The little blonde one, Levi, got quiet and wandered off to be alone in my office.
Just a few minutes earlier I told him that his oldest brother, Jason, had tested positive for COVID-19. We were waiting for test results on a day when we should have been traveling to the White River in Arkansas for a day of trout fishing with my parents. From there, the little one and I were supposed to meet my friend Donald in Missouri for a whitetail hunt. It was his birthday trip, one that was nearly a year in the making.
I walked into my office and found Levi slumped over on the couch with tears silently running down his face. Having this trip taken away at the last moment was a lot for a nine-year-old to process.
I flopped down onto the couch and wrapped him up in a hug. Hot tears soaked into my shirt as we sat there. There were no words. It was the final straw in a crap year of uncertainty and frustration.
After a few minutes, Levi looked up.
“I was really looking forward to this trip,” he managed to get out, wiping his face with the back of his hand.
“I know buddy, but we’re doing the right thing,” I said, my words sounding hollow. “We can’t get other people sick. We’re young and will be okay, but that’s not true for everyone.”
We all got tested. Levi and I were negative. My two eldest kids, Eli and Jason, were positive for Corona. Eli was completely asymptomatic. The only reason we suspected anything was amiss with Jason was his inability to smell or taste.
Our caution was well-warranted. The boys and I were supposed to meet with my mother and father that day, and the trip was nixed at the twelfth hour. It seems that new viruses and older folks aren’t a good mix.
Jason, who is normally stoic, locked himself in his room for much of the day, only venturing down to tell us all that he was sorry we couldn’t go on the trip.
“I know, it’s not your fault buddy,” Levi replied.
I figured it was time to rally the troops. With the boys assembled, all of them at a reasonable distance, I started my pep talk.
“Boys, I’m sorry that we can’t go on this trip. But we are doing the right thing. We can’t get anyone else sick… and last time I checked, the White River isn’t going anywhere. Deer will still be in the woods. We’ll make the most out of the time we’re together.”
They all nodded.
I know the feeling well. Being responsible isn’t fun, but it’s what we do as sportsmen and good citizens. We take the hard right over the easy wrong.
The boys may not know it now, but through making the hard choices, they are learning more about being good men than in all the good times put together. When they pass on bad shot presentations, let young animals walk, and emphasize safety over ease, they mature.
This year, the biggest safety choice we make may not involve checking the bolt of a rifle or snapping into a treestand safety harness. It may be the decision to stay at Fort Sofa and keep our germs to ourselves.
On the bright side, there is a little doghouse blind set up on a farm just down the road. There may not be monstrous Missouri bucks in the woods, but there’s nobody out there and an evening sit with Levi may be just what the doctor ordered.