Every late Fall the Old Man and his cohorts went Up North to go deer hunting. Understand, in Minnesota, "Up North" is a place, a destination... a state of mind... not a direction. They were "Up North", a place of rocks and rivers, lakes and evergreen forests - a good place to be with friends.
Marlin "Bud" Berg (The Old Man), Chuck Nelson, Donald Wayne, Chris Lindrupp and Homer Jensen sitting around the evening table, which Homer had just built from a pile of boards brought along from the Clarks Grove Lumber Company, which he managed. I notice that Big Donald was still wearing a white shirt and tie, apparently from a meeting, left in a hurry to get a fast jump on the road north. Dad looks like Dad always did during the winter - hunting or not - a man of leather and wool. As I've gotten older, I find myself dressing more like him, and enjoying every day of it. I put on my Filson double cruiser and Filson cap with tie up fleece flaps - what the kids call a Fudd Hat, and go out about on my northland business. I see his reflection in the store windows as I pass... and smile. Unbelievably geeky, but as he said, "You cannot put a price on personal comfort". Or old memories.
The same group getting ready for bed. Damn, Dad looks young! They're all young men in their prime, not knowing how time would tear them down.
The boys ready to bed down for the night. They are in bedrolls, as this is before sleeping bags were common, at least for this conservative crew. The gentleman on the rear cot is Al Swenson. No one called him Reverend Swenson. He was Swens. He was a rough-edged, take no prisoners preacher. He could kick your ass. The Old Man said Swens was always trying to save their souls by have morning devotionals. Everyone ignored him and escaped by crawling under the tent wall when he was distracted. Dad said the last thing he heard in the morning as he was walking back into the woods was Swens, now alone back in camp, bellowing, "Come back here! You HEATHENS!". They were and they didn't.
Charles Nelson after he got his buck, ever the neat and dapper killer. No blood spilt on his pants nor under his fingernails; no evidence that he had met Bambi in the woods, killed him, cut him open and tore his guts out, before tying a rope around his neck and dragging him out of the woods to hang him from a tree for the world to see. How easily he wears the look of innocence.
I realize that a Winnebago is more convenient and blaze orange is safer, but we've lost a certain sense of class and style, even elegance, when the soft wools and canvas tents were lost to time and "progress".
These are the people that taught me honor and honesty, how to be a man, in the best sense of the word. Swens was the preacher who lived across the street, a man I knew as a person, more as a roll model than a Sunday minister. The religion didn't stick, but hopefully the strength did. Donald was my first employer as a kid - 50 cents an hour. We would be talking about moral dilemmas and he would come up with things like, "Well, just don't forget to rotate your tires"; things that at the time didn't seem to be related to the conversation, but did of course. It just took me longer to process it. Chuck owned the gas station where I worked after school through high school. One time I was agonizing over a gift for a young lady (and he was paying me all of $1.25 an hour). From Chuck I got, "In the long run, for women, I've found it's tough to beat furs and jewels". That has stood me in good stead. Homer was the father of one of my best friends and lived four doors down the street. Later in life, Dad and Homer really only talked when they were in the middle of life crises and needed counsel. When the Old Man died, Homer came to the funeral home and had a 15 minute conversation, out loud, with Dad laying in an open casket. His last counsel. Everyone left the room, either out of respect for privacy or maybe overcome with the creepiness of it all. From Chris, from good hearted Chris, I still have an old target rifle and the skillset to use it. And of course my father... from my father, particularly from my young father, I got... everything. All good men, and all gone now. (I am resisting comments about the Happy Hunting Ground.)