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An April Story

Apr 12, 2022 04:59PM ● By Richard Mabey Jr.

A photo from 1932 of my grandfather, Watson Mabey, proudly standing in his backyard, of the home he built at the end of Mabey Lane.

What spiritual connections lie dormant between man and beast? What lost communication, from a bygone era, still remains intact deep within the inner fiber of both man and beast? Could it be that we are guided and molded by forces so innately natural, that they gently call to the deepest core of our subconscious minds? Could it be that in early April, the calling of the majestic buck deer graced the inner fiber of a 13-year-old boy, marking him with a calling that remained fixed in the deepest chambers of his heart?

My grandfather, Watson Mabey, often told the story of the great, glorious, majestic buck deer that walked the woods at the end of Mabey Lane. Grandpa also had told me that the great buck could also be seen, from time to time, walking the path of the old Morris Canal. Grandpa had worked the canal, from his youth, and eventually became the Chief Engineer of Incline Plane Ten East.

My sister Patti, my cousins and I would often sit at the feet of Grandpa Mabey, as he sat upon his chair in the living room of the old Mabey Homestead. Grandpa was a most wonderful and enchanting story teller. He often told the family legends of the majestic buck deer. Grandpa always ended every tale about the magnificent deer, by telling us that whoever looked into the eyes of the majestic buck would be marked for a special calling for the rest of their life.

In early April of 1967, I was in the eighth grade, 13 years old, and I decided to take a walk down the forest path to the old Morris Canal, all by myself. It was a sunny, Saturday morning. The wild flowers were blooming along the forest path, that began at the end of Mabey Lane. I had no idea that magical morning, that my life was about to change forever.

As I walked the forest path, squirrels scurried about, jumping from tree limb to limb. Birds sang and chirped melodies to shame even the world’s greatest musical composers. Thistle stalks abounded between the maple, the oak and the elm. There was a certain peace that filled the air in those magical wooded acres.

As I walked down the wooded path, I could not believe my eyes. There to the right of the narrow forest path, proudly stood the majestic buck. It was a most surreal moment in time, it all seemed like a dream. Slowly and steadfastly, the old, tall buck came walking toward me. It was as frightening as any horror film I had ever seen at the old State Theater in the nearby town of Boonton. The antlers of the powerful deer seemed to reach out three or four feet from the majestic buck’s skull. As the deer came ever so close to me, I shuttered.

I stood my ground. It was not so much that I was being brave and fearless, it was actually quite the opposite. I remember being so taken and overcome with fear that my legs would not move an inch. You read about such moments in time, you dream about such moments in time, but this was a moment that was all so real, as frightening as it was.

My heart began beating like a big bass drum. Sweat filled the crevices of my hands, like little pools of water that clung to my palms. The carotid sinuses in my neck pounded in a fast-paced rhythm. As the deer, ever so slowly, ascended closer to me, I remembered the very words of Grandpa Mabey.

 The Great Majestic Buck was the central character of a family legend. It was at least a dozen times that Grandpa told me the legend of the Great Majestic Buck. The Mabey legend was that whoever looked the stately deer in the eye, directly in the eye, was a marked man. That from that point on, the person who stood steadfast to the great deer and looked him square in the eye would be so marked for a special calling, that his or her life would never, ever be the same.

The deer was now only about 10 feet from me, when the grand beast stopped and threw his head back, as if he was about to attack me. Something kept me from running down the forest path. I felt the presence of my grandfather, standing beside me, saying to me, “stand your ground, Richie, stand your ground.”

And then the Great Majestic Deer lowered his head and slowly, steadfastly began once again to walk toward me. My body shook like the last leaf hanging upon a twig of a maple tree, in the midst of an April breeze. I thought that my heart was going to burst, it was beating so hard and all so fast.

The Great Majestic Deer was now about four feet from me. I was frozen. I could not move. And, with all the courage that I could dig deeply from within the core of my soul, I looked the huge beast deep in its eyes. The grand deer looked back at me and flung its head back in a fury. Then lowered his head, turned around and ran into the thick of the April forest. I felt a deep blessing succumb my heart, mind, and soul. I had looked the Great Majestic Buck deep into his eyes and he looked deep into mine. From that point on, I would never be the same.

I walked down the forest path. As I stood within eye’s view of the old Morris Canal, l could see the foundation of my great grandfather’s icehouse. William Mabey had built the icehouse with the help of my grandfather and Grandpa’s brother, Earl. Sadly, Earl was killed in battle, in France during World War I.

When I came upon the foundation to the old Mabey Ice House, I sat upon the stone foundation and looked at the still, murky waters of the old Morris Canal, that lied just a few feet north of the old foundation. The memory of the Great Majestic Buck was engraved upon the deepest chambers of my heart. Perhaps Grandpa’s legend was not a fairy tale, perhaps there was a great depth of truth to the old Mabey Legend.

At the age of 13, in early April of 1967, I felt my grandfather’s gift of story telling fill my heart. I had looked the Great Majestic Buck Deer in the eye. I was now marked with the gift of a special calling. I knew deep in the chambers of my heart, that the great buck had blessed me with the calling of story telling. There was no doubt in my heart. None at all.

Richard Mabey Jr. is a freelance writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. Please put on the subject line: An April Story.