Alan Shaw shifted his pickup into second gear as he turned off the highway and began the long climb up the mountain road. The narrow dirt road threaded its way between the boulders, the white crashing water of the creek, and the trees of the forest.
He glanced over at his son Todd who had been sleeping for the past two hours but now, because of the jarring as they went over the large chuck holes, was beginning to stir.
“He looks so young when he sleeps,” Alan thought. “Like when he was four or five and I’d come home late at night from the computer center and peek in to see him; he could never keep a blanket on him. Now he’s 12. I’m growing old,” he smiled to himself, imagining his wife would say to him, “Yes, you are, but I’m not.”
It had seemed like a great idea when he first thought of bringing Todd back to Montana to spend a few days at the lake where Alan had spent time with his father as a boy. It meant that the family vacation would be cut short, but there was something to be sorted out.
Just a week before Todd had been ordained a deacon. It had caught Alan off guard.
“He’s growing too fast. What can I tell him about becoming a man?” Alan thought. “What patterns for manhood exist? Can I teach him which pattern to follow?”
Todd was awake now. Alan pulled over and stopped. They got out and looked around. Alan opened a sack and got a couple of tuna sandwiches for them. They climbed up on a boulder and while they ate watched the water dancing down the mountain.
“Dad, do you think there are any fish in here?” Todd asked.
“Sure. Plenty. It’d be hard to get ’em this time of year though. You’d have better luck later on in the summer when the water’s down. Your grandfather and I used to come here in August to fly fish.”
They got back in the pickup and started up the road.
A few minutes later as they rounded a curve, they saw a deer in a small meadow. It bounded off into the safety of the trees.
“Bang! I gotcha!” Todd shouted, his hands holding an imaginary rifle sighted on the fleeing deer. “Dad, did you ever hunt in these mountains?”
“Almost every year when I was a boy.”
The first time Alan had come hunting was when he was 11. Before then he was forced to stay behind “with the women” while the men and the older boys in the family went up to the mountains for three or four days.
Uncle Ed had taken a special interest in him. His uncle, now dead, had been a weather-beaten rancher, a widower at 25. His ranch, snuggled against the mountains near Bozeman, had been one of Alan’s favorite places as a boy. Being alone had produced a simplicity in his uncle’s life that Alan envied. When they were there, Alan didn’t have to wash much.
The first day that they hunted, Alan went out with his father. They didn’t see anything. The second day Uncle Ed talked Alan’s father into letting Alan go with him so, as his uncle said, “He’ll learn that hunting is more than sitting around watching the robins.”
His uncle and Alan left early in the morning and hiked along a ridge for two hours before they sat down away from the trail, waiting for the hunters below to scare some deer their way.
As Alan had waited with his uncle that morning, nervous and excited, it was as if he was recording each sensory impression to the smallest detail so that years later he could still remember: his body smelling like a work horse after the long hike; the decaying beauty of a forest preparing for the snows of winter; the smooth reassuring feel of the stock of his 30-30 rifle; and the anticipation that turned every wind into the sound of an approaching deer.
Then the deer came. Alan’s heart pounded inside him until it seemed that the noise would scare away the deer.
It was a six-point buck. His uncle motioned for Alan to make the shot. As he took the gun off safety, a shift in his weight caused a twig to snap. The deer heard the sound and looked over at him the same instant Alan squeezed the trigger. The sound of the shot roared in Alan’s ears.
It had been a good shot, and the deer had not gone very far before he fell down. When they reached him, his uncle reached down and, taking a knife, slit the deer’s throat so the blood would be pumped out, leaving the meat good.
His uncle stood up and, walking over to Alan, placed both of his large hands on Alan’s shoulders. Like some ancient ritual, he said, “You’re a man now.”
That night over a large campfire, the others told Alan stories about hunting. They seemed strangely happy as if they were welcoming him into some ancient brotherhood.
Each year after that Alan went hunting. He became a good hunter and enjoyed the challenge of pitting himself against the mountains.
But one day several years later as he methodically sighted in on his scope an eight-point buck 100 yards away, he thought to himself, “I’m just grocery shopping. That’s all it amounts to anymore.” He squeezed the trigger, and the deer recoiled backwards.
He still hunted after that because they needed the meat. But although he still enjoyed the chance to be outdoors, the sense of excitement was gone for him.
“Dad, I can see the lake,” Todd said, causing Alan to return to the present. Below them was the small mountain lake. They drove down the switchbacks to the dam, crossed over, and made their way to a campsite.
