How “Hunter’s Safety” had me frozen in fear

2 Mar

A message to all parents: Please – please – always be on time to pick up your children!

Last night, HousemateF and I were watching this week’s Castle. Without dropping a spoiler upon the wild wrath of the Internet, let’s just say that there was a very, very cold scene. So I turned to HF and asked her if I’d ever told her about the night my dad was late picking me up from Hunter’s Safety class.

When I was growing up in Wisconsin, my parents hunted: deer, pheasant, grouse, etc. There were shotguns and rifles kept in the house – safely locked up, with the ammunition in a separate, locked drawer. They weren’t hidden or mysterious or glamorous; we knew they were there and exactly what they were for. From a very young age, Sister and I were taught how to handle guns, shoot guns, and – most importantly – respect guns as deadly weapons. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of afternoons spent with Dad, helping him refill shotgun shells. It was also required that, as soon as we were old enough, Sister (not interested in hunting) and I (interested in bow hunting, but never actually went) both go through Hunter’s Safety to learn outdoor activity and gun safety.

By the time I was 12, I was already a crack shot with Dad’s .22 rifle; when my Hunter’s Safety class split in two to take turns at a local shooting range, I (metaphorically!) blew my instructors away with my neat shot cluster in the middle of the target. Meanwhile, my peers were sometimes hitting the middle of the paper, but more frequently scattering their shots from edge to edge and even hitting the wall. But I digress.

Hunter’s Safety was scheduled in the evening, so we kids had time to leave school and go home for dinner before class; and the first class after I turned 12 was, I think, late winter/early spring. On what I remember as a particularly cold evening, Dad was late picking me up. Mom was away, probably in Chicago at one of her Seminary classes; Sister was back living at home and commuting to her university.

As I waited outside a junior high I didn’t attend during the day, I watched all the other kids be retrieved one-by-one by their fathers, mothers, or licensed older siblings. Time passed, the crowd disappeared, and there I stood, shivering alone in a dark sporadically cleared by lampposts.

Remember, this was 20 years ago. Mobile phones were still a distant glimmer in some geek’s imagination, and there wasn’t a convenient pay phone to be seen outside the school, which was locked for the night. I didn’t know anyone who lived within walking distance of the school, and even if I hadn’t been carefully warned against knocking on strangers’ doors, I was convinced that Dad would show up the moment I left the usual pick-up point to find a phone or warmth.

Here’s the kicker: that was the night they’d shown us the film on how to recognize and prevent hypothermia.

Being an imaginative kid, as well as very cold, I started having visions of students coming to school the next day and finding my body in the lee of the building, permanently frozen into the fetal position. Perhaps surrounded by the ashy remnants of the homework I’d somehow ignited in a last ditch effort to stay warm.

After a teeth-chattering eternity, a departing instructor I recognized as being part of Hunter’s Safety, but with whom I wasn’t familiar, spotted me on her way to her car and called out, asking if I had a ride. With what by then was a very doubtful tone, I called back a reply. Even at the time, I could tell she was torn between whether it was okay for a teacher to give a student a lift and concern for my safety, but after a moment’s hesitation, she told me to get in and she’d drive me home. As for me, all those parental warnings about getting in vehicles with strangers were tossed overboard by thoughts of central heating, hot cocoa, snuggly dogs, blankets, and hot cocoa (that’s right, I said it twice).

After an uneventful ride guided by my navigation, I arrived home, proving that some strangers are perfectly nice people.

I don’t know if I had a house key on me at the time, because I seem to remember the door flying open and Sister staring at me in shock. And then yelling through the house, “Daaaaaad! You forgot to pick her up!”

“I thought you were picking her up!” he yelled back.

Grrreeeaaat. Thanks, guys.

So the moral of the story: Communicate. Know who’s picking the kid up. And be on time. Especially when it’s cold!

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