"Don't breath a word to your dad, or else," she said.
The tone in her voice left little doubt she meant every word. If either my brother or I as much as hinted about her purchase, we'd never hear the end of how we had spoiled her surprise.
As we traveled home from the sporting goods store, I felt an overwhelming sense of anticipation. There, tucked securely in the back seat of our family's AMC Rambler, was the Christmas gift mom had worked so hard to acquire.
A long brown box stretched from the floorboard to the top of the back seat. I was proud of my mom and excited for my dad, but little did I know the contents of that box would impact generations to come.
Christmas always came early around our place. Just after sunrise the old farmhouse would be filled with the sound of running feet and excited voices — this Christmas was no exception.
After dad had a cup of coffee and ate his pecan sandies, I was allowed to make a phone call to my grandparents. Although they only lived a few miles away, it was our family tradition to never open a gift until grandpa and grandma arrived. As a youngster it seemed like eternity before I saw my grandparent's Mercury coming down the country road.
When it came time to distribute the gifts, mom always played Santa.
She'd remember who was to receive which gift by placing a hidden mark on the top of each package.
This Christmas there was one box that didn't need a secret code. Although we were excited about our own gifts, we couldn't wait for dad to open the long rectangular box mom had hidden behind the Christmas tree.
"What's this!" my father exclaimed.
As mom handed him the long, brown box a smile broke out on his usually somber face. "Patty, did you'¦?"
It was dad's way of saying he suspected what was in the box, yet he wanted mom to know he appreciated the thought.
I quickly caught on that dad had already guessed what mom had bought him.
Borrowing grandpa's penknife, dad finished cutting the last piece of packing tape and carefully drew the shiny brown riser from its factory packaging. I stared in amazement at my father's new bow.
There it was, a brand new Bear Whitetail.
This was the very bow dad had been telling us he wanted, and the exact bow I had watched mom buy in the sporting goods store.
No one in that room could have guessed how that bow would shape our lives. Within a couple years, I went on my first bowhunt. Two years later, my brother went on his. Twenty-three years later, I took my own son to an archery shop so he could pick out his first "real" bow.
Today bowhunting is etched deep within our lifestyle. The recipient of the Bear Whitetail, known as 'Papa' to my three boys, makes sure his grandsons have a place to hunt on his farm each fall. Every deer my boys harvest is followed by a phone call to Papa just to give him a rundown of the successful hunt.
My son's successes, and my dad's smiles, can be directly attributed to that Bear Whitetail.
It's hard to imagine that one man's desire to bowhunt, one Christmas gift, and one Bear Whitetail could have such an impact on three generations.
I'm not sure what happened to the Bear Whitetail. I often wonder where it ended up. What I do know is that Bear Whitetail left a legacy — a legacy that's only just begun.