Deer Meat

My dad age 13, his grandfather, and his first deer

Halloween night, mid-1980s. My family lived in the boonies so there were no good streets or even houses at which to trick or treat. All dressed up — a pink fairy and a red prince — my mom drove me and my brother into town to go trick or treating in my granddad’s “city” neighborhood. We’d gotten maybe 5 miles down the road, bouncing along in the Ford F150 that years later I would learn to drive on, when a big buck ran right out in front of us. We killed it; immediately, I hope, but not on purpose, of course.

Rather than leave it there and go on to the Halloween fun, which would have been my choice, my mom turned the goddamned truck around and drove home to get my dad. Leaving me and lil bro where we sat, candy-less, the two of them drove back to the scene of the crime, loaded that big dead deer into the back of the Ford and drove it home.

An hour later, we had changed from our costumes into pajamas and my dad had the the deer strung up on our own wooden swing set. Right between the two swings, there now swung a deer carcass as well. Can you imagine anything more gruesome? I can. Because it gets worse.

I guess he’d learned to dress a deer from his grandpa and I guess “dressing” a deer is a euphemism really for “undressing” a deer by removing its skin from its body. And also removing all its organs. And when you do that, all the contents of its stomach end up on the ground. There were hundred of bloody acorns scattered all around. God, this is an awful story. But we were poor so we ate that deer. Half of it was too damaged by the Ford to salvage, but the rest of it was “perfectly good deer meat”. It took my dad most of the night to butcher it and package it. Paper-wrapped hunks of deer meat filled our freezer and my grandma’s freezer down the street for months. Deer sausage, chicken-fried deer steak, deer chili, deer stew. Forever and ever. I imagine our seven dogs ate the part that wasn’t fit for humans but I don’t really know.

The skull and antlers found a home nailed to a tree a ways off until insects and rodents and birds had picked it clean and the sun had bleached it white. The piles of acorns under the swing set stayed there, decomposing as slowly as they could until all that was left was pink-stained dirt.