THE ONLY REGRET By Toby Benoit
Of course the man knew he was old, but hadn’t really begun to feel old, until only this fall. He’d seen three quarters of a century come to pass. Life had been a game for him and he had played hard and enjoyed himself completely. There had been hard times too, but none he ever let himself dwell on.
He’d seen a war in Korea, outlived a pair of pretty young wives, raised two daughters, and a son whom had been lost in Vietnam. He’d traveled about in the adventurous years after the war; Japan, Korea, Bombay, Kenya, and other distant countries of exotic sights and cherished memories. But, here in the heart of the American west was the land that he called home. “Big Sky” country as it was known; and it was too. From horizon to horizon as far as a man could see, was at most times, a sky of the deepest blue, but yet, not as blue lately as it had been thirty years ago.
He had loved the solitude of the open plains at the foot of the eastern Rockies and he had built his house on the outskirts of Bozeman, but the town had grown incredibly since then. The peace he had sought, had long ago been lost, but still he had his cabin in the hills. Heck, mountains really. The Bitterroot range of the eastern Rockies. He’d built it himself and spent at least a month of every fall there during the hunting season. Quite often in the old days, the wife and kids would stay up there with him for a while. Other times, friends would stop in for a week or so to hunt when the elk were bugling.
It’s true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as the old saying goes, and to anybody else the old place might not be much on looks. But, to the old man, it was always a grand sight, sitting quite comfortably beneath the towering lodgepole pine in the cool evening shadows of the Bitterroots. At first it had been little more than a two-room shack with an old cast iron stove he’d salvaged from the scrap heap at the local dump. Over the years though, the place had undergone much change and evolved steadily into the awkward palace he now enjoyed.
Each year, some improvement or repair would change its character. A porch had been added complete with an assortment of rocking chairs back in the early sixties. Then two more rooms added on with extra bunks a year or two later. Glass windows had been installed sometime in the seventies and a tub for bathing a bit later.
This fall though, the little wood stove didn’t quite keep out the night chill and the bunk he’d slept in for so many autumns didn’t sleep as well as he’d remembered. He hadn’t really paid much mind to it until now. Now, he paid attention to everything it seemed. Now, since he’d had the talk with that damned doctor a few months back.
Apparently he’d already had the cancer for years or they’d have been able to do something. He’d lived with it all that time and had gone about his way as usual, but upon hearing the word from his doctor’s mouth, it seemed like all of his years had caught up with him at last. The cold had gotten colder, the grade had gotten steeper and the miles had gotten longer. He sensed that it soon would be time for him to pay for all the fun he’d had, seemingly just yesterday, back when he was young.
The mountain breeze crawled down the slopes and kissed his weathered cheek as he sat on the spongy ground beneath a giant of a pine with his back propped up against it’s rough bark. In front of him was a jumble of rocks and rotting logs that he’d drug into place years before to build a blind overlooking a small spring fed watering hole in a narrow park a mile or so above the cabin.
He’d rested only twice during his climb up earlier that evening and had taken a bit longer to catch his breath when he’d arrived, but he was glad to be there. It was a favorite spot and over the years he had collected quite a few elk and a couple of mule deer there as they came in for an evening drink.
He flexed his fingers a few times to keep the blood flowing through them and rested them again upon the decades worn stock of his rifle. The gun had been a gift from the kids one fathers day too many years ago. He’d owned many excellent rifles in his time, including a fine Italian double-rifle he’d bought from an Indian shikari in Bangladesh, but it was this old Remington that he was always drawn to when he’d reach into the gun cabinet before a hunt.
The shadows were gathering along the slopes as the sun began its descent behind the mountain’s top and his aged eyes took in the familiar view from the mountainside. The quakies had turned a bright yellow and were falling gently down with each breeze blowing through. The tall evergreen pines, so dark and stately, standing like soldiers at attention. He had never tired of the beauty of the mountains and he was glad to be seeing it again for it could be the last real look at the land he loved most.
The elk was terribly, awfully old. He had lived too long – much too long. He didn’t know how long an elk was supposed to live, but he had spent a year or two growing up, a few more fighting and breeding, a couple more teaching his wisdom to the younger bulls, and a few more yet to brood and die. To be sure, nobody could ever guess the thousands of miles he’d wandered up and down these mountain slopes growing, fighting, breeding and finally becoming an outcast of his own herd. Run off, likely by one of his own sons. His memory of the breeding years was dim now and the younger bulls no longer followed him for his council. The sky had seemed bluer back then he recalled and the winters were not as cold.
