October, Hunting Season, December

dadThat was the way it was…no such month as November. From the first day to the very last, it was hunting season. This was the only time of year my father rose before dawn, downed a cup of coffee and was out the front door by the first early light. His .348 or “elephant gun” as he liked to call it, was his pride and joy and he often said it was so powerful he did not have to hit the deer, but let the bullet come close enough to create a vacuum and the deer couldn’t breathe. He had several versions of that particular tale.

Life took several twists and turns during this month. My brother, Rex would pretend to be sick after the parents left for the mill and I had to lie to the teacher. He wasn’t sick.  One year I was so disgusted when the teacher asked if he was sick, I said, no he went hunting. The teacher didn’t even blink. I guess he had heard that before. He probably wished he was out there tramping in the woods.

Dad could barely wait until the week-end when he could get out and hunt. This necessitated a busy Friday night and the kitchen became the strategy room. Sitting in “his” chair at the end of the table, coffee at his elbow, cigarette burning out in the ashtray, he drew the plan out on a paper. Curious fellow hunters leaned in, asking questions. Who would drive? Who would be waiting at what place? As the evening drew on, the smoke was as thick as pea soup and the coffee pot was slowly draining away to dregs.

One particular night stands out as Ma had bought a glass perculator and it looked splendid on the old wood stove. During a pause in the strategy meeting, Dad got up, got the new perculator, filled his cup but somewhere between the table and the stove, decided to drop into a sort of Canadian Clog as he called it. Ma  yelled to be careful as his feet moved faster, his hand holding the glass perculator ahead of him. Fellow hunters watched slack-jawed as he neared the stove. There was a huge click as glass hit just the edge of the stove. Fate intervened and the perculator landed upright and still in one piece. Ma told him to stop his foolishness and get on with the business at hand. I heard her mutter something about it was a good thing it was Pyrex or there’d be nothing left of it. My father took pride in the clogging he learned when he worked in the Aroostook potato fields..or at least that is where he said he learned it. No one knew for sure.

To top off the busy month, there was always the Thanksgiving dinner. We never knew how many would be at the table. It made a difference if a deer had been wounded, then all the hunters would be trailing it because my father would not let a wounded deer just wander off. He moved mountains to try and find it and usually did. Rex and Roland were hunters as well and at times Ma, Curt and I ate Thanksgiving dinner alone and kept three meals warm in the oven.

It was such a process to cook the chicken to begin with, that it seemed a shame not to have everyone at the table at one time, but priorities you know and hunting season was not to be taken lightly. A good sized deer meant many meals during the winter. I remember Dad coming home from Lester Cole’s farm, chicken in hand, feathers flying. Ma had the water boiling and she dunked that chicken in so we could pluck it. What a stench! I’ve written about it before. Ma was expert at cleaning the insides, which thankfully ( at that age) I did not have to do. We plucked the bird clean and there were the dastardly pinfeathers…Over to the wood stove to remove both burners on the left to make room and Ma dipped the chicken in to singe it. Out came the poor chicken and we made fast work of the pin feathers. It was then Ma could prepare the bird for the oven, now really hot with the stick propped under the oven door. Now with all that work, just for the bird, you’d think hunting season could come second..just this one day, right?

Whenever they came through the door was when they ate and as always, Dad referred to the bird as a “road runner”. He had his own language and actually had names for people. My younger brother, Curt, was known as Horace Oscar or Oscar Pepper when he was young. I was always “Muffett” and shortened to “Muff” my entire life..well up to now. When he first came to see his first grandchild, my Debra, he looked at her and said “Her name should be Francella.” I asked him why and he said “Because I saw that name on a gravestone on  the way over here.” Try to figure the man out. One of the things in life he was very serious about and never joked  was hunting season. He demanded safety; he drilled safety into his two hunting sons and hated to see a car with out of state license plates located on the road anywhere near he was going to hunt for the day.

I don’t know how many deer my Dad shot in his lifetime. He loved the hunt; the chase, but I think he loved being out in nature. When he drove in the yard and the trunk was up, we’d rush to the front yard to see what he had tagged. The next step was stringing it up in the old apple tree next to the brook by the house. Then a cool day was set for someone to help skin and cut the deer. Everyone shared in the meat. A hind quarter was nailed to the side of our house high enough to be out of the reach of dogs or other animals. The best part was when it froze a bit and Dad went out, sliced some off with his hunting knife and brought it in for Ma’s already hot waiting frying pan.

So there you have it. October, Hunting Season and December. That was the calendar in the Martin household.  I bet it’s still the same in some houses back there in Maine.

That would be just about right.

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