My dad is very special to me. He is eighty-eight years young and still does as much as some in their sixties. He's a tough old bird with a wisdom that can only come with age. I can't think of anything off hand that he's unable to do.

He's one of the oldest living real cowboys in the state of Florida. He worked herding cattle for many years, even using his veterinary skills when needed, though he never studied medicine. He still wears an old cowboy hat and only takes it off when he goes to bed.

He's retired now for many years but has a deep love for all animals that I believe is God given. He lives in South Florida with his three cats and his sidekick, Sara, a retriever mix, who is getting old and quite overweight, but guards and protects him like a young puppy.

I was privileged recently to be able to visit him for a few days. Christmas is coming and I wanted to take him a small tree and decorate it and hopefully deliver some Christmas spirit to his small trailer in the woods. I didn't expect to be on the receiving end of the blessings.

My loyal friend and comrade, Nelson, agreed to drive me the fifty miles or so to my dad's house. I took my cat, Precious, of course, so she could enjoy the visit too.

Daddy lives at the edge of a wildlife preserve and sometimes wild hogs, bobcats, and other animals come right up into his yard but I wasn't prepared for what I would get to see, though he had told me about the wild turkeys.

The first day was uneventful, with me just being joyful of being with my dad. I decorated his tree and it was starting to look like Christmas in his small home.

We talked a lot. I love talking to him, or rather, listening to his stories of when I was a child. I wasn't around my dad at times over the years but he still remembers when I was small. He reminded me of the time he had a fox on a chain that we always thought was a watchdog. He kept snakes in pens and my mother was deathly afraid one of us kids would reach into and get bitten so she made him get rid of them. We even had a baby alligator in the bathtub, long before it was illegal to keep one. Once, a panther made her home underneath our house and gave birth. I can still remember the sound of her cries in the night and being terrified. My dad loved all animals.

The second morning I was there, it happened so quickly I wasn't even aware of it until my dad motioned for me to come over to the window. It was so quiet, almost magical, when I looked out and the yard was filled with about forty wild turkeys. I stood there, I am sure with my mouth open, watching these lovely statuesque creatures quietly scratching the ground for the corn that he puts out for them to eat. They glided almost up to the window where we were standing. I ran to get my camera and daddy asked me not to move around a lot while I stood there trying to capture this lovely moment that I will cherish forever. It was awesome!

They left as suddenly and as quietly as they came, going back into the orange groves which are thick around my dad's place. I was still standing there with my mouth open. I had never seen anything like that before.

The next day we were visited by a pair of whooping cranes, which I believe are extinct or close to it. Of course, I got pictures of them too. They are such a beautiful bird!

Then the turkeys came back and I had another chance to breathe in their beauty. We never think of how lovely they are in the wild when we are enjoying them for a nice holiday meal. Their shades of brown feathers are just gorgeous, each arranged in a finely knit pattern covering their large bodies, a sight to behold!

Too soon it was time for me to go and I tried not to cry as I packed the few belongings I had brought for my Precious and me. My dad will continue feeding the turkeys, not to kill, but to keep for the loveliness they bring to his life. He knows the hunters will get some of them but he hopes to save the ones he can. I know I will never forget my Christmas with the wild turkeys and I am thankful for having had this experience.

I believe too few of us take time to enjoy the small things in life in our busy world. Not many of us are lucky enough to live where there is wildlife roaming free as my dad chooses to live. I remember many years ago when he hatched tiny quail eggs and they roamed about in the grass in his yard. He would put them in cages during hunting season, then let them back out to roam free when the danger had passed.

Sometimes I believe that is what my father does with me as well. He has put me under his wing at times in the past when I have needed it, holding me close till I could stand alone after all the danger was over. I thank my Father in Heaven for my earthly father He gave to me and I will cherish him for all his remaining years. "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (James 1:17 NIV)  

Sharlett F. Hunt