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  • Fish and Wildlife
  • Deborah Reed Downing (bio)

Drew 1957

I was trailing after my father on a path between tall pines, heading back to our cabin at Kentucky Lake. We'd hiked to the bait shop before anybody else had come awake so Daddy could phone Number One. Daddy runs coal mines down in the mountains, and Number One takes care of the coal yard in Lexington when my father takes me and my brothers and Louise [End Page 66] fishing. Louise is my mother but she doesn't like to be called that.

From where we were walking, I watched two slick-haired boys in black church clothes striding through the campground knocking on doors. Each boy had a box tucked up under his arm. When they came to a cabin, they stopped, looked one another over and smoothed their hair before knocking on the screen door. A moment later a man in striped pajamas stepped out on the porch. The boys started talking, first one, then the other. I caught my breath, waiting to see what they had in the boxes. The man nodded and hiked up his pajama bottoms; the boys lifted off the cardboard tops. Each boy held up a placard dusted all over with silver and gold glitter. Even in the shade those pictures sparkled like rare fairy dust, the kind that makes wishes come true if you believe. I'm not kidding. I read it in a magazine.

My father was way ahead and I jogged to catch up, watching the powdery dirt puff around my bare feet, gearing up to go lame. When I got close, I slowed and got my mind set. I was about pretending I'd just stepped on the pointed end of a bottle opener, which I actually did once. I could practically see the bottom of my foot squirting blood. I faked a limp, hobbling to slow us down, so the boys would get to our cabin when we did. I wanted to buy one of those posters before my father packed us in the station wagon and lit off for the boat dock. Daddy was striding ahead, whistling, unaware of my condition. He had moccasins on his feet like the ones in a book I got at the park gift store, a true story of how the U. S. Government sent the Cherokee Nation walking westward on a trail of their own cried tears. My book came with a rubber Indian maiden attached to a leather thong that I have vowed to wear around my neck until I die.

Before going lame, I took a healthy leap, trying to put my foot where Daddy's had been. Behind my eyes I watched a [End Page 67] brown-skinned Cherokee girl dragging herself through tearful dust, horse soldiers poking her with sharp sticks. I missed Daddy's footprint by a mile, and went back to being crippled.

"I've got something in my foot," I whined. Daddy raised his eyebrows and studied me over his shoulder. I like to look at my father. He is tall and has muscles from hard work. The sun shone through a hole in the trees and settled in his black hair and on his face. He glowed like a picture of Jesus in my brother's Bible story book. My father is beautiful if you want to know the truth.

Daddy shook his head and frowned. "You're dirty as a pig," he said, studying my face as he bent and offered his back. I ran and jumped on, wrapping my arms around his neck, binding his waist with my legs. He loped off bouncing, with a laugh ready to happen. "Which foot?" he said. His voice bobbed happy as a cork when the fish nibbles my bait. "Do you remember?"

"It don't hurt now," I called, bouncing with him, my words wobbling like Jell-O salad.

Daddy slowed to a regular walk. "Better not let your mother catch you saying 'don't'." Suddenly he stumbled like he'd been shot in a gunfight. "Get down, Drew. I'm too old for this."

I clung even harder. I could feel my...


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pp. 66-81
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