October may be the most beautiful month of the year, but it is also the darkest: When the leaves fall, the skies moan and the night invades. It is the month of death and it again approaching.
My dad died in October 1988, 30 years in which I have aged notably and matured little. Like October, I am much closer to the end than to the beginning, and grave thoughts are never far away.
But, for my dad, this was the best time of the year, since it ushered in the hunting seasons he and his brothers loved so much. From doves to woodcocks, rabbits to “ringnecks,” turkey to deer, the three boys, then men, then old men, then faded visions, took to the woods and fields with a love and artistry that never waned.
It was a love my dad hoped to pass on to his skinny, nearsighted son, starting early on. As some children are given a baseball bat in their cradles, I had a tiny. 22 rifle and a little .410 shotgun for as long as I could remember, certainly starting before grammar school.
In fact, my dad was so eager to get me in the field that he gave me my first hunting license that stated I was 12 when I was 9, easy enough to do when you own your own sporting goods store, as my dad and his brothers did: “Quarteroni Bros. Hunting and Fishing,” as the harshly weathered wooden façade over the dilapidated building still reads.
He so wanted his only son to be a great hunter, and I was a total failure. I wasn’t even vaguely interested in hunting and, Lord knows, I wasn’t any good at it.
For all the years he took me deer hunting I managed to fire a grand total of one shot and that was at a hemlock tree. I wounded the conifer figuring I should fire the beautiful .243 Sako rifle he special-ordered for me at least once in our lifetimes, and that was it.
Don’t get me wrong. My dad, Reno, was a good guy and never once – ever – expressed any disappointment with my pitiful attempts as Deerslayer, or did anything but love me and wait for another day afield, when I wouldn’t be peeing when the birds broke cover or building bonfires while we should have been silently watching for deer.
He didn’t need to say anything. As sons with fathers everywhere, I could tell that, in his eyes, I fell short of the mark. This acorn dropped very, very far from the tree.
We once took a good friend of mine, Bobby Gushka, hunting with us. He was a natural and I could see how excited my father was after Bobby made a particularly good shot on a ring-necked pheasant, a shot I never came close to matching. My dad ran over and congratulated him, and while I watched the two of them celebrating I thought: “I’ve never done that for him, never been the kind of son he has dreamed about and hoped for.”
That was 40 years ago, and it’s stayed with me. I’m still ashamed that I couldn’t be a better hunter to please him.
Being a son, being a father is so tough. Dreams stay dreams, desired paths remain unwalked, lives go on and then end.
And it’s almost October again.
I visited the cemetery Saturday, still lush with fat grass and surrounded by trees turning into rainbows. At dusk, the rabbits and deer would come out to feed, and they would graze the grass over his grave, as they should.
I sat next to the graves of Betty and Reno. I had a bottle of Glenfiddich with me, a remnant from when I last held down an allegedly grown-up job in higher education. I took a drink and poured a double over my dad’s grave. He was a Seagram’s 7 man, but he would appreciate the gesture as would my mom, who, as in life, wouldn’t want any for herself, but would insist all of it go to us.
I had been reading “A River Runs Through It” again, that great book about human love and confusion, filtered through the waters that run over the rocks, and resting places, of time.
When Paul, the son, dies, his brother tells their minister father: “You can love completely without complete understanding.”
“That I have known and preached,” the father says.
So did we, but a field ran through us, and we stay divided by it for life.
We were never to express our feelings, bound by our wordless ways, our pedigree of muteness. We didn’t often touch, never talked about emotions, and our inner lives remained our own.
Instead, we hunted.
As now I hunt for the meaning of my life.
So Saturday becomes every day and I sit on my dad’s grave and drink single malt while the past and the present melt into the grass and into me, like wax down a sputtering candle, as much looming afterglow as actual light.
Near the end of the day, all I know is that my dad was a fine hunter, a good man and a devoted father.
And I am his son.
Bob Quarteroni, a prolific freelance writer with articles appearing in the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Saturday Evening Post and many other publications, is a former columnist and editor at the Centre (cq) Daily Times in State College, Pa. He was director of Public Information at Montclair State and Alfred universities and Senior Writer in Information Services at the University of Florida. He lives in Swoyersville, Pa. 33 New Sullivan St. Swoyersville, PA 18704; 570-331-7401; firstname.lastname@example.org