Last Updated on April 20, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1091
Eldon takes Franklin to a bar called Charlie’s, which is in bad need of paint and other repairs. The counter is a piece of plywood resting on barrels, and mismatched tables are strewn around the place haphazardly. The waiter reminds “Twinkles” that he owes money; Franklin’s father responds that he’s good for it even though the waiter points out that he’s no longer working. Franklin pays the tab and orders the only thing left on the menu—chicken and beans. He asks his father why everyone calls him Twinkles, and his father responds that it’s a silly play on the name Starlight. Franklin then asks him whether he’s going to die soon, but his father avoids answering the question.
As Franklin eats his meal, the two of them watch the river. His father talks about his younger days, when he floated log booms down that same river. Finally, he tells Franklin that he is in need of a favor, which Franklin has been expecting: he wants his son to take him to a ridge forty miles away. Franklin retorts that he’ll never make it in his condition and asks why his father wants to go there. Eldon tells him that he is dying and wants to be buried sitting up and facing east, like a warrior. Franklin points out that his father is no warrior, but Eldon replies that he was at one time. He tells his son that he needs to tell him “a lot of things” because those stories are all he has to offer. Franklin replies that stories will never be enough. His father walks out of the restaurant while Franklin rolls a smoke. Finally, he walks out into the street but doesn’t see his father, so he returns to the barn and falls asleep beside the old mare.
Franklin awakes in the early morning hours, when it is still dark and the moon is in its descent. Through the shadows, Franklin spots coyotes in the field and observes their actions. Their interactions with each other begin to resemble a dance, and Franklin smiles as he continues to watch them. Franklin’s thoughts return to his father, and he realizes that allowing him to die in such a dismal setting is “more sorrowful than he could imagine.” He considers abandoning his father and returning to the farm, the only life he has ever known. The farm and its rhythms give Franklin a great sense of comfort; he knows those eighty acres like he knows hunger and thirst. In contrast, his father has always drifted in and out of his life sporadically; he often stuck money in a jelly jar when he left, which the old man periodically used for the ongoing needs inherent in raising a boy. The old man had taught Franklin everything he knew, from setting snares to laying nightlines for fishing to finding signs of wild game. He had taught Franklin to honor the land, and when Franklin was only nine, he had gone on a four day hunting expedition where he had captured a small deer and various fish. He realizes that the word father conjures images of the old man.
The gun that hangs above their fireplace has always been a centerpiece of conversation and reverence between Franklin and the old man. In fact, the gun is Franklin’s earliest memory. The old man spent many hours teaching Franklin the names of its parts and how to disassemble and reassemble it. Franklin learned quickly, and by age five, he was the primary caretaker of the gun. The old man taught him what to hunt and then how to hunt. Franklin spent many hours practicing on targets such as old cans and bottles until he could hit them from over two hundred yards away without missing. During this same time, he was forced by law to attend school, which he found pointless. While he could perform math in his head and could write better than the other students, he didn’t find the lessons practical to his own life and therefore “mostly let the words fall around him.” He was the only Indian student in his class, and his teachers labeled him “aloof” and “cold,” writing to the old man about Franklin’s unacceptable attitude. The old man burned these letters in the fire.
The old man then taught Franklin how to track game, including how to identify not only the animal who had left the tracks but the speed at which it had been travelling and how large it was. At age nine, Franklin successfully shot his first deer, dropping it with a clean shot to the heart. Overcome with emotion, Franklin had begun crying, and the old man had taught him that he must offer a prayer of thanks for the deer’s life, which would now offer them much-needed sustenance. The old man painted Franklin’s face with the deer blood, saying that these were Franklin’s “marks.” Franklin added that this act was necessary because he is Indian, and the old man countered that he himself was not. Nevertheless, he reflected that if he could teach Franklin to be a good man, he would also be a good Indian. When he turned eleven, Franklin owned the gun, which he found always anchored him to the idea of life.
Franklin is presented with the reality that his father is dying, and this leads him to reflect upon the significance of all living things. Franklin understands the weight of taking another living creature’s life, as evidenced by his emotional response to killing his first deer at the age of nine. He apologizes to the creature and offers his thanks, promising that he will remember it whenever he returns to that same spot of land. Franklin knows that the act of taking this creature’s life, even though the animal is needed in order to sustain his own existence, will become “part of him forever.”
In the present timeline, Franklin faces a decision regarding his father’s death: he can either ignore the request or journey with his father to a resting place befitting a warrior. The inclusion of the memory of the deer foreshadows both Eldon’s death and Franklin’s own sense of responsibility in considering his father’s request. Looking back to his first kill, he reflects upon the mysteries of life and death, and his crucial role in the final days of his father’s existence.
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