It’s strange how needing to feed the fawn is taking me up the same rough road I used to drive to get to Henry’s shack. The fawn so young and he so old. Both vulnerable, both determined to survive.
"Honey, it doesn’t make sense to try to save a fawn," Dave said when I first burst into our house and told him about it as I poured milk into our calf nursing bottle. "The country’s way overpopulated with deer anyhow. A fox’ll get it and be glad. You better just let nature take its course." But the fawn had come right up to me and bleated with a sudden high cry as I had walked up the lane from the mailbox. Wet-nosed, delicate, maybe only two feet tall, the light glowing through its ears. Its spotted sides were caved in with hunger.
"You’ve sure got that mothering instinct!" Dave whispered, shaking his head as he watched my efforts to feed it. The fawn stood splay-legged over a puddle where it had been trying to quench its thirst. It sniffed the big wet calf nipple, licking the milk I squirted on its nose, but didn’t take the rubber teat. There was no way I wouldn’t try to save its life.
Henry would have shared my determination not to let this fawn starve. He would have bumped back in here to the sheep farm too, and begged a small nippled bottle. He told me matter-of-factly how he took in a bunch of his nephews and nieces during the Depres-sion. That was along with feeding the younger kids in his own family. When nobody had jobs around here, he dished out food he raised on his little farm to ten or twelve a day. He never did marry, with that speech impediment of his. After his mother died in the fire, though, he took in her widowed sister. She did the cooking until she broke her hip and it didn’t heal right. Cared for her bedridden 20 years until she passed away.
He showed me how her clothes were still folded up in a trunk under the horse harness in the house they used to share before the roof leaked too much. After her death, Henry had a coal stove and a propane cook stove moved into the shack by his well and just hunkered down there by himself for the duration. Even his watchdog had died. He painted a sign to nail on the old house that read: No Trespass God Is Watching. None of those children he had fed during the ’30s came forward to help him out. He drew up water from the well and heated it in a kettle to bathe, but in the winter when he clumped into the Senior Center where I worked, there was soot in every crease on his skin. The ladies shrank back from him. He did reek of coal smoke and liniment, but I don’t know, I guess I saw my dad in that tall, bent frame and those keen eyes. And when he brought me his life story, written out in longhand, slanting up page after page of unlined paper, I felt a hunger in him to which there was no way I wouldn’t try to respond.
I guess the very young and the very old are alike in some ways. Both need to have food, of course. But attention, too, some kind of living response. When I was leaning against a tree by the puddle, holding that too big bottle, the fawn had bleated at me, fearful but eager. "Come ‘ere, come ‘ere!" I’d called back real low. It had staggered off then through the tall meadow grass, but it kept crying out, time after time as I repeated, "Come ‘ere, come ‘ere!"
When I edited and typed up Henry’s life story and told him how it had moved me, he took me to him like family. I guess I had answered something way down deep in him. Out of his meager veteran’s check he paid for stamps and a dozen copies. He mailed them off to every relative and friend whose address he could still lay his hands on. When a nephew’s widow replied, he brought in her letter to show me. "Guess she thinks I’m still of some account," he said with shy pleasure. It still mattered to her that his mother had died at the house fire after she ran back in to save her butter and egg money. It mattered that he had managed to graduate from Ohio University in spite of being left to support his brothers and sisters. It mattered that he had headed up an accounting office for the Work Projects Administration, that he had passed his exam to be an Army chaplain and survived the bombing of his bunker on Iwo Jima when everyone else was killed. And that he still tended a row of potatoes every spring.
And now, willy-nilly, this fawn matters to me. It may be illogical but, by golly, I’m going to find this sheep farm and beg some lamb formula as well as a bottle. I’m going to mix it with warm water. I’m going back to the puddle on the edge of our lane again and call out, "Come ‘ere."
And if that fawn doesn’t part the grasses and come down the bank to take the little nipple, I’m going to wade through the timothy and clover looking for the places it might have bedded down.
I guess it’s something about spunk, coming right up to me out of nowhere like that and making connection. It’s like life says right up in my face, "Here I am and you are family." I can’t help myself.