Our arrival at the cabin is none too soon. It is nearly suppertime as the Cadillac rolls to a stop in tall grass and underbrush. “You hear that scratching?” Dad is worried about his new car. I am hungry and wanting to go exploring. Ten hours riding “Up North” between my parents is too much, even for my first trip to Uncle Moose’s beloved old deer shack.
The lodge, as Moose calls it, is not much to look at. The yard is a mess. Downed branches are everywhere. The path to the porch has a big log across it. Moss grows on the roof. The place looks as if it has never been painted.
When Dad swings his door open to begin checking for scratches, hot air rushes in. Mom immediately turns on my siblings in the back. She wants to get her orders out before anyone gets away.
“There are lots of wood ticks in these tall grasses, so check yourselves thoroughly before going to bed.” As Annie begins checking herself, Mom gets pointed. “Annie, cut that out. You can’t get ticks in the car.” As we boys laugh, Annie stops. “Annie, will be in charge of dinner.” While I slide out unnoticed, “Vinnie, you and Billie take Willie to collect firewood.”
Too late! I am rushing to catch Dad as he heads to unlock the cabin. When I look back, Billie is pointing. Quickly I get in front of Dad.
Mom’s voice rises. “Billie, I expect you to pay attention.”
“Don’t you ‘but me!’ Do as you’re told! And don’t say another word until I’ve finished.” As she means business, Billie shuts up. I don’t care if he gets in trouble. He is the reason I got squeezed between my parents for ten hours. Anyway, I know Dad will not ask me to return.
“Where’s Willie?” Mother’s yelling chases me up the front steps and onto the open porch. Dad chuckles. Mom knows he spoils me. The woods are awfully quiet. Maybe it is the heat. Shadows from the tall pines make it a perfect place for a scary movie.
While Dad reaches into his pants pocket, I look around. Fumbling with the key makes him seem anxious to settle in and grab a beer. As he inserts the key into the lock, the door flies open, yanking the key out of his hand.
Blocking the doorway is none other than Bear Claw, the caretaker’s brother. Jumping behind Dad, I recall the bad things Uncle Moose has shared about Bear Claw. He is the biggest Indian I have ever seen. Dad is only five foot-eight, so Bear Claw looks humongous. His growling, gravelly voice begins without a friendly hello. “What the hell do you think you’re doing trespassing on private property? I heard yah fumbling with the lock. Betcha thought no one was here!” Following Dad’s gaze, he sees the key in the door.
“How the hell did you get this?” Pulling it out, he puts it in his pants’ pocket. “I bet it’s one of them skeleton keys.” Trying to stare Dad down, “You were fixing to give your family a one-nighter in this cabin, weren’t you? Well, it ain’t gonna happen. The sheriff will be happy to haul the whole bunch of you away.”
Dad is not moving. “I am Ray…” Immediately Bear Claw pumps his fists. Rippling muscles bulge from inside and outside his tank top. Taking a step back, Dad plants his left foot squarely on mine. “I’m Moose’s brother-in-law.” Pointing to the car, Minnie is Sadie’s sister. Moose gave us that key.” Dad’s voice shows he is not backing down. I am too scared to cry out.
Bear Claw looks at Mother in the front seat. He must recognize some resemblance as he is reaching back into his pants’ pocket. Once out, the key goes sailing into tall grass left of the cabin. “You best get outta here before I run ya off.” Bear Claw is not backing down. “Runs Fast never told me you were coming, so ya ain’t sappos’ta be here. Now get the hell outta here before I get the shotgun.”
Mom must believe him. She is out of the car and shouting, “Ray, come back! We need to leave before anything happens!” Moving in our direction, Mom continues yelling. “Sadie warned me about you, Mr. Bear Claw, so just get back in the cabin. We are leaving!” Dad is still thinking about challenging the man. I wish he knew he was standing on my foot. It is killing me.
As Mom approaches, I hear fear. “Ray, there’s no phone. The nearest town is twenty miles. Come back to the car!” When Dad reluctantly backs off, we tumble down the steps, falling flat at Mom’s feet.
Bear Claw’s laughing has Dad up and into his boxing stance. Dad was the local, lightweight champ until a concussion slowed him.
“Ray, you promised!” Turning to Bear Claw with a sharper tongue, “I told you to get back in the cabin! We’re leaving.” Mom is beyond angry. Even though my foot hurts, I scramble up. Face to face with Mom’s white-knuckled fists shaking at Bear Claw, I imagine being on he wrong end of her rage. Ducking, I race to the car. Diving and sliding across the front seat, I am up quickly to get a ringside view. My brothers and sister are glad to see me. That is a first.
Dad is picking his way up the steps, bobbing and weaving as he does in the ring. As Bear Claw stands his ground, Dad begins pressing him. “Come, on. Now’s your chance to take a shot at *-+a little guy.” Dad wants him out of the doorway.
Instead of moving, Bear Claw’s left hand reaches behind the door frame. Reappearing, it holds a double barrel shotgun. Cocking both hammers sends Mom into a frenzy. Leaping up the steps, she gets in front of Dad, beating on his chest, pushing him backward. Bear Claw thinks it is funny.
“Take your squaw and get outta here. I don’t want no more trouble.” If Mother were not holding Dad back, he would be either all over Bear Claw or lying in a pool of blood. When Dad hesitates, Bear Claw does not. “I ain’t afraid of you, white man!” Immediately Mom stops hitting Dad and turns on Bear Claw. Her anger is fierce.