He was more than a little deaf, of course, and certainly his eyesight had been clouded by the years. The once magnificent antlers of years past, which he would lay across his back all the way to his rump when he threw back his head to scream out a thundering bugle, now grew gnarled and blunted. He carried them awkwardly, as if they were too heavy to tote in front since all the counterbalancing weight had left his behind. Now, down his neck and shoulders the once near black mane is tipped with gray and his skin clings to his thin frame.
His hooves are cracked and worn from a lifetime in the jagged rock of the upper slopes. The old gentleman’s feet always hurt. He swayed from side to side as he walked and grumbled to himself, the way that old men do, and his complaints were carried away on the mountain breeze as he came to the water hole – stepping carelessly into the open. He did not care. He’d been alone too long as if shackled by the limitations of his old age. All of the cows, yearlings and younger bulls had made off already for the lower elevations. They had tolerated him in the area all year, but had lit out at the first hint of snow on the upper peaks. Normally he’d have made the trip down as well, but this year he hadn’t felt the need. He wasn’t too feeble yet to make the trip with them, but his head was heavy and his feet hurt.
There he stood now, pathetically magnificent on the edge of the pool with the last rays of the dying sun reflecting off of him.
“Poor old fellow. I’ve waited a long time to meet you,” the old man said almost silently to himself.
He had come here to shoot an elk as he had done many times before in the glade near the spring. For a moment the old bull looked over to the old man and appeared to stare back, as if searching the man’s own soul, as he stood unmoving, in understanding and acceptance of his fate.
The rifle cracked and the old bull crumpled to the soft ground amongst the still green grasses near the waters edge. The old man raised himself on creaking knees and shuffled stiffly over to the dead monarch. He had never felt remorse for having killed. But as his leathery hands stroked the wiry hair of the bull’s brow and felt the strength in the hardness of the antler, he wept. Of course he wept, but not for the animal itself, rather for the end of the hunt. As he watched the old bull fall, much of what he had loved best of these mountains in the autumn, died with him. He knew, as the report of the rifle echoed through the thin mountain air, that this hunt would be his last.
He lay down the rifle and sat down upon the carcass of the elk and composed himself as he waited for his grandsons to arrive. They would be along soon enough he knew, called to him by the sound of the shot. There would be much celebrating and the boys would rough him up a little, out of their excitement and youth.
He would not regret taking the elk however. His only regret was that he would never do it again.
Megan Hussey & Herbert Hussey
Longtime Hernando residents might be familiar with the name Herbert Hussey; he served this area in the mid 1970s as a successful real estate agent. I know him by another name: Dad. He served me as an amazing father.
As a child in Spring Hill, I thought I lived an enchanted life. My parents were these wonderful, kind beings who had taken me to a place of mermaids and dinosaurs–and sometimes we would journey to Brooksville, to visit a house simply brimming with Christmas trees. Now Dad did disenchant me just a bit when he came home one day to inform me that he had just rented a condo to a bunch of mermaids. And here I thought they lived in the sea!
After two years in the area we went back to our native Indiana because of a family illness–but Dad’s heart always stayed right here in Florida. We came back here after I graduated college–I got a newspaper job in Lutz, while my parents retired to Spring Hill. We spent Dad’s last days going to theme parks (on one particularly memorable trip to the MGM Movie Park, Dad was a special guest star in the Xena: Warrior Princess show, appearing as a soldier in Ares’ death army!), enjoying movies, meals, and lots of laughter until he passed away in 2006, following a brave battle with cancer.
Wow, what else can I tell you about my Daddy? He was a Navy veteran and a diehard Chicago Cubs fan. He and my mom raised my two sisters and me to be kind and strong in equal measure. He loved his family and held hands with my mom every day of their 56 years together. A member of the Greatest Generation, he lives on in my five adored nephews–including little Louis, who Aunt Meg is proud to report is one month old!
On the day of my father’s funeral, one of my aunts happened to ask me–as aunts will do–“Who is the man in your life?” I walked her to the edge of Dad’s open coffin, and pointed him out to her for easy reference.
