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Not my story, but it hits home. We don't know how lucky some of us have it.



The Awakening

The alarm went off in its usual fashion, but this time rousing me to a special wood duck hunt with my son Eric. Today was going to be an awakening for this young boy. I quickly woke Eric and moved on to the task of preparing thermoses with coffee and hot chocolate. Soon Eric, our lab Lola, and I were driving in the predawn darkness to a private property hunt where a blind had been constructed just for us. The blind is set on a little one-acre pond close to a wood duck roost. I anticipate this early morning hunt will be a, “first bird morning” for my 15-year-old son. Eric has Down syndrome and even though the Doctors have told me he will always be mentally 3 to 4 years old, it hasn’t stopped us from going hunting together. In fact Eric has been going since he was 6 years old. I fear this will be the last year he will be able to legally hunt. There is no way for Eric to pass a hunters safety course, thus leaving him exempt from hunting when he reaches 16. Putting that worry aside for now, I reflect back to this morning’s task. Eric has never wavered, never complained, no matter what the weather or hunting situation has been, but he has never killed a duck. His gun safety and general condition has prevented him from shooting; in fact, normally he carry’s an empty bb gun. But for some strange unknown reason he never seems to mind. Eric is always ready to go. But today I have a simple plan to assure his success.

We soon find ourselves sitting in the little makeshift blind. It has 2 chairs and a good place for the dog to sit and watch the small body of water. Since dawn has not awakened from her slumber, there is time to practice my plan. I place Eric on my lap, a task in itself, for he weighs 120 pounds. We practice aiming the little youth model 410 out of the blind, I explain over and over, how to hold the gun, how to aim and when to pull the trigger. I have repeatedly tried this technique many times before, but each time it is as if it were the first time. Over and over we practice until I am confident he is ready. Eric remains unwaveringly patient and this time I anticipate, he will be successful. Dawn stretches herself and slowly climbs out of bed, shooing off the darkness. She slowly unveils her colors of orange, red and blue, stunningly done, in all of her glory. With a slight yawn, dawn sets to task nature, and all its chores of the day. First are the owls hooting their good morning hoots, and squirrels scurrying from limb to limb in search of their breakfast. Out of the darkness, silhouettes of dove flitter quickly across the pond, catching Eric’s watchful eye. I feel him stiffen as he positions himself on my lap, preparing for the morning visitors. Shooting time has finally arrived. Soon wood ducks will stretch their wings, spring up from their roost, and hopefully drop in to the little pond for a breakfast of acorns, unaware of our presence. Suddenly, but as if in slow motion, three wood ducks whoosh into the pond, landing not more than 15 yards from us. The little pond rippling with joy as its first visitors arrives.

I ever so quietly whisper to Eric, “Are you ready”? Trying to whisper, he replies “yes”… a little too loud and the wood ducks vanish, as quickly as they had arrived. Seconds later though, the weep weep call of a wood duck can be heard as it circles behind us, and before a breath can be taken, the male wood duck has landed in the ripples left behind by his fleeing kin. As the Woody dips his beak in the cool water and ruffles his beautiful fall feathers, Eric is busy readying himself for the ducks demise. Eric takes aim and as the hammer on the 410 nosily clicks back, the woody springs from the water, startled by the unfamiliar sound. I tighten with anticipation, as Eric’s load of steel 6s catch the bird squarely in its pattern. As if Eric was opening his first Christmas present, he gasps with amazement as the drake wood duck floats quietly on the pond. A quick retrieve from Lola, a quick examination of the bird, some pats on the back and it is back to business, as I see it.

The 410 is again readied for another encounter, and as I brace myself for Eric’s weight once again on my lap, I say; ready boy? In a soft whisper he says “No”… at the same time he signs to me he is happy. I, more surprised than the three wood ducks were when they made their escape, try to gather my composure and say, come on, let’s shoot some more ducks. This time he signs, “I love you”, and ever so quietly he stutters out the words “ha ha happy”, he repeats, “Eric’s ha ha happy”. As if I had been hit by a load of steel sixes myself, I am in shock, my mind reels, what is going on? Time stands still as scene after scene of Eric and I hunting in the past, flash before me. The foggy mornings, the rainy dawns, and the hot afternoon hunts we have shared together with never a complaint from him. What is this all about, I ask myself? Realization hit me so hard my whole body stiffened. I pressed my lips together tightly and I squint to hold back the tears that were swelling inside of me, how could I have not seen this coming? I slowly gaze over into Eric’s dark brown eyes, and he softly smiles back at me. A single tear slowly tracks down my wrinkled face. I can’t move. Eric reaches up and with his rough stubby hand, and softly whisks the tear from my face. He whispers, “I love you… Eric happy”.

You see, I have spent much of my life hunting with different people, rich and poor, young and old. I’ve observed and tried to understand the many reasons that inspire people to pursue waterfowl, but I was blind to my own sons drive, to his desires. You see Eric didn’t care if he shot a duck. Counting duck bands, limits of ducks, great shots taken and ones missed, were not of concern to him. He was just happy to be there with me. He has watched the world of waterfowling as it unfolds in front of him time and time again, and all this time, his greatest treasure.....was being with me. Trying to gain composure, I shakily poured hot chocolate from his thermos and also poured myself a stiff black cup of coffee from mine. As we sipped together, I savored the awakening that my son had given me.

We sat there together for a couple of hours as 30 to 40 wood ducks visited the pond. I watched Eric as the birds would wheel and turn and slide and finally land into their little breakfast nook, unaware of our presence. Eric seemed filled with joy as the spectacle unfolded in front of us. He was one with nature, ha ha happy, you could say. And what of me, would I ever forget this moment? No, I will never forget the greatest gift I have ever received, the gift of a bond between father and son. I leave this hunt a more understanding man. I am…. ha ha happy.

I love you too, Eric


(A true story from the unpublished book “TLS’s Duck Fever”)
 

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We don't know how lucky some of us have it.
Amen to that brother. I know of one of my neighbors, who has a son with down syndrome also. He has been taking his son out turkey hunting for the last few years. My hat off to guys like this to say the least.
 

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True meaning of what you get out of hunting if your so lucky to share it with close family. Great story[up]
 

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You're right...WELL worth reading.[up]
 

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Thanks Ringwood boy awesome story chokes me up for i have a son 18 now and we have lived similar moments together that i treasure more than anything
 

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Stories like that really bother me, but in a good way. Makes me take a step back and realize how lucky I am to have two healthy kids.

My son is getting older now and I would gladly give up my hunting successes just to sit with him in the stand again on youth day.
 

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Great post....

and, not trying to 'one-up' the story, but as a parent of a child with multiple disabilities, I can only tell you how lucky you are if your children are healthy. At the same time, I've met parents with disabled kids that have it a lot worse than I do, and think of me as 'lucky'.
 

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Best article I've ever read on this site...

As the father of beautiful 13 year old daughter...who happens to have downs, I finished reading the last few paragraphs of this great article with what the author eloquently described as, "lips pressed together tightly and I squinted to hold back the tears that were swelling inside of me"

I'm definitley taking her on a turkey hunt this year!!!
 
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