Rumney Bible Conference
by Ronald Tobey
First snow in November He bought a deer rifle for me
up at four AM before I could raise it to my shoulder
buck season opens. a bargain price he grabbed.
Boston Baked Beans Remington semi-automatic 32 caliber
from Saturday evening magazine holding 5 cartridges
lined with sliced pickles open iron sights
sandwiches for lunch. resting upright behind their bedroom door
Father and I hunt stood taller than I until I was thirteen
on abandoned farmland he moved it to my bedroom
pastures gone to birch onto a wall mounted pine rack.
white pine and spruce
mossy granite block foundations
holding rotting beams
of home and barn
tractor roads barely ruts
overhung with raspberries.
Snow fine as confectioners’ sugar Years of anti-seizure medicines
dusted from a sieve onto pound cake the top of my skull crushed
rabbit hopping tracks by a croquet mallet’s blow
pairs of large paws follow pairs of small brain growth slowed,
bird imprints and scratchings for seeds. seeing hearing distorted,
In oak stands I couldn’t decipher music
we look for the cloven imprints identify a measure or beat
of deer and their scat in little piles allergies besieging my inner ear
where they pawed rotting leaves for acorns undertones were unheard
Signs of their brief security only the piano’s percussive chords.
no boot tracks My uncle singing
cigarette butts I made out tunes.
or discarded packs. Some illustrations in books
On the south side of the field looked like ink spills -
where will warm first gestalt breakdown.
in early morning sun Hunting in woods made sense
the moist earth clues scattered in ecological disarray
we see fresh deer prints patterns and paths I matched
sharp etchings not eroded to solar time of day.
by cold rain two nights ago
a lightly worn narrow trail from woods
to a pasture-side creek.
Mother dressed father as Leatherstocking Father had a two-rifle rack
for his birthday a tan deer skin jacket on the rear window of his pickup,
fringed along the sleeves a gun rack of deer antlers
and bottom hem lines in the breakfast nook in the kitchen.
deer rawhide pulls and ties He shot his buck limit in Maine
Venison all winter as well as New Hampshire
roasted chicken on Sundays and an occasional doe
in the formal dining room jacked after dark at Lucknow,
was an event meal. scanning dormant fields’ wooded edges
We dressed up, clean shirts, ties, from the Oldsmobile 88
my sister in a dress. with a searchlight
These were years before plugged into the cigarette lighter.
Moose bear and cougars
returned to the north New Hampshire woods.
When snowmobiles became popular
they packed snow paths into
winter deer yards
and birthing grounds
in the deepest woods
opening the herds to predation
by village dogs and later coyotes.
Mother insisted I attend Sunday School, Father seldom attended services
when older, church services. except at Christmas and Easter.
I sing in the choir, He complained about how much money
train to be an acolyte, mother wanted for the offering plate
like the robes, the acolyte trainee passed around
study for the Anglican catechism walking the aisle solemnly
take Communion as the congregation sang the Doxology.
in the little mission Episcopal Church.
Her family tradition silently clashed
with my father’s unstrict upbringing
in his mother’s Congregational Church
by the village’s elm-shaded common.
Standing at the pulpit several Sundays
I read New Testament passages,
thought about the ministry.
Mother’s brother, Calvin, also devoutly Christian, He played the black upright piano
Assisted her project in the Plymouth Inn dining room
to generate religious faith in me between mealtimes
and save me from sin. self-taught sight-reading
Calvin took me to summer services singing louder than anyone else at church.
at the Rumney Bible Conference Hymns and Broadway musicals
near Plymouth. sprang from memory.
In the Tabernacle Behind him,
the Great White Whale, his lone audience, I absorbed
sheltered in a pine grove, these private concerts.
we sat on wood benches,
three or four from the front.
The building loomed huge over me
rafters and trusses and roof
exposed above the hall.
Families with teen girls in pretty, modest skirts
as the Baptist minister implored us
to reject evil and sin not
in deed or thought.
Calvin whispering urged me to go forward
sit on the mourners’ bench
to confess my sins and accept Christ.
Catechism made transubstantiation Late my thirteenth year,
in Holy Communion My doctor took me off
an intellectual issue for me. anti-seizure medications.
The blue driver education car
loaned by the Ford dealership,
Helen Boivin driving,
slows near me
as I walk home
lugging my briefcase.
“Where are you going, Ronnie?”
the teacher Mr. Ryan
In the front passenger seat asks.
“I’m going home.”
“Why don’t you get in?
We will take you back to school.”