Julie’s and Rocco’s Fathers
I received many of my personality traits from my father. We are both able to concentrate on our work, sometimes to a fault. My father is incredibly creative, yet scientific and he always nurtured my enthusiasm for these fields of study. My parents supported me in all of my pursuits and still do. My father was my counselor growing up and we’d have long conversations about karma, the universe and the energy that I bring to it. While many fathers play the guitar, my father enjoys playing the Tibetan singing bowl as a way to meditate and align the chakras. I enjoy watching my father play with my children. It reminds me of how we played together when I was a little girl. I enjoy listening to him tell my children our family stories. I consider myself incredibly blessed to have such a father, when many have none. Being a parent is the most important job any person could have. Unfortunately, not all people take the job seriously. My father did and I am better for it.
When I married my husband, I was lucky to receive another wonderful father. In many ways Rocco’s father is very different from my own. Their parenting styles were also different, but both produced successful children who contribute to society. There are so many things about my father in law that I love. He has grit, tenacity and a strong work ethic, yet he also possesses a gentle, nurturing and playful side. All of these qualities he naturally teaches to his grandchildren. He truly values his family and this shows in all that he does. Spending time with his grandchildren is one of his greatest joys, but he still finds time and the energy to run a private school and write a column.
One of the greatest advantages that a child can have is not being born with a silver spoon, but being born with loving, caring parents. Parents usually have the greatest effect on their children’s lives; and often a father’s importance is overlooked. Father’s are generally less nurturing, but because of this they are more likely to see our failings. They might see things which over time may develop into problems and try to steer us in a different direction.
Father’s often have a hard time expressing their emotions. This is not because they do not love us, but because they face significant societal pressure to not show emotions. Even telling you how appreciative they are of something you did might not be expressed well. Often a “good” could mean “I am so proud of you,” but those words might not feel proper to the father.
Gruffness and deficiency in etiquette should not be mistaken for a lack of love. Often the rough statements come from worries they truly hold for your future. They are trying to warn you, but they approached it intensively, because they were more concerned about impending danger than your feelings.
Many people never appreciate their fathers until they are gone. If you are lucky you will get a chance to recognize the gifts that he has given you while you can still express it to him. On this father’s day take a while to think about all the things that your father has done for you.
My dad (Kent Coburn) was born and raised in Grand Bay, Alabama, and drove a Frito-Lay sales truck for many years through the same small towns of Mississippi and Alabama. He always rolled his eyes when the women (wife and 2 daughters) of the house bought Pringles chips. He never wore a business suit or had expensive things, but hundreds knew him as he would always ask how they were on his delivery route. Just a simple, southern man who was always behind the camera. (1958-2001) Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
Dad, I know you are not ever on the computer, you can’t even work your cell phone… but I wanted to let everyone know that our relationship as a father and daughter had it’s complications while I was growing up. No matter what I did, how far I sank, I came back and changed who I was, not only for myself but to hear the words that I longed to hear; that you were proud of me. Little did you doubt that I could be who I am today, I did it. I remember you telling me when I was a kid that you have to make things happen, and I did and I’m still doing that. There are certain things in a daughter’s life that a father needs to teach her, yet she needs to seek for herself as well: perseverance and determination. That is what I learned from you, and that is how I became who I am today. Took me awhile, but better now because I understand things more and it brings purpose in my life. You gave me humor, discipline and vision and for that, I love you Dad.
My dad came home from VietNam in 1968. For reasons unknown, the busload of Marines was dropped off in the center of Boston where a protest was being held against the VietNam war. That’s where he met my mom. They married and I was born in 1969.
He was always somewhat of a comedian. He taught me how to drive in an ambulance when he worked as an EMT. He later worked as an event DJ, and retired as a commercial truck driver. During my adult life, he always made sure he could deliver near my home in Florida so he could visit.
He became very involved in Veterans’ organizations and held various offices as a proud Marine. When he moved to Florida in 2004, I got to hang out with him during golf tournaments, motorcycle “poker runs” and various other events usually involving a veteran’s group. I never learned to ride a motorcycle, and I never once beat him at golf.
Alligators on the golf course never worried him. He would pull his cart up close and tap them on the tail. After all, he was a Marine!