By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
The gobbler walked in without making a sound in the evil way Easterns often do, but the pounding of young Walker’s heart echoed in the blind until he was sure the bird must be able to hear it.
“Don’t shoot until I say ‘Ready,’” his dad Todd told him, and Walker replied, “Yes sir.” In a way, though, he’d been ready for years.
Born with four major defects to his heart, Walker Cary, 10, of Tupelo, endured a major heart surgery every year until he was 4 years old. The first one, 9 months after he was born, was a close call. Two days on the heart and lung machine and three weeks in intensive care saw him through. A few months later it was time to go again. Between cardiac and other repairs, he’s on familiar terms with the operating room.
“Twenty years ago, Tetralogy of Fallot was a death sentence for children, but modern medicine has come so far,” Todd said. “His long-term prognosis is very good.”
Walker had two heart surgeries at Le Bonheur in Memphis and two at UAB in Birmingham. He’s likely to need one or two more before he’s grown, but beyond that ridge the sky is blue. Because of his issues early on, though, other developmental milestones like learning to walk were delayed.
“He would sit in the doorway and watch his brother play in the yard,” his mom Casey says. “You could see in his eyes how much he wanted to be out there. Our goal was, he’d run for his second birthday.”
Time outside can work wonders, and none more so than for God’s smallest things it seems. Fishing the calm backwaters of Pickwick Reservoir, stalking squirrels around the family cabin in Tisho-mingo County, watching sunrises and sunsets in the peaceful air and counting stars that dot the night sky marked good time for the Cary family, growing and healing time for their younger little man.
First as regular observers, then as participants, the Walker and his brother Tanner, 13, have shared deer stands with their dad and fishing time with their mom as long as they can remember. This spring, Walker was ready to be the primary shooter on a turkey hunt for the first time.
“It was really foggy that morning (two weeks ago) and the birds had been quiet all season,” Todd said. “We got in a pop-up blind overlooking a food plot a little while after fly down time. We were hunting, but we were mainly just out there to be out there. I yelped a few times, didn’t hear anything respond and didn’t expect to.”
“We call that spot ‘The Honey Hole,’” Walker said. “I saw the turkey walk up from the left, out of the hollow.”
“I was looking down when Walker punched me and said, ‘There’s a turkey,’” Todd said. “His bird had walked up within 30 yards.”
The gobbler came looking for the source of the calls he’d heard and, seeing none, tucked his wings and began walking nervously away. Standing behind a shotgun as long as he was tall, Walker rested the gun’s forearm on shooting sticks and steadied the bead.
“I said, ‘Are you … BOOM!,’” Todd laughs. “He just dust-rolled him. The bird may have flopped two times.”
In his excitement, Walker ran for the turkey while still zipped inside the pop-up blind, almost knocking it over, untold miles from time spent sitting in a doorway watching others play. Today his heart and feet carry him along paths that lead ever back to the natural world his family calls home, running as fast as his soul wants to fly.