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 meaning of his message. He taught Mom how to be a good Sunday school teacher. The preacher started a social group for teenagers which I never attended because I thought it was dumb. He insisted my brother go. He lived with Mrs. Azzam and their two children in a tiny house next to the Johnsfield Luthern church which was a half mile up the gravel road from where we lived. This 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. My parent 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 at 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 from him, 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 guy should walk 15 to 20 feet away from his buddy when a group is stalking game. 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 gun, he should let the other guy 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 they pounded trails in the forest grass, and where a hare was likely to dig a hole for a nest. This member of the clergy had the best hound for rabbit hunting in the area. If there was a rabbit within two miles of that dog, he would chase it back to give his master a good shot. Our minister showed my brother how to hunt with his dog.
One day after school Mickey 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 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.
Mickey laid the shotgun on the ground and ran to help the dog. When the Pastor caught up with my brother he was sitting on the grass beside the dead dog, sobbing. “I didn’t mean to shoot your dog.” Tears stained his face as he looked up at the preacher. “Pastor, I was aiming at the rabbit. I’m sorry I hit your dog.” Then ten year old boy got up and ran for home.
Shortly after Dad came home from work that night 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 in his bedroom.
Dad said, “I wondered why Mickey hadn’t come down for supper. He is a good eater. He knows better than to leave a loaded gun laying on the ground.”
Then our pastor explained what had happened.
Dad said 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 so very 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. They invited past congregants and men of the cloth to a gala which included dinner and a program. Mom and Dad requested Mick and I to attend with our families. During the program we learned that Pastor Azzam had traveled back to Beruit, Lebanan where he was born. He ministered there for years before returning to the States to preach in various churches 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 hunting hound. 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 for us. Yes, they are grown and have families of their own.”
Mom piped in. “Pastor, this is our son Mick. You must remember Mick. He shot your hunting dog.”
The smile dropped from Pastor’s face. Mick’s eyes grew wide. I thought he might start crying. Instead his eyes burned holes in Mom.
Pastor Azzam shook Mick’s hand. “Yes, I remember Mickey Hartman. You still rabbit hunting?”