Nov/Dec 2008Daddy's Lawby Sarah Moïse Young

Sarah Moïse Young recalls the same duck patrol her father, retired game warden Ben Moïse, wrote about in a chapter called "Murphy's Law" of his recent book, Ramblings of a Lowcountry Game Warden: a Memoir.

I remember being rousted from my bed that morning in the unwelcome pre-dawn and treated to an interminable lecture on what I was to say and do, when and if we encountered a hunting violator. At least I think it was interminable, because I'm pretty sure I fell asleep amongst the detritus of duck blind, down gloves, decoy netting and dog that consumed the front seat of Daddy's patrol car. When I awoke, it was to the headlights shining upon a solid wall of spindly, white, pine trees, behind us, only the inky blackness of dirt road. Daddy was gnashing his teeth to powder, so I figured that this wasn't supposed to happen, and wisely assuming it didn't invite discussion, promptly fell asleep again as he wrestled car and boat trailer in a 270-point turn they never teach you in drivers' ed.

The morning did not promise to be fun; each time he opened and closed the car door, a menacing draft of icy air would wash over me. When the trailer tire fell off, I recall wishing devoutly that we would have to turn around and go back home. Clearly, I am clairvoyant. That boat trip through the darkness was a misery I had never known. It was a morning so cold I lost feeling in my extremities within four seconds of leaving the landing. There was a reason why none of the females in my household would go duck hunting, and it's that they were smart enough to avoid deliberately putting themselves into positions of discomfort and potential frostbite, as well as self-cannibalization from lack of promised breakfast.

The breakfast was probably the only reason I had been lured into this little adventure in the first place. I have always had a keen nose for the delicious, and Daddy had made this scheme sound like a jolly bout of pleasure cruising and genteel scolding of miscreants, followed by fried eggs. If I lay low and said nothing, it's because my tongue had frozen to my teeth and my eyes had frosted over.

I had, as usual, misunderstood the hardship of my father's day job, which had become rather a habit. When I was in kindergarten, my teacher had invited all of the little girls to bring their dutiful papas to a Father's Day show-and-tell, where we decorated them with hand-made crowns and went around the circle explaining what each one did for a living. How was I to know that while his daughters slept, my father went motoring into the darkness arresting criminals and fighting injustice, braving storm and high seas? By the time I got home every day, he was asleep in his armchair, waking up to play with us and enjoy an afternoon beverage. The other daddies looked bitterly jealous when I proudly exclaimed, "My daddy stays at home and drinks beer all day!"

Things were always exciting at our house. Other children got new bicycles; I got heart attacks and nerves of steel. Because I was the most gullible child in the universe, every time the man said he had a surprise for me in the back of the truck, I'd go shrieking out the back door, expecting a puppy or ice cream sandwich or I don't know what─but certainly not the 6-foot alligator that greeted my little pony-tailed head with a hiss, as I popped over the edge of the tailgate. I fell for this more times than I like to admit. I've been chased by blue crabs, pelicans, raccoons and varmints of all sorts. But by the time I was 6, I was the only girl in my class who didn't faint at the wrinkling touch of a shiny black kingsnake, or who had held a great horned owl on its way to the wild animal hospital.

During his summer night patrols, Daddy would come home in a lather of exultation, pile us all into his boat, and zoom over to the beaches of Capers Island to witness the nesting of the loggerhead turtles. I was nine and remember one night as though it were yesterday; my sister and I helped an enormous turtle complete her nest in the dunes, the sand as white and soft as talc. In the quiet darkness, by the light of Daddy's flashlight, she laid each leathery egg, the size of a shiny white ping-pong ball. I'd never seen anything so vulnerable or so sacred.

From whale fossils and sharks' teeth to blackwater rivers and rice trunks, every day with my father was an exploration and an adventure. He'd come in the door from a search-and-rescue, and it was like Superman had opened the door.

So, fateful duck patrol notwithstanding, I'd say my sister and I were lucky to have a father that showed us so many things. I'm lucky he took me on patrol that day, to see and understand how hard and fun and interesting it was to be a game warden─to know the rivers and woods and people the way he did. But I'm awfully glad it was only that once; the next time, I'm willing to bet the boat would have caught on fire.


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