A Thanksgiving Tradition This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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His beady eyes stare at me through the window; an apple hangs casually from his mouth. Though I stand hunched in exhaustion from the freezing outdoors, he stands as tall and still as he would on a warm spring evening. After my long, tiring day, I've come home to find him within fifteen feet of me, mocking me as though I have not just spent the last four and a half hours looking for him. I am but an ignorant cat, completely drained and out of breath from my search, face-to-face with the mouse that has been sitting calmly right next to me the entire time.

The annual Thanksgiving adventure began only hours ago. As usual, new snow has fallen on an already blanketed mountain, but my grandpa and I, wearing orange from head to toe, persevere as we trudge through in heavy hiking boots. We trek up the steep slope, strong wind in our faces, surrounded by white. Our view ahead is exactly what one would see after a bright light is flashed into one's eyes. Despite Mother Nature's adversity, my grandpa and I make steady progress, each lugging Winchester rifles strapped on our shoulders and 17-pound backpacks filled with everything needed for survival and then some.

We finally arrive at our tree stand, consisting of some wooden planks and two chairs, panting like two dogs that have just chased their tails for an hour. I rest a steel ladder against the tree and climb up first, still weighed down with my gun and backpack; my grandpa follows. We settle into our folding chairs, which are about as comfortable as metal bleachers. We load our guns, take our binoculars out, and prepare to wait, all the while painfully aware of the frostbite in our near future.

After two never-ending hours, all we've seen is one or two squirrels. Periodically, my grandpa whispers a fun fact about our prey.

“You know, son, after a female passes through an area, a male will likely follow because he sniffs the track she leaves behind in order to find her.”

I smile and take his words to heart.

When the third hour approaches, he starts to rummage through his backpack and pulls out a pack of Juicy Fruit gum. He taps me on the shoulder and offers me a piece. I unwrap it as quietly as possible and bite into a stick that has the consistency of a potato chip. It crunches as I chew; he must have had the gum since 1973. Yet somehow, it remains one of my favorite pieces of gum, and it will forever.

As the sun begins to fade and dusk draws closer, my grandpa and I decide to call it quits. We head down the mountain and back to the house. Another Thanksgiving of hunting, another year with the same result.

When we arrive we find the whole family relaxing in the living room. They rise excitedly as we enter, and immediately utter sympathetic remarks about our red cheeks and chapped lips. Finally they ask the famous question: “Did you get any deer?” I say no, as expected, and life carries on.

However, in the blink of an eye, the entire group rushes to the window. “Look, a family of deer!” they cry. As I head toward the window, I see the herd standing under an apple tree and lock eyes with the buck. I hear the teasing from my family in the background.

“You never had to leave; they were here all along!”

“Gonna bother going out again next year, David?”

I turn to my grandpa as we laugh together, a shared camaraderie and a knowing smile passing between us.

“Was it worth it to sit in the freezing cold again and come home without a deer?”

I touch the crinkled Juicy Fruit wrapper in my pocket and feel my grandpa's hand on my shoulder.

It was never about the deer.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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