The morning dawned bright and beautiful, as it often did this time of the year, the sun emerging slowly, but brightly shining, through the thick, forested landscape. Morning in the north woods was my favorite time of the day and this day was no exception. Rising early, before dawn when the birds of the forest were just awakening, I ventured out toward the east side of our property where a nice, bubbling, cold stream awaited me, replete with its cache of brook trout, waiting to appease a healthy appetite. Although the trout season opened a couple of weeks previously, my appetite wasn't yet sated by their tasty, mouthwatering, saliva dripping essence resting on my palate. This morning, instead of my usual two for breakfast, I harvested four trout, thinking I'd save two for the next morning when the weather forecast wasn't favorable. The hike to the stream was pleasant, giving me the opportunity to enjoy the property we purchased so many years before.
I'm certain people thought we lost our minds when we purchased the 320 acre parcel of forested property, but it had a heavy growth of timber, a nice trout stream, and a goodly amount of lake frontage. Northern forested lake property was selling at a very reasonable price at the time of our purchase. Since we built our cabin, secluded well back in the woods, a half mile from the main road, and overlooking the lake, the property value and the taxes had increased considerably. The increased taxes and my living expenses were supplemented through the selective logging and sale of the timber and tapping the abundance of maple trees on the land for the sap, which I boiled down, each late winter and early spring, into maple syrup, selling what I couldn't use myself in the little community nearby and surrounding area. Altogether, along with my retirement income and investments, I managed quite nicely. My needs were few, my wants fewer, so there was little to spend my resources on.
The log home, built in part from timber from our own forested land, was "off the grid" utilizing solar panels, storage batteries, and inverters, providing all of the power we needed, but there was a backup propane generator, just in case. Refrigerator, freezer, kitchen stove, and hot water heater were propane, serviced by a one thousand gallon tank which I had topped off each year before the winter snows arrived. If I was absent from the premises for a time and unable to stoke up the outside wood furnace providing hot water heat for the cabin, I had a backup propane unit which did. The three bedroom home was well constructed, tight, warm in the winter, cool in the summer, with cedar and fir rafters and walls.
Standing near the wood pile, where I was engaged in detaching the heads from the dead trout, I looked up, my attention garnered by the sounds of a vehicle bouncing down the lane toward my home, rattling, banging, jouncing on the rutted lane leading from the main Forest Service road bordering the property, disturbing the solicitude of my personal space, my special property, and my privacy. Seldom did anyone come this way, unless the mail person delivered a package, the UPS delivery person, the tax assessor, or the occasional fisherman or hunter lost on their way to public forest ground. A non-descript, compact vehicle of questionable vintage, sort of crumbled to a stop, settling wearily, near my front porch. I wrapped the four beheaded trout in a newspaper and wandered my way to the porch, waiting there to see what the occupant of the vehicle might do. The driver, a female unidentifiable from my vantage point, appeared to be accompanied by a younger male seated in the front passenger seat, although it was difficult to ascertain considering the amount of dust and grime covering the windshield and the vehicle from the road they traversed getting here.
The driver, after disengaging herself from seat belts and the front seat, exited the heap, and headed my way. My heart dropped to my stomach, my stomach dropped to my balls, and my balls dropped to my ankles. On a direct path toward me came an apparition, something I thought I'd left in another time, a different life, a moment of relapse for me which I wished never to visit again, a former wife. I quickly gathered my wits about me and stepped forward to halt her progress before she was able to gain entrance to my abode, fearing once she became ensconced it'd be difficult to remove her elsewhere.
Before I could utter a sound of greeting, dismissal, or whatever, she grunted out,
"I brung you something," gesturing with a quick jab of her thumb over her shoulders.
"You mean, 'brought' me something don't you?"
Before I could say more, she snapped, "Still Mr. Smart-ass College guy, aren't you? Just have to cram your education down my throat or your dick up between my legs, don't you?"
I didn't have a clue what she "brung" me, but I was soon to be rewarded with her little surprise. Looking in the direction her thumb pointed, I could see a figure in the front passenger seat of her decrepit vehicle, sitting sullenly, staring out the window, anger in his face, a stripling, a young lad, a teenager, almost defying me, her, the world to compel him to do what he didn't wish to, or befriend him, or communicate with him or even strike out against him. I shook my head in puzzlement and, with disgust and anger, disbelief, I responded to the incredulous thought which entered my mind,
"If you think for one minute I'm going to be saddled with a product of your recreation, you're sadly mistaken. Our divorce was over fifteen years ago and I've no obligation to you or the offspring you created after we separated."
She grinned that evil, revengeful grin I remembered so well, one laced with hate, animosity, vitriol, almost, twisted witch-like, completely satisfying to her, secretly knowing her response would cut me to the quick and exact the measure of retribution she so desperately sought and failed to receive at the time of our divorce.
