You begin to grow up, when --among other things--, you have developed the ability to stand up for something you believe is right.
I will always remember that morning after breakfast, when my grandfather promised me to take me to the woods. He said he would teach me to catch birds and to have a good time. Moreover, because my birthday fell on a Monday, my grandfather thought it would be a good idea go bird catching the Saturday before that.
It was the beginning of summer, and the light was intense when we-together with my parents and my little brother Paul- arrived at Camp Liahona. There was an abundance of wild life on the place we would set up our tents, according to the gatekeeper who came to welcome us. My mother had been in charge of the accommodations, and everything regarding the directions on the map with which she guided my father on the road. Their names were Gregory and Francine Gardner, and people said they were a good example for our Ozone Park community. We lived close to Howard Beach.
Because Camp Liahona was a site where anybody could go, no matter his or her race or social status, when we got there we made sure we greeted everyone. My father used to tell me "Scott, say hello to Mr. Jenkins", or "Mrs. Guevara", or anybody whom he might think we were not at peace with the others there.
My mother, on hearing that my grandfather planned to spend with me most of the morning, said some words on the contrary:
"Dad-she had said to him-, I don't think is a good idea to teach Scottie to kill any birds whatsoever. Remember that we are members of the church, and we do not kill any animals, much less such defenseless creatures, as those you are planning to hunt. I do not think that would be an example for Scottie to follow."
"Francine, Scott is going to be 8 years old, and this is part of his becoming a little man. You don't want him to become a church wimp, do you? like most around here. Besides, we'll try to catch the birds in their nests so that they may not receive any harm. Once we catch the first, you will see how beautiful it will be; then you'll change your mind, you'll see".
My mother was ready to go on speaking her mind about it, but my father didn't say anything, busy as he was preparing himself to go fishing at the lake. He had already rented a canoe for that purpose.
Nevertheless, my mother sensing she was alone on that, ventured herself in saying: "Gregory, aren't you going to say something. I really believe Scottie is still a baby for him go on with this".
"Come on, Francine-said my father-, we seldom have the occasion to come here. Let them go; Scott will be safe with your father".
Without any further ado, my Grandfather, Brian Meister, went on giving the back to my mother and addressing me, he said:
"You'll see, Scott. I'll make you the best hunter in the whole New York area. We are set to have a lot of fun!"
My grandfather had told me when we were leaving the city that everybody at school, when they would get to know about my adventures in the country, will look at me with real respect. I was not so sure about it, but it sounded like a good thing, coming from my grandfather.
Brian Meister, as my mother called him when she was angry, was the only one who had not accepted the gospel. I once even overheard my mother that my grandfather was setting a bad example for me.
"Other kids had been taught to pray and other religious principles from their grandfathers, as it should be; but to my father… it seems those things don't really mean anything, which I find very, very disappointing", she had said on one occasion.
Anyway, I for one was excited. The prospect of doing the things a man does grew in me a desire to be a powerful hunter.
The next day, when my grandfather and I left our cabin, the sun was already warming the soft breeze of that summer morning. This was my first month of vacation, and the weather was helping my asthma. My father said that I had been so busy with all the commotion that I did not have a mind to think on my illness. He said in addition that it was a proof that our minds had really a tremendous power over our bodies on health issues, and many other issues, if we asked him…
Later, my grandfather carried his small ax like a professional; he said he would bring some wood for the barbecue fire. I really had an admiration for this man; he really was set apart from all the others I knew. My imagination grew wild when the old man pointed to the sun and told the time it was. As I consulted my small watch-a previous gift from my grandfather-I saw it was really 10:00 in the morning as he said. A feeling of exhilarated pride went to my head with a shock. Nevertheless I though it was smart to point to him a little error in his calculations:
"Grandpa, it is really five minutes to ten, not ten as you have said."
"Oh it doesn't matter, son. You see, Scottie, you don't have to be perfect."
I did not expect that from a wise man-such as I considered my grandfather to be-, so much so that it hit me hard on the inside. Sweat started to trickle on my forehead, as we continue on our way. My grandfather went ahead, breaking branches so that we may have a way. I was already tired, and hungry. I was thinking about food when a branch lashed on my forehead, close to my eyes, that almost made me cry with pain. My grandfather continued walking, so I did not pay any attention to my problem. I was supposed to become a man because of this experience… So I wanted it to be…
"Be careful with those branches, Scottie", was all my grandfather said but, when he said it, he was smiling in a way I did not like.
Thus, I concluded that he himself had caused that spring like effect on that lower branch that whipped my hair. I did not say anything, but then again I felt that something was amiss in my grandfather's love for me. What was even more shocking, he was the father of my loving mother! I felt a lot tired, but we continue walking, searching for those bird nests.
"You don't have to be perfect". I kept thinking about it. For the first time in my life, I thought that certain grownups, such as my grandfather, had no love in their hearts. It seemed that my grandmother's death, 7 months ago, had had some changing effects in him, for the worse…
The sun was shining now on the thin, singing, clear brook that appeared now behind the bushes. I could see the multicolored pebbles underneath the running water. We had climbed a small hill, partly covered by a line of bushes and trees, and a few giant boulders, some gray, some brown, and others very dark. Deep in my heart, I did not want to disbelief my grandfather. I felt that I had penetrated into his very life, that I have seen an ugly truth. I did not know what it was; but I did not like it at all.
Suddenly, high above into a big willow tree, we saw a red and white little bird. Its beautiful chirps transformed the hot morning air. My grandfather signaled to me to be quiet and, with his hand, motioned me to do something. I did not understand at first. Then he said:
"Prepare your slingshot, Scottie. We're going to hunt!"
The teaching approach he used in his rasping voice seemed heartless, big as treason, and hard to swallow. Immediately I knew my grandfather was not the benevolent and powerful man as I had been thinking all these years.
"I'd like to kill a salamander instead, Grandpa."
Staring at him, I tried to convey that I was tired of the game business, and I bet he saw it in my eyes, that I did not want to do that, either.
* * *
When we came back to the cabin it was noon already, and the sun was so high it barely cast any shadows. My mother's voice filled the air with a promise of delicious food and fresh, cold water. I told my grandfather that I was really hungry and thirsty, that I was glad to having come back.
"Whatever you wish, son".
I felt happy. All of a sudden, I knew everything was going to be all right!