I ran to the wooded hill just behind the country home in rural Wisconsin. In pursuit was a man armed with a 12 gauge shotgun. I had no doubt he would kill me if he got a clear shot. There was a rough path up the hill that would make for a faster escape, but I decided that would offer no cover, so I ran to the right, into thick underbrush and wild blackberry bushes chock-full of berries …and thorns, but there was no turning back. If he caught up to me it would be certain death.
I scrambled, I tripped, I rolled across sharp rocks protruding at random from the Wisconsin soil. I was in pain, but the worst pain of all was the fire pounding in my chest, and eventually I knew it was over. I had reached the limit of my endurance. If this is how I was going to die, so be it—I had given it my all. With one last surge, I dove into some thick underbrush directly in front of me and collapsed. I pulled some branches around me for concealment and then I waited.
At first my labored breathing and pounding heart obscured all other sounds, but gradually the forest around me came to life with its own sounds, natural sounds that precluded the presence of another human being. Was he also lying in wait? Quiet patience was the only possible recourse now. But a plethora of chiggers, mosquitos and spiders had now come to feast upon me.
When I could no longer stand it, I crept silently out of the brush, pausing frequently to listen. I chose a route to the far left, up to the crest of the densely wooded hill, along the crest for about 50 yards and then very slowly downward towards my assailant’s home. I knew there would be help there, but only if I could avoid him until I reached safety.
If I calculated correctly, I would emerge at the bottom of the hill on the far side of the house and I could then circle to the front undetected and make a dash into the front door. I felt fairly certain that my grandfather would not gun me down in front of my mom and grandmother. Not a bad plan for a seven year old.
Earlier in the day I had wandered into his cabinet making shop at the rear of their home where he was putting the final coat of glasslike lacquer on a custom made table.
“It is wet?” I had asked as I tested it in the very middle with my dirty forefinger leaving a near perfect sticky fingerprint.”
“Raus! Raus mit u!” [Out! Out with you] he roared as he took his shotgun from the wall in the shop. I had dashed out the rear door, barely 20 feet ahead of him.
But now, the womenfolk surrounded me with concern.
“Ach du lieber himmel!” [Oh, good heaven] exclaimed my grandmother.
“What happened to you?” asked my mother.
“I was up on the hill,” I murmured.
They shook their heads but there were no further questions—out came the cold cloths and the all-time favorite antiseptic. After a while of their TLC I was feeling reasonably well.
At supper that night I reeked of Witch hazel and I kept my head down glancing sideways from time to time at grandpa. He never even so much as looked at me, but I did have the good judgment to stay out of his shop for the reminder of the week.
The next day it was midmorning before I accidentally made direct eye contact with my grandfather. He was coming out of the garage with some rope and a heavy burlap sack. No, it’s not what you think. I knew the routine…today was ice day. He would drive to town, stop for a beer and then pick up a fifty pound block of ice, wrap it in the burlap, tie it to the rear bumper of the ’28 Buick and return home. He usually took me with him. He looked directly at me and for the first time since the shotgun incident he spoke to me.
I nodded and he motioned toward the car. I scrambled into the front seat, rolled the window down, knelt on the seat and hung my head and shoulders as far as I could out the side of the car. As always, we drove in silence, grandpa puffing on his ever present cigar while I watched the landscape flash by at 21 miles per hour. Fifteen minutes later we pulled up to Paul and Plautz’s tavern on Sixth Street. Inside smelled of cigars and stale beer. Grandpa ordered his nickel beer and a bottle of Nehi orange appeared for me. He sat silently at the bar; I sat at a table in front where I could watch the passing cars. I brought the bottle to my lips and inhaled the sweet orange smell, before taking a long drag on the straw. I sighed, a big seven year old sigh and stared out the window.
All was well.
Life was good.
I knew my grandfather was going to make that nickel beer last forever so I slowed down on the Nehi…everything here ran at country speed, about 21 miles per hour.
Unless of course, your grandfather is chasing you with a shotgun…