"Saddled or not, Dickie Boy, he's a product of your recreation, not mine, since I didn't find you that pleasurable in the sack to begin with. I just went along for the ride, not for the pleasure it gave me, which was zero, so what shot out of your dick in a sloppy mess, now sits in the front seat of the car, waiting to come home to dear old Daddy, quite a bit bigger than when he went in. So, like it not, he's yours and you're welcome to the little shit."
This was one hell of a way to begin my day, before breakfast at that, spoiling the wonderful morning of fishing I experienced just a while ago. I needed to know quite a bit more before I commented on the "little shit's" existence and his relationship to me, trusting her about as much as one would trust a bull snake in a mouse house to leave well enough alone or a small boy in toy store with the admonition to "look, don't touch."
"How do you propose to convince me the young whelp is my progeny? We were married less than a year, a time of misery I might add and, upon awakening one morning, I found you gone, leaving a note that read 'Kiss my ass. I'm out of here'. A year later I get served with divorce papers, signing them happily to get shed of you. You asked for no settlement, took your maiden name back, and made no mention of any child or pregnancy. I paid the attorney and court fees, you walked, and that was that. So how does or when does 'Little Lord Fauntleroy' enter in the picture?"
"He's one of the reasons I left. When I found out I was carrying one of your little creations, I took off, intending to rid myself of it and you, vowing to let you poke me no more. Well, I made the mistake of going to Ma's thinking I could find someone to flush it out of me, instead she talked me into keeping him, promised to raise him herself since she felt it was wrong to rid myself of it. Well, it was a place to stay, so I did, thinking right after birthing him, I'd take off, and I did that too. Your name's on the birth certificate contained in this envelope along with his school records, vaccinations, and all of that shit, so here he is and good-bye to you."
With that, she turned to the car, hollering at the occupant, "Get your ass and your shit out of there, you're staying and I'm leaving."
In an attempt to prevent my taking ownership of anything belonging to her, I shouted at her, "If your mother raised him, why didn't she keep him instead of sending him to me?"
Her response was short and very succinct, "She died, asshole!"
The young lad stepped from the car, opened the back door, retrieved a backpack, a suitcase, and several cardboard containers from the back seat, set them on the ground, and stepped back. Barely had he done so, when she started the car, rammed it into gear, spun around in my drive, and, with a one-fingered salute to me or him or both, tore down the lane toward the main road. Hell, she hadn't even said what his name was. Sighing, I stepped forward, with the envelope in my hand, to greet this new resident, hopefully temporary, of my domain.
Walking toward him, I observed his careful scrutiny of me, his eyes, somewhat shielded by a hand over his forehead in order to block the sun, were hazel/green, similar to mine, depending on the light and what I was wearing; his face was impassive, yet he was alert to any threat which might come his way, a caution perhaps learned through previous encounters; his skin color was lighter than his mother, a brown tan, but a bit darker. This pleasant looking, comely, young mixture of Caucasian and African/American was in the process of checking me out, sizing me up, evaluating my pros and cons, deciding if I was worthy of him, wondering what my reaction to him was going to be.
I wasn't much different, viewing him with the same caution, appraising what I saw before me, then, as I approached closer, saw a teenage, attractive young man of perhaps fourteen or fifteen, no older if he were indeed mine, slim, leaning toward the skinny side, five foot five inches or so, weighing a buck five soaking wet, and with a chip resting on his shoulder of monstrous proportion, defying me, anyone to make him remain here longer than was absolutely necessary or force him to do what he didn't want to do, found distasteful, or against his very principles. He was the spitting image of me at that same age, except for his color, erasing any doubt that may've been in my mind concerning his parentage, confirming the fact that standing before me was my progeny, a child, a son that hadn't existed to me until this very day. Today was going to prove very interesting, to say the least.
Coming to a halt within arms' length before him, I extended my hand, smiled as warmly as I could, took a deep breath, and inquired, "What might be your name?"
"Jed," was the terse response, followed by, "What's yours?"
This was a bit more simplistic than I wished, confirming his total lack of desire regarding where he was and why, but the response wasn't unexpected considering his age and the circumstances, so I answered as politely as possible,
"Josiah Dickenson Parker, the owner of this parcel of land, your host, and if the paper work is correct and by the looks of you, your father. People call me 'Joe', or 'Parker', which I prefer. Now, let's try again, Jed., I should like to know your full given, legal name so I at least know what to fill out on the paper when the gendarmes arrive and I hand you over for non-cooperation, mayhem, or whatever else insidious charge I can contrive so they can incarcerate you along with all the old dirty, stinky, and eager pedophiles they've picked up over the weekend and now taking residence in the county lock-up and looking for fresh meat, so to speak. More than one would be willing to help you with your showers while paying close attention to your buttocks."
Now, that got his attention, right now, so without any more hesitation, quickly extending his hand to meet mine replied, "Jedediah Dickenson Parker, age 14, I'll be fifteen on September 2. You're not really going to sic the cops on me are you?"
"No, not at the moment, let's see how things go. Jed, let's gather up your things and get them into the house."
