Brian's mother gives him a hatchet because she thinks he might be able to use it while out in the woods with his father.
When the story begins, Brian is on his way to Canada, where his father now lives. His mother and father recently went through a divorce, and the courts set up a system that has Brian living with his mom during the school year and with his dad during the summer. Dad now lives in a remote, wooded area. Brian's mom buys Brian the hatchet as a going-away present. She tells Brian he might be able to use it while out with his dad in the woods.
Brian took the sack and opened the top. Inside there was a hatchet, the kind with a steel handle and a rubber handgrip. The head was in a stout leather case that had a brass-riveted belt loop.
"It goes on your belt." His mother spoke now without looking at him. There were some farm trucks on the road now and she had to weave through them and watch traffic. "The man at the store said you could use it. You know. In the woods with your father."
Unfortunately for Brian, the plane crashes, and he never makes it to his father's place. Fortunately for Brian, he has the hatchet.