Bambi Isn’t Real

An excerpt from a memoir

Most little girls love Bambi. The haunting story of the fawn son of the “Great Prince of the Forest,” and the dangers of hunters and wildfire, struck a chord with most of the girls I attended grade school with in northern California. Deer and all wildlife were revered and preserved in their hearts. They (the deer) were elegant creatures, and no harm should come to them.

I revered deer, too, but not in the same way.

While I adored all things Disney, and still do, Bambi was different for me. Even at a young age, I was analyzing the message in the movie. My parents were a part of the fire service industry, so I understood, in a way other little girls may not have, the wiles of wildfires. I also understood hunting in a way other girls my age, or anyone for that matter, did not.

At the age of five, I started going on weekend hunting trips with my dad in the mountains of northern California. I was responsible for nothing except learning the tools and responsibilities of this rite of passage. Daddy carried his rifle and a pack of our lunches. I wore a bright orange vest, bright orange hat, long sleeves, jeans, and boots in the sweltering summer heat.

Since my first hunting trip, daddy always referred to me as his “huntin’ partner.” I swelled with pride at being referred to in such a way. It solidified our relationship for me. Other little girls surely didn’t have this awesome of a daddy. Other little girls surely didn’t have this close of a relationship with their daddy. Surely other little girls didn’t get to spend this kind of time with their daddy. Yes, I had decided, I was special.

One particular trip, though, set the tone for our relationship for years to come and would give Daddy a story to tell for as long as he remembers it.

. . . . . .

We had been walking trails all day, and we had returned to our tent for our camp dinner — steak cubes and potatoes roasted over a fire in tin foil. The specifics of why fail me, but Daddy left me for a minute at our campsite to go check out our neighbors.

“There’s a group of guys that got a buck,” daddy tells me when he comes back, looking excited. There seems to be a special hunter’s line of communication I had not yet heard of. “Why don’t we go congratulate them?” Daddy suggested, motioning for me to follow him out of our camp.

I smile in agreement, excited to see a dead buck for the first time. Perhaps I was a morbid child, but I was a hunter. This was a part of that. Daddy wanted to show me every aspect of what it meant to be a hunter, and I was thrilled. It was getting dark, and I was tripping over my small feet in heavy hiking boots, but I felt safe trailing behind Daddy.

“Hey there,” Daddy said amicably to the group of five men as we approached their campground.

They were huge to me, a seven-year-old who was small even for her age. I stayed close to Daddy’s side, like an extra small shadow, unspeaking, just observing. They kept glancing at me as they talked with Daddy, and I silently examined the buck hanging upside down and gutted from a triangle of wood. It was big — bigger than I had pictured in my head. I’d only ever seen deer from a distance until this point. I could feel the excitement rising in my tiny little body.

“This is my daughter,” Daddy said to them, motioning in my direction to introduce me. He glanced at me, silently checking in on me.

“Are you gonna be your dad’s huntin’ partner?” one of the men asked.

He spoke to me cutely, adjusting his tone for my age. There was still a suggestion of disbelief, like there was no way a girl would voluntarily hunt with her father. There was a suggestion this desire would disappear as I got older.

I nodded at him. To me, it seemed a stupid question. I was wearing my hunting clothes and standing proudly next to my dad. What else would I be doing?

Courtesy of Flickr

“Aren’t you sad to kill Bambi?” another man asked me. Again, the tone suggested I was simply a child trying to please her father.

I looked at him confused, head cocked to the side. Was this guy serious? I was staring at a dead buck without thought, without a single tear. “Bambi isn’t real,” I told him matter-of-factly. He should have known this. He was an adult, after all. Didn’t he know the difference between Disney and reality?

They all began to laugh, Daddy included. Had I said something wrong? Inappropriate? Did I again show my childish lack of knowledge of the world and social situations? I looked at Daddy, hurt, but he smiled as he looked down at me and put his hand on my shoulder.

“You must be so proud,” one of the men told Daddy mid-laugh.

“Yup,” Daddy said proudly, still chuckling. “I sure am.”