Two trips brought backpack, suitcase, and cardboard cartons, his total, sparse collection of worldly possessions to the kitchen-dining-living room, where we deposited them on the floor. I contemplated leaving everything on the enclosed, front three-season porch in case he was so disagreeable I'd have to haul him away or he decided to take a powder on his own, but failing to disregard my sense of innate responsibility, I relented and brought them inside.
Once inside, Jed stood quietly, backpack lifted and held in his hand, carefully appraising that portion of the interior of the house visible to him, eyes slowly sweeping each article, each item, doorway, piece of furniture, window, and exits. His eyes didn't miss a thing, his mind seemed to absorb every detail, assessing, evaluating, considering alternative courses of action should they be needed, perceptively considering the physical layout, trying to ascertain his place in it and my reaction to him occupying it with me. My perception of a street-wise kid was confirmed, but a street-wise kid with some class, I think.
"I'm assuming you've driven all night and not had breakfast, so sit down at the table and I'll fix it for us. We're having eggs over easy, fried potatoes, toast with jam, and trout."
He sat himself, reluctantly, at the table, looked about the kitchen area for some hints concerning the meal, and finally, hesitantly inquired,
Oh, my God, he was indeed a child of the city, completely unaware of the rural, wooded life, its people, habits, social mores, and foods. How naïve, but wise, he must be.
"Trout is a fish," I replied to his question and continued fixing our meal, carefully avoiding turning or making any eye contact with him.
"For breakfast? Fish fries are for Friday nights or something, aren't they?"
"Welcome to my world Jedediah Parker. Do you want coffee, tea, or milk to go with it?"
"Do you have any Pepsi?" he responded.
Flipping my head in the general direction of the refrigerator, I replied, "On the bottom shelf. Help yourself"
Retrieving a can from the fridge, he sat back down, opened the can, and then slowly sipped on the beverage, continuing to scrutinize every move while I finished preparing our breakfast, taking careful note of the location of all utensils, the way I sliced the potatoes, coated the fish for frying, prepared the eggs, all without saying another word to me. I could feel his eyes penetrating me each time I moved, but I made no response or overt gesture to alert him of that.
Once prepared, I placed his portion, two of the four trout I caught earlier, toast, and eggs on a plate, and put it in front of him, then gathered up my own, and joined him at the table.
"Better eat up, it's not as good cold."
Sensing he was uncertain how to start on the trout, I tackled one of those delicious morsels, aware of his close observation of my technique, as he imitated my every move. We ate in silence, each absorbed in his own thoughts, reluctant to share with each other, not knowing, what to expect. The awkwardness of the situation was almost stifling. He finished first, hungry no doubt from the all night travel and the fact he was a bottom-less teenage boy who could graze a buffet bar enough times to cause its closure. Waiting patiently until I finished, he followed my lead and placed his dirty dishes and utensils in the sink alongside of mine.
Motioning him to return to the table, I explained we'd do the dishes this evening after supper. Once seated again, I spent some time describing how the lighting, heating, and other systems operated in a home such as this, off of the grid, relying on solar panels storage batteries, and the backup systems to supply our electrical needs. He asked no questions while I spoke, but concentrated on my explanations, nodding every now and again, committing to memory, comprehending each and every aspect. I expected him to ask if I had television (yes, satellite), telephone (cell-phone), internet (yes, satellite), but he didn't, whether assuming I did or not caring since he may've decided he wasn't about to stay here in the woods with a stranger he was told was his father.
Winding down, I finished by simply stating, "After we get your things put in your bedroom, you and I are going to split some wood and stack it," thinking there's no better way to wear him out than by introducing him to my way of life.
Staring stoically at me, he said nothing for a few moments, then, "You're white."
Looking back at him, starting at his feet and progressing to the top of his head, I answered, "Yep and you're black."
"How old are you?" he asked next.
I responded, "60".
"You're old," he said matter-of-factly, in a non-accusatory manner.
What else could I say? Could I've qualified my answer by saying I'm active, I don't feel old, I could out work him in a minute? No, to him I was old, so all I could do was acknowledge the fact, move on, hoping to let him draw his own conclusions concerning my fitness as a person and as a father.
He looked at me again, this time right straight into my eyes, cocked one eyebrow, and tossed out the question I had been waiting for.
"What if I don't want to split wood or live here?"
I thought a moment, then looked right back at him, shrugged my shoulders nonchalantly, saying, "That's your decision to make not mine, but if you do decide to live here, you'll have to pull your weight, do your share, and abide by my rules, which by the way, are not that restrictive unless you chose to make them so. For that, I'll provide you with a place to live, food to eat, an education, and all of those other things a father should provide."
His eyes snapped at my last statement and his tongue, with just a touch of the knife, spit out, "You didn't before, why now?"
A simple question deserves a simple answer. "I didn't know you even existed."
Scratching his head, he started to slide his chair back, saying "Maybe I'll leave then."
I shrugged my shoulders again and responded quietly, "O.K., but before you get to the main road, you better hope the bears don't eat you."
Jed snorted at me in disbelief, "Yah, right, what bears?"
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