Pastor Azzam was a good preacher. He delivered teaching sermons each Sunday at the country church on Johnsfield Road. Congregants often left the white clapboard-sided building arguing the meanings of his message. He taught Mom how to be a good Sunday school teacher. He lived with Mrs. Azzam and their two children in a tiny house next to the Johnsfield Luthern church a half mile up the gravel road from our farm. The preacher started a social group for teenagers which I never attended because I thought it was dumb. He insisted my brother go, and he went. The clergyman counseled families who needed help, and ours did.
There was a time when my brother was driving Mom crazy. I don’t know what Mickey was doing; he always seemed normal to me. Mom and Dad met with Pastor Azzam and made a plan.
The next thing I knew Dad was spending more time with my brother. After supper Dad would show Mickey how to clean a rifle with an oily rag on the end of a cleaning rod. I heard him tell my brother to stay away from the front end of a gun when he was loading it, how to lock and unlock the gun’s safety switch, and to point it away from people once it was armed.
I saw him demonstrate how a hunter crosses a fence with a loaded gun. Dad laid his hunting rifle on the ground in the back yard, pushed it through the imaginary fence with the barrel pointed away, and then either scooted under or crawled over the make-believe fence without touching the gun. He told Mickey not to pick up that rifle until he was standing on firm ground.
Every night it was something different. I heard hunter safety talks about how a guy should walk 15 to 20 feet away from his buddy when a group is stalking game in the woods. While walking with a loaded gun a wise hunter should always have the safety locked. If a fellow hunter is within range of a flock of duck suddenly flushed into the sky, Mickey should back off. Even if he hadn’t seen game all day and was itching to shoot his shotgun, he should let the other woodsman have the shot. Dad told him 98 per cent of hunter deaths were caused by this very safety violation.
Pastor would invite Mickey to hunt with him in the woods behind the church when Dad worked late. He showed Mickey how to scout rabbit tracks, how game pounded trails in the forest grass, and where a hare was likely to dig a hole for a nest. This clergyman had the best hound for rabbit hunting in the area. If there was a rabbit within two miles of his dog, his beloved hound would chase it back to give his master a good shot.
This is what my brother told me. After school he loaded his gun, put the safety clip on and walked through the field behind the church to hook up with the Pastor. The preacher let his dog go. That hound took off like a bullet. He ran out on Johnsfield Road and then headed around the front of the church before he started howling. He had located prey.
Mickey said he lifted his 20 gauge single barrel shotgun to his shoulder. The hound’s sound was coming from behind the church. He saw the rabbit before the preacher did. He took aim. As he pulled the trigger, Pastor’s dog appeared in his gunsite. The shotgun fired and the dog went down.
I laid the shotgun on the ground and ran to help the dog. When the Pastor caught up with me I was setting on the grass beside his dog. I was sobbing because the dog wasn’t breathing. “I didn’t mean to shoot your dog,” I told him. “Pastor, I was aiming at the rabbit. I’m sorry I hit your dog.” I watched the man pick up the dog and carry him towards his house. That’s when I ran for home.
That night shortly after Dad came home the preacher knocked on our screen door. “It’s Pastor Azzam, Bill. I’ve got Mickey’s 20 gauge.” When Dad opened the screen door Pastor handed over Mickey’s gun. Mickey was still up in his bedroom.
Dad said, “I wondered why Mickey hadn’t come down for supper. He knows better than to lose a loaded gun.”
Then our pastor explained what had happened.
Dad told Mom and I later he had to turn his head because he couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. Pastor didn’t seem to be too upset at loosing his hunting dog. The catastrophe wasn’t a bit funny, but for some reason it seemed funny. Dad couldn’t control his laughing so he had to turn his back and walk away.
About 60 years later the Lutheran church celebrated it’s 100th Anniversary. The Board invited past congregants and former men of the cloth to a gala which included dinner and a program. Mom and Dad asked Mick and I to come and bring our families. During the program we all learned that Pastor Azzam had traveled back to Beruit, Lebanan where he was born. He ministered there for some time before returning to the States to preach in various venues until his recent retirement.
I whispered to my family as we stood in line to greet the man who had helped shape our early years. None of us should mention the rabbit dog. They all nodded agreement.
Dad was first in line to greet our former minister. He introduced himself. Pastor Azzam’s smile broadened while he shook Dad’s hand. “Of course I remember you. How are you Bill? And this must be Donna,” he said. “You haven’t aged a bit,” he said to Mom’s smile. “And this must be Laurie. I remember you babysat for Barbie and Timmy. Yes, they are both married with families of their own.”
Mom piped in. “Pastor, this is our son Mick. You must remember him. He shot your hunting dog.”
The smile dropped from Pastor’s face. Mick’s eyes grew wide. I thought he might start crying. In an instant his eyes burned holes in Mom.
Pastor Azzam shook Mick’s hand. “Yes, I remember Mickey. You still rabbit hunting?”