Regardless of how evolved we think we are, the core of our existence remains fairly simple. And, although sophistication dominates nearly every aspect of this modern world, we continually find ourselves clinging to simplicity.
Eat, sleep, work, play.
I must have been a teen-ager when I realized life, no matter how complicated it gets, always fits neatly into those categories.
When I wasn’t eating, sleeping or studying for exams, I was playing baseball or hunting rabbits and squirrels with my BB gun.
By the time I graduated high school, I became a student of play. I watched, dissected and analyzed Major League games. By then, my hunting tastes had shifted to white-tailed deer. I soon pursued deer with the same enthusiasm I had for baseball.
In a way, I was a miniature version of my dad. Although he toiled long hours to provide for a family of eight, his face always lit up when the conversation turned to hunting. His fondness for baseball was limited to the home team, but he rarely missed an opportunity to listen to or watch local broadcasts.
So, from an early age, I learned that if we couldn’t agree on something, Dad and I could always talk about baseball or deer hunting.
Field of Dreams
Some might not agree, but the 1970s and ’80s were a different era for kids. Sure, we had a comfortable life, but it was far from the gotta-have-it-now excess today’s youths encounter.
My fondest memories weren’t of video games, amusement parks or heated swimming pools. As bland as it seems, my best memories came from a fresh newspaper and its sports pages, and the 20-acre soybean field across the road from my parents’ home.
My first memory of the field came when I was 7 years old. The sun had just inched over the horizon on April 1 when I awoke to my Dad’s booming voice. “Deer in the field!” I sprung from my bed, hopped down a flight of stairs and joined him at the picture window. “Where?” I asked, wiping the sleep from my eyes. “Where?!”
“April Fool!” he shouted.
He probably got me with that trick two or three more times in the following years. Although we lived in dairy country, deer weren’t abundant.
However, about once a month, one or two would show up in the field, and we’d stare at them as if they were aliens. When deer did show, we’d watch them feed until they disappeared back into the woods.
Most sightings only lasted a few minutes, but they sometimes hung around long enough for Mom to finish making breakfast. The family would then gather at the dinner table and the men would talk about deer hunting.
I’d listen intently to the deer stories, while my eyes and mind absorbed every statistic in the back pages of the sports section.
Months Become Years
Although he never hunted near home, Dad always got excited when deer entered the field.
I’m sure that excitement spawned mostly from the mere sight of the beautiful and graceful creatures, but it also had something to do with his relationship with his sons. It gave him fodder for conversations. Today, I’m grown and don’t yet have children. I can only imagine what a father must do to stay in tune with his kids.
In Dad’s case, I’m sure he didn’t like what his kids were being exposed to. From his perspective, 1982 was a planet away from 1942. Time marched on.
When I was 16, our breakfast routine resembled a disjointed comedy act. ”That was a nice buck in the field this morning,” Dad would say. “Looks like it was at least an 8-pointer.”
“Yeah, maybe even a 10-pointer,” I’d reply with my nose in the paper. “Cooper had four RBIs last night.”
“What about Thomas?” Dad asked.
“Hit his 17th,” I’d say. “Wasn’t that buck you shot up north a 10-pointer?” Although they seemed superficial, those conversations got us through a lot.
The exchanges sometimes led to discussions on religion, politics and everyday things like how I was doing in school. Mom also joined the act. She had the best eyes in the house. The woodlot was 400 yards from our picture window, and she often spotted deer everyone else overlooked.
She might not have understood baseball as well as the guys, but she always humored me by listening to my speeches on why Robin Yount was the best hitter in the American League. By listening, she furthered my education. She made me believe my thoughts were important, and that made me want to learn more about baseball, hunting and life.
A Man Enters the World
I was the last kid to leave the house when I enrolled in college at age 20. It was exciting and scary. I was no longer in an unincorporated town with one stop sign. Traffic congestion consisted of a lot more than a slow-moving combine on a county highway. And not everyone wanted to talk about hunting.
In fact, some people despised it and me, for even mentioning something that caused death to animals. The culture shock hit me hard my freshman year, and it showed in my grades. My parents helped me through it by sending care packages and calling regularly. They always seemed to know when stress was affecting me most.
Dad always called at the crack of dawn, which really annoyed my dormitory roommate, a city guy who thought all hunters were rednecks. “How things going up there?’ Dad would ask. “Did Mom tell you I saw two bucks in the field on Sunday?”
“Things are OK,” I’d say. “How big were they?” “Six-pointers, at least,” he’d say. “Hey, don’t forget to watch the game tonight. Higuera’s pitching. I think it’s on Channel 18.”
It took a lot of adjustments, and many conversations about baseball and deer hunting, but I survived.
A lot has happened since my college days. I’ve entered the working world, built a home and married the woman of my dreams. Several dear relatives have passed on, and most of my friends have gone their separate ways.
The most difficult times have involved my parents. Both have had bouts with cancer, but they remain strong-willed and cheerful as ever. And, even though he’s had his body pumped with chemicals and radiation, Dad always knows how to start a happy conversation.
I was just about to leave for work the other day when the phone rang. It was him. “Hi, Danny. I saw a whopper in the field this morning. He’s at least a 10-pointer!” I couldn’t help but smile. And listen.