound deer just wasn’t something I was really interested in. Dragging it through the woods and cleaning it with a knife and my bare hands like my dad? No, that just wasn’t for me, nor my hockey playing cousin Pete.
I remember my grandfather carefully explaining to us where to shoot the deer that day upstate. “It has to be somewhere above their front legs, this way it cannot run away from you”
We politely listened to my grandfather, and then went on our way into the snow-covered woods of the Catskill mountains. I know my grandfather must have been very proud that day. Seeing his two grandsons now hunting with him, just as his own son did so many times before.
I walked over the ridge and sat on a large rock that overlooks a valley. It is a beautiful view and is near where I built my own house back in 2003. I just stared at the snow-covered mountains in the distance, and dreamed about being back in Brooklyn playing hockey.
As my dad’s gun was resting across my lap, I slowly turned it sideways and emptied the bullets from the chamber. I put each one in my pocket and then gently laid my fathers gun on the ground beside me. I just stared at the mountains in the distance, and never saw a thing. After a few hours I returned to the house and met up with my cousin Pete. Never mentioning it to him, we all sat together and had our dinner.
I never told my grandfather what I did that day. Because I didn't want him to know how I really felt. No, hunting was something my father loved. And I just couldn't feel the same, no matter how I tried.
That was November of 1975, and the last time I ever went hunting.
I remember the phone call my mom got that morning. It was October 16, 1976. I was getting dressed in our apartment on the top floor of 399, getting ready for another day of college in the city.
“Oh my God, No, Oh my God, No”
My grandfather Paco died that morning. In our house upstate, a massive heart attack and 20 miles from the nearest hospital.
It was about a month before hunting season.
And as for my cousin Pete and I. Well, we never did go hunting again, no that all ended with my grandfather and the day I emptied the chamber of the rifle.
But at least my grandfather’s dream came true, even if it was for only one day.
It was years later when I heard my grandmother telling my mom the story. About how my grandfather never found the bullets in my dads gun that night when he was cleaning it. And about how he found them in the pockets of my hunting pants instead.
It made him laugh that night because he always knew I could never shoot a deer.
But most important, he was so proud to go hunting with his grandsons that day. About it being the last thing he’d like to see before he died. Even if it was for only one day.