After they’d set up the tent and stashed their sleeping bags in it, they took a few minutes and picked up the empty beer cans someone had strewn around the campsite.
Alan picked up one of the beer cans and studied it. “When’s the last time I held one of these?” he thought to himself.
It was in high school and he had been working at a gas station after school. He was just finishing up one night when a carload of kids from high school came in to get a dollar’s worth of gas. The driver, Nick Hill, got out and talked to him. Alan and Nick had played on the football team.
“Hey, when are you through working?” Nick asked.
“In about five minutes.”
“Why don’t you come with us? We’re just driving around. We’ve got an extra girl.”
“I should get home,” Alan said.
“You’re not afraid to go, are you?”
“Then come along.”
“My folks’ll expect me home.”
“So what? You’re old enough to do what you want, aren’t you?”
“Okay, I’ll come, but just for an hour,” Alan said.
He had been in the car for only a few minutes when someone handed him a can of beer and an opener. He nervously stared at the can for a long time. The girl beside him looked at him with curiosity.
“Are you through with the opener?” someone in front asked. He handed the opener forward and gently placed the unopened can on the floorboard of the car.
Nick drove the car to an overlook above the town and parked. There were a few nervous jokes, and then it grew silent. Alan turned and looked at the girl next to him. She smiled awkwardly at him.
“Do you want to take a walk?” he finally asked her.
They got out and walked down a path near the edge.
“It’s a nice view,” he said.
“Yes, it really is.”
“I forgot your name,” Alan said.
“Oh, sure. I’m sorry about tonight. I’m not very good at things like this.”
“That’s okay,” she said. “You didn’t drink the beer.”
“Are you a Mormon?”
“I thought you were. I was wondering what you’d do.”
“They said they were just going to drive around,” Alan said.
“You knew what it’d be like, though, didn’t you?” she asked.
“I guess so. Maybe I did. Maybe I just got tired of always saying no to people. Why did you come?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “It’s fun to be asked—to be important to somebody—even for just a few hours. I can’t take being a nothing.”
“Is that what you think you are?”
“Yes. Isn’t that what you think I am?”
“No. You’re special.”
“I wish I were. I dream that I am—a movie star or something like that. But I’m just plain.”
“Can I teach you a song? A Mormon song? Would you mind?”
“What’s the name?”
“‘I Am a Child of God.’”
When they got back, they made noise purposely so Nick and the others would know.
“How long are we gonna be here?” Alan asked.
“We just got here,” Nick replied.
“I need to get home.”
“What’s the matter, are we corrupting you? We found your beer in the back. You didn’t drink it.”
“I don’t want it. You drink it.”
“Are you ever going to grow up and act like a man?” Nick asked.
“You don’t mean act like a man. You mean act like you. Never. I never want to be like you. Does that answer your question?”
Nick got out of the car, as did one of his friends. There was a fight, and before it was over, it was Nick and his friend against Alan. When they were through, they drove off and left him and Candy. After they stopped the nosebleed they both walked down the dirt road to the highway where they phoned a friend who came and gave them a ride back to town.
Alan tossed the empty beer can into the garbage container.
Alan and Todd assembled their fishing rods and divided up some of the worms to get ready for the afternoon fishing.
“What are you going to use, Dad?”
“I think I’ll try a spinner first.”
Alan worked the spinner, varying the depth and the speed of recovery, all with no strikes. Todd cast, retrieved, moved a few feet, and tried again.
He’s a persistent fisherman, Alan thought. I hope he’s like that when he’s a fisher of men.
Alan thought about his own mission and the lessons he’d learned.
One lesson wasn’t learned until he’d been out for a year. His companion at that time was Elder Taylor, who at that time had been out only three months. They were working in a rural area south of Rochester, New York, and had nobody to teach. The zone leader had decided to move them to a new area in another town in a month.
One night after a week of broken appointments, people not at home, doors slammed in their faces, Elder Taylor asked, “I wonder why things are going so badly.”
“Maybe it’s because there’s a family still in this area who’s so golden that the adversary is trying to discourage us from finding them before we’re pulled out of this area.”
The spiritual confirmation had been so strong that for several minutes neither of them spoke.
“That’s it,” Alan said after a few minutes.
“Well, all we’ve got to do is find them,” Elder Taylor said.
After that the burden they carried was that they felt there was a family waiting for them but they couldn’t find anybody. Alan became more tense as the days passed.
One morning Elder Taylor suggested, “Why don’t we inspiration contact?”
“What’s that?” Alan had asked wearily, annoyed at his companion’s usually naive suggestions.
