The Man Who Got Away (Thank Goodness!)
Buck took to driving around in a gigantic rusty delivery van. One day about 15 years ago I was drinking coffee with my mother on her porch. He drove slowly by. I caught a glimpse of his profile. It was shockingly like my own. “Isn’t that your father?” my mother asked. “Yup. That’s him,” I said.
He drove past the house, turned around down the road, and then came back.
I hadn’t seen him in many years, but he was the same kinetic man I remembered. He crossed his legs at the knee and his free foot dangled and jangled as he spun out his schemes. He was looking into emus. He was thinking about livestock or maybe soybeans. He’d read an article about Nova Scotia and thought about maybe moving up there for apple picking season. I pictured him driving to Nova Scotia and sleeping in the back of the delivery van, parked in an orchard—which turned out to be exactly what he did.
I realized that I was relieved he’d left us. All I had to do was look at my mother, the college professor, sitting on the porch in the house she owned. More than once she’d said that if Buck had stayed, she’d be living in a trailer, and I knew this was true. My father’s life tended toward chaos, and he didn’t like to be alone.
I married the most un-Buck-like person I could find, but the marriage ended anyway. I resolved to be the kind of mother that my own mother was, and I succeeded. My daughter and I spend our summers in the little house on Main Street, next door to my aunt and just up the street from my mother, my sister, and various other aunts and cousins.
Over the past 10 years, once or twice a summer I’ll look out of the front window to see Buck standing on my porch. He’ll stay for the length of time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, talk maniacally about his latest venture, jump up suddenly—and leave. A few years ago, he started keeping bees at his place in Port Allegheny. Sometimes on a visit he’ll leave me with a jar of honey, which is the palest yellow, like sunshine in deep winter. I try to make the honey last, since I never know when I’ll see him again.
I hadn’t heard from my father in over a year when he called and left his message saying that he’d shot a bear.
I decided to make the drive out to Port Allegheny on the day after Thanksgiving. The cartoon topography of low hills and valleys was awash in tints of brown and gray; it was Andrew Wyeth season, a sadly beautiful but depressing time of year brightened, for some, only by the prospect of venicide. Gunfire rang out all morning in the field surrounding my house, and Toad’s Diner was filled with camouflaged deer killers swapping hangover lies over their morning coffee.
Fortunately, the three-day-long bear hunting season in Pennsylvania had just ended, and deer season didn’t start for another day in Port Allegheny. I figured that if I made it out of my home county alive and raced for the state border, I had a chance of completing the trip without being taken down by a stray bullet.
As I neared Port Allegheny, I stopped for coffee at a gas station and picked up a local paper: No bear deaths were recorded from the latest three-day shooting spree; my father’s off-season August kill had been the only bear felled by man in the area all year.
I crossed the Allegheny River at the edge of town, following his directions. The country was rough and rolling and it reminded me of him. I knew his place from the number of vehicles in various states of repair parked beside and behind the house. When I turned in to the driveway, a large Ford flatbed truck followed me in.