By Helen Stieve, Wisconsin farm homemaker
Farm wives, to action! Make up that extra bed. Stock the freezer with baked stuff. Kill the last of the heavy roosters. It's November again!
The corn is cribbed, the fall housecleaning finished. The geese have honked their way south and snow flurries promise a leisurely winter. But first comes that chaotic, exciting, exhausting, unbelievable interlude known as deer hunting season.
What is it about deer hunting that impels otherwise sensible men to stand for hours in the cold, or tramp miles of rugged terrain on weary legs? Is it the challenge? The masculine companionship? The status deer hunting seems to bring? Whatever it is, I respect it; for nothing—not even the first spring thaw—triggers such enthusiasm in my husband Bob.
Deer hunting rates my enthusiasm also; because prefacing that zany nine-day season is a treasured week when I reign as queen at our house—the week designed to put Mama in a good humor for what lies ahead.
The big sell begins around mid-November when Bob comes in with his tool kit and says brightly, "Where's that leaky faucet you said needs fixing?”
I show him. Then, heady with my new importance, I brashly point out other projects I've been saving for my genie in bib overalls. And why not? Experience tells me that not for another 51 weeks will I wield such power or feel so adored, appreciated and indispensable.
Underneath the gloating I am more noble, reflecting that Bob deserves and needs a few days' change of pace after the grueling harvest season. But I am just selfish enough, and woman enough, to revel mostly in my own moment of glory.
So I pretend that I don't suspect any ulterior motive in this sudden shower of attention as I wait for Bob to say, "Al and Bucky and Fritz want me to go deer hunting, Hon. I wasn't planning to go this year—puts me behind with the fall work. But they're depending on me…”
Of course he must go, I assure him. After all, he's just about sure to shoot a buck, and I never worry that he'll shoot something (or someone) else. So, grinning like a little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar, Husband starts replacing the clutter of tools with a clutter of hunting gear. By Friday of the third week in November an air of festivity spreads through the house as the sickish-sweet odor of gun oil competes with the aroma of freshly baked pies. We have an early supper and race through chores, fracturing long-established milking schedules. Before we've finished, Bucky and Al drive in. (Bucky is a relative, and Al—well, years ago he tagged along one season, found the accommodations satisfactory and has been coming back every since; I've concluded he likes deer hunting!)
Within minutes the house is transformed into a hunting lodge, with guns and hand warmers and insulated boots and heavy socks arranged on every table and chair. While I line up coffee jugs and sew on hunting-license tags, the excitement mounts. The men plot tomorrow's campaign; then, with all decisions settled, drift into a recital of every deer hunting expedition over the last 20 years.
It is hard to say how long into the night this might continue, for there is no more nostalgic collection anywhere than a gang of deer hunters. But I remind them that the old alarm clock will sound off mighty early, and then I sneak off to bed.
Almost instantly, it seems, the buzzer, set for 4:00 a.m. summons me to K.P. Groping my way to the kitchen, I start breakfast and layout fixings for a couple of dozen hefty sandwiches. Soon the smell of coffee brings yawning, sleepy-eyed hunters, half-dressed in undershirts and hunting pants, and with suspenders dangling at half mast.
As I heap the last pancake on the platter, Fritz, the fourth member of the party breezes in. He stands there, covetously eyeing our breakfast, until I am forced to turn my back or break down and cry. But Bob, the ever-expansive host, is sure to ask, "Had breakfast, Fritz?”
Fritz allows he had a glass of milk and a doughnut. "Cynthie wouldn't get up. She says anybody nuts enough to go hunting at 4:00 a.m. can get his own breakfast.”
My Bob says a man can't tromp the woods all day on an empty stomach. "C'mon, pull up a chair! Hon, get Fritz a plate.” I set another place and whip up more pancake batter, determined not to reveal my true thoughts about Fritz's wife Cynthie in her warm bed.
By 5:30 they are on their way and the house is quiet again. A whole day lies ahead of me with nothing to fill it but a stack of dirty dishes and the barn chores and a crew-sized supper to prepare. If everything goes well, I am ready for the men's return at dusk. Once again hunting-lodge décor takes over as empty lunch baskets line up on the kitchen counter and coats are hung to dry on chairs. Appropriate odors of damp wool and sweaty socks permeate the house.
Fritz stays for supper, admitting that Cynthie went to her mother's for the weekend because "she don't like setting around alone when I'm off huntin'.” And for an unbelievable 20 minutes I watch the four of them polish off the food it took me all afternoon to fix.
After supper Al and Bucky and Fritz lean back, relaxed, while my husband shuffles wearily out to the barn. Al says, yawning, "If we were any kind of gentlemen, we'd help Bob milk so's you wouldn't have to. But I wouldn't know one end of the cow from the other.”
Fritz suddenly decides to shove off because "Cynthie might call.” Bucky is already asleep on the sofa, his feet propped on the coffee table and a lighted cigarette dangling precariously. As I rush through the dishes—with Al's help, bless him—and scoot for the barn, I remind myself that only eight days remain of deer hunting.
The number of times this routine is repeated in a season depends on the weather (whether or not it snows), on the success of the first hunts, and how much time the town hunters have wangled from their jobs. But inevitably the time comes when boots and guns and hunting togs are packed away in car trunks. Al and Bucky vow undying gratitude and promise faithfully to come back next year, then wave goodbye. We are left in a house that's suddenly silent and empty.
As Bob and I relax with cups of coffee, my eyes stray to a spot by the window where I've always pictured a farm business center. "Wonder how a few bookshelves would look over there,” I say idly.
My husband leaps to his feet. "Well, I haven't got time to build any bookshelves! Gotta clean the calf pens . . . Fellow takes a few days off, the work sure piles up. Next year I don't think I'll go deer hunting.”
I agree absently and wonder if I should ask for two shelves or three. Tilt-top leaf for a desk, or a stationary table? Well, no need to decide yet. Next November is a full 11 months away.
Farm Journal, November 1967