Did you just think “Brewers?” City folk. I tell ya. “Opening day” in November in Wisconsin *should* mean just one thing. Deer hunting.
I grew up in a small Wisconsin farming town. Deer hunting, in the heavy Midwestern accent of Brittany Murphy in Drop Dead Gorgeous, “it’s just whatchya do.”
Mid-November had a collective anticipation that I have never felt living anywhere else. There was an energy, a buzz. Boys in my class fresh out of hunter’s safety eagerly turning in their absence slips so they could hunt with their dad on a school day. Taverns around town with big banners welcoming hunters. The cool radio station playing “Da Turdy Point Buck” during prime morning time.
My dad digging his blaze orange out of the cedar closet in the basement and laying out all of his gear. Huge, puffy orange overalls, an oversized coat and a fuzzy hat. Sliding his deer tag into that plastic sleeve that he pinned to the back of his coat. Those giant snow boots, often out for the first time this season. Pulling his rifle off the gun rack above his cluttered workbench. Taking it apart, cleaning it at the kitchen table with ESPN in the background. The soft zippered case leaned up against the refrigerator to grab on the way out of the house.
My mom, sister and I had a different ritual. We packed our bags to make the long one-mile journey to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for the weekend. The aunts and cousins would eat blueberry waffle breakfast for dinner and then the kids would play in the basement and the upstairs bedrooms in pajamas while moms and aunts prepared sugar cookie dough in the cramped kitchen using every possible horizontal surface. The next day Grandma and Grandpa covered the long table in the basement with a vinyl tablecloth, pulled the folding chairs from underneath the stairs, and turned on the scary hot space heater. Moms rolled and cut out shapes from the sugar cookie dough as baked cookies went into tupperware containers. After “hot dish” and white bread with peanut butter for lunch, kids were put to work frosting cookies. Icing that was more food coloring than anything else slathered all over stars and santas and snowflakes with crispy brown edges. Colored sugar glitter was immediately everywhere except on the cookies. Inevitably one kid would hog the red hots so you could never get a Rudolph nose when you needed it. “Oops, this one broke. I guess I have to eat it,” meant getting sick stuffed with cookies. And despite all the anticipation of the main event, within an hour one by one the kids would abandon our posts as this one and then that would find a toy laying on the basement floor they’d rather play with. Sometimes the dusk hours would be interrupted by a blustery cold blast and then hunter appearing at the top of the steps to yell down into the basement that so-and-so got a deer. Of course we all had to go out into the driveway to admire the latest kill that by now was strung up inside the garage before the hunters left us again to celebrate their masculinity, surely with beer. By early evening everyone was gathered in the living room watching a Christmas movie on video with root beer and popcorn in our hands. Grandpa periodically getting up from his chair to turn on the dust-buster close at hand to take care of all the kid crumbs we left on the living room floor.
I don’t remember the last year we did this. I’m sure I didn’t know it would be the last time. It’s funny, the things you don’t realize are becoming memories.
“Memory is a net; one finds it full of fish when he takes it from the brook; but a dozen miles of water have run through it without sticking.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
I suppose that is why it is important to be purposeful to create traditions and rituals. You don’t know what fish will be caught in the net.