“We just drive around until we feel the promptings of the Spirit, and then we stop and visit the house.”
“Okay, we’ll try it. What have we got to lose?” They drove around their area. In a few minutes, Elder Taylor shouted, “Stop! Let’s visit that house.”
They parked and walked up to the house. A lady answered and said she wasn’t interested. The next house Elder Taylor tried had been vacant for two months. Alan tried one house and a dog nearly bit him.
By that time it was time for lunch. Alan was in a bad mood.
“We must be doing something wrong,” Elder Taylor announced. “Why don’t we fast?”
“Every time we turn around you want to fast,” Alan snapped. “What have you got against eating?”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I want to get the most out of my mission.”
“What do you think I’m doing here?” Alan replied angrily.
They drove in silence the rest of the way to the apartment. Alan fixed some sandwiches and juice.
“I’m not eating,” Elder Taylor said cooly.
“Look, I’m the senior companion and I say you eat! You can’t fast every other day!”
They ate quietly, each feeling justified in his feelings about the other.
Finally Elder Taylor asked, “Do you want to try inspiration contacting again?”
“The way I feel now,” Alan replied, “I’d drive into the Atlantic Ocean before I’d ever feel any inspiration.”
“Then what are we going to do this afternoon?” Elder Taylor asked.
“I don’t know.” Alan looked out the window, afraid he was going to lose control of himself. “I want to be close to the Lord. But it’s so hard. Maybe the Lord can’t work through me.”
“I’m sure he can. Look, you’re the senior companion. I’ll do whatever you want.”
Alan glanced over at Elder Taylor. “Maybe if we prayed.”
After the prayer they got up off their knees and Elder Taylor asked, “What do you think?”
“I think we’ve got to get a plan.” Alan walked to the map of the area on the wall. “We’ve got one week left before the area is closed down. In that time we’re going to visit every house. Every house. And we’ll start right here,” his finger went down on one of the small towns in the area. “Then we’ll move south until we’ve visited every house.”
That afternoon they drove to the town that was to be their starting place. In the second house they found the family the Lord had prepared for them.
“There’s so much to learn, Todd,” Alan thought to himself. “I hope I can teach you.”
Todd by now had worked his way around to the other side of the lake. He had switched to a fly on the end of a bubble.
Alan looked at his watch. It was 5:00. “Sherry will be getting home from Primary with the kids about now,” Alan thought, wishing a little he had brought the whole family. He was missing Sherry already.
“Todd, I hope you find a wife as wonderful as your mother,” Alan thought.
Alan’s thoughts wandered back to the day before his wedding. He’d spent the day getting traveler’s checks, changing the oil in the car, confirming reservations for the honeymoon. At night he went over to see Sherry. They went outside and walked hand in hand around her parent’s backyard, admiring the flowers and neat rows of vegetables.
“What will it be like to be married to you?” Sherry asked him thoughtfully.
“What’s the matter?” he kidded. “You change your mind?”
“It’s just that I’ve never been married before.”
“Me either,” Alan said.
“And tomorrow night at this time, we’ll … we’ll be married.”
“That’s right. Are you nervous?” Alan asked.
“I guess so. You’ll be my man. What kind of man are you?”
“What kind of man do you want me to be?”
“Oh, like my dad, like the stake president, like the prophet.”
“You mean old?” he asked with a grin.
“Oh, you know,” she said, taking his hand. “I want a priesthood man.”
“What kind of man is that?”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“You’re the returned missionary; look it up. Okay?”
“Okay. Well, I’d better go.” He leaned over and they kissed. “Do you realize,” he whispered in her ear, “that this is the last time I’m ever going to kiss a single girl? It’s an auspicious occasion.”
Alan’s thoughts were diverted by shouting. Todd, across the lake, was holding up a large fish and yelling to Alan. Excitedly, Todd picked up his gear and began running around the lake toward Alan.
When he arrived, he proudly showed the trout, a two-pound rainbow. “I got it on a fly, Dad. Maybe you should change too.”
They cleaned the fish and placed it in a cooler until they could fix it for dinner. Todd munched on a candy bar and talked about his success.
“Todd, before dark could you get us some firewood for tonight? Get plenty because there are some things I want to talk to you about. So we’ll need plenty of wood for a campfire.”
“Okay,” Todd answered, placing the last piece of candy bar in his mouth as he started up toward the trees.
“Oh, Todd,” Alan asked, “what would you think about me giving you a father’s blessing tomorrow morning?”
Todd turned around, “What for, Dad?”
“You get the firewood and tonight I’ll try to tell you what for.”