It was mid-morning in autumn. I grabbed my jacket and stepped outside on the front porch of the house I grew up in. I stood there for a moment with my hands in my pockets. I could smell in the air the smoke of wood-burning fireplaces and the cool mustiness of rotting leaves. The fall colors had passed a few weeks back, leaving the twisted bones of maples, oaks, and ashes standing like arthritic sentinels around the neighborhood.
Yesterday afternoon, Daddy and my teen-aged brother, Tom, had returned with a young doe strapped to the back of the station wagon and many harrowing tales of their manly hunting exploits…including my brother accidentally waking a bear that was sleeping in a cave. Mom’s eyes widened at that, but Daddy was careful to add that it was groggy and did not give chase.
I stepped off the porch and walked toward the open garage door. Daddy and Tom must have been up early because they were half-way finished dressing the deer carcass that hung from the ceiling. I sat on an overturned bucket and asked Daddy several questions regarding deer anatomy while he cut off various parts and pieces and tossed them on a tarp that already heaped with intestines, organs, and a severed head.
After I'd peppered Dad with enough questions, I turned my attention to the tarp. The head was on its side near the edge of the pile. I knelt down to get a closer look. The eyes were a dull and cloudy brown with the lids half-closed. I imagined that when it was alive those eyes were clear and bright. It had such long eyelashes! The mouth was open with the pink, velvety tongue hanging out the side. I did not touch it, but moved around the other side of the tarp so I could observe the back of its head. I saw shredded skin and tissue from where the blade had sawed back and forth along the neck. The bone had not been hacked through, but disarticulated between two cervical vertebrae. I got a cold feeling inside, like something in my spirit was being assaulted, but then I looked over at Dad and Tom…who were just chatting away like this was nothing...and gave in to my curiosity.
I picked up one of the bony legs and inspected it, pressing the flesh between my fingers. There was no fat under the velvety fur. The amputation had been just above the second joint and I found, to my great amusement, that when I pulled on the exuding tab of thick iridescent tendon, the “elbow” retracted. I could make it wave!
Thrilled with my new party trick and completely forgetting my moment of reverent sadness earlier, I swiped the limb out of the pile and brought it over to Clair’s house to show Jack and Sandy. Jack answered the door. He was now eight-years-old. He and Sandy came out and inspected my prize. I showed them the wave. Hi! But to my irritation they were not as amused as I was. In fact, the little peace-lovers were sickened by the death and mutilation of one of God’s beautiful creatures. Oh, for Pete’s sake!
So, several minutes later, I found myself giving a eulogy for a deer forelimb in Jack's backyard. Part of me was tempted to fight them for it before it was interred, but then I thought better of it. I had three more where that came from, after all.