Darkness drops from the sky like a stone now, and as the shadows creep up the sides of the mountains, hunters in bright orange caps congregate on the steps of the Stonewall Grocery. They are there to check in deer or grab a can of Vienna sausages before they head back to camp. Some of the hunters are strangers to the county, but many of them are family members, who’ve come home for one of our richest traditions—hunting season.
The Ruritan clubs in the county put on great feasts to tempt the hunters to leave some cash behind for college scholarships and their other community service programs. So, in the spirit of fund-raising, Joe and I sup on oysters and turkey in the gymnasium of the old elementary school where we see former students and friends in the newly refurbished hall. Lori and Steve eat with us. When we drive them home, their neighbors, Dale and Sandy, are inspecting the bed of an old truck pulled up in the light of the back porch. Anyone who’s lived here very long knows that means there are deer on the back, so we walk over to say hi and check it out. Two freshly killed deer are sprawled in the truck bed and Abby, Dale’s feisty red-haired grand-daughter, is tugging on the head of the largest one.
“Look what I got!” she screeches.
Her daddy laughs as Abby jumps up. “She’s been dancing ever since she shot it,” he says. “She and Paw Paw were hunting back on the old home place when these two slipped into the field. Abby got her doe with one shot.”
I congratulate her and ask if she gutted the deer herself, or if her Paw Paw did it for her. Abby proudly thrusts her bloody hands, into my face. “I did it myself,” she squeals. She has officially joined the club of the providers.
Before I moved to Highland County, I had never seen meat that wasn’t wrapped in cellophane. My grandfather was an avid bird hunter and I knew he occasionally ate doves, but I don’t remember ever being at the table when they were served. I certainly had never heard of girls hunting. In fact when Joe offered to take me hunting with him, early in our dating career, I went, but scared the deer away so he couldn’t shoot them. He never offered again.
But, in Highland, hunting is a rich family tradition. I have female friends who hunt and many of the girls in my middle school classes come to school during hunting season full of stories about button bucks and big does. I am happy to see young girls participating in the act of putting meat on the family table. Abby’s dad tells me that they are almost out of venison, so the whole family is looking forward to putting this one in the freezer. Deer is their favorite meat.
Not too long ago, I was driving my sons and some of their friends to Marlinton to a soccer match. One of the passengers, a curly haired cutie named Lily, was staring out the window while we traveled through the rolling hills. All at once her five year old voice rang out, “Look, a deah, a deah.” I was just turning around to comment on how pretty the field of does was, when she lifted her hands and aiming an imaginary gun screamed, “Bang! Bang! Bang!”
Unlike my five year old friend, I haven’t even pretended to shoot a deer, but I do love the meat. It is low-fat and free range. My freezer is stocked with deer roasts and my cellar boasts several rows of canned venison. Fast food in Highland is defined as dumping a jar of venison into a pot with barbecue sauce. Add some coleslaw and green beans and supper’s ready in less than fifteen minutes.
I am not such a city girl anymore. Now, when I see a field full of deer, I anticipate a healthy, low fat meal. One day, I hope to become a full-fledged country woman. When I shoot my first deer, I will remember Abby dancing in the bed of the old truck with her red hands thrust to the sky. And I, too, will dance a small jig (appropriate for a woman of my age) as I celebrate joining the oldest club in the world. The club of the protein providers.