I remember well the day my son, Andrew – still at some single digit age at the time – stood in the gift shop at Turkey Run State Park pleading for a little bow and (suction cup tipped) arrow set. I began the old -When I was your age – recitation but stopped short. A lot went through my mind in a pause that lasted less than two seconds. I was suddenly nine years old again. It was a fine Saturday in the Fall of the year and, free from the demands of the school week, I had plenty of time on my hands. I wanted a bow and arrow. I wanted a bow and arrow bad! So, I went to the weeping willow tree in the backyard. I was extremely familiar with this tree and with the properties of its branches having been sent to it on several occasions to select a suitable switch to be employed in the process of my own socialization. I chose a nice pliant branch – back past the long whip-like leaf stem – and harvested about a yard of it. I also knew the location of a bail of twine and where dad kept his tools. In almost no time I had cut notches and bent the willow branch to a length of twine some inches shorter than the branch itself. Presto! A bow! Arrows? There was a fine weed patch where no one ever mowed behind the utility shed. I was as familiar with the weed patch as with the willow tree but for different reasons. It was a great place to catch grasshoppers to be used as bait for the chubs, bull heads, and sunfish in the local creeks. Among the other botanical selections, the weed patch featured horse weed (Giant Ragweed) the seven-foot-tall stalks of which dry to a semi-hard woodenness as summer passes and the nights grow cooler. The straight and easily broken off upper halves of the horse weed stalks were custom made for arrows. True, they were soft in the center so that after a few shots the notch got kind of deep – but there were plenty more. Also true, they lacked fletching – a problem for which I had no likely solution – unless I could shoot a bird with one of them – problematic since without fletching reliable aim is hard to come by. Well, who cared? The bow and arrow worked plenty good enough to hit all the imaginary lions, tigers and bears I stalked with it. Toward evening, when the call for supper came, I decided to fire off one last shot before surrendering the use of my wondrous creation for the day (I instinctively knew I would not be allowed to play with it in the house.) I suddenly remembered a little rhyme from somewhere – I shot an arrow into the air; it fell to earth I know not where. “Well”, I thought, “I’ll know in just a minute!” I notched the arrow, drew back as far as I could, took aim at a convenient cloud and let fly. Dad had been having a conversation with one of the neighbors and, having also heard the call for supper, was rounding the house, still engrossed in the conversation, the neighbor tagging along. I never knew what that conversation was about. I only knew – knew for certain – as I watched the arrow reach the apogee of its flight and begin its downward journey – knew beyond the slightest degree of doubt – exactly where it would fall to earth. It struck dad full in the chest with a sickening crunch produced by the splintering of the tip of the horse week. A few of those splinters pierced dad’s shirt and stuck a little in his skin. Dad, who, unlike me, had not seen it coming, was both dumbstruck and mystified – but not for long. He quickly surveyed the yard – occupied at the moment by only the three of us – dad, the neighbor, and the one holding a bow. It took dad remarkably little time to sort the whole matter out. Neighbor forgotten, he plucked and tossed the arrow and strode toward me like grim doom. My feet seemed to have grown roots deep into the earth. I could only stand and wait. Dad stood before me a second, searching for adequate words, surrendered the effort, snatched the bow from my hands, broke it over his knee and headed for the house. A few deep relieved breaths later, I followed. So, I said to Andrew – When I was your age – then I shut up and bought him the toy bow and arrow.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church