It was startling to hear the pop-pop-pop of deer rifles on Saturday morning. Something wasn’t quite right in the universe because I’d grown up with a deer season that always started on the Monday following Thanksgiving.
It was even more startling to hear that two of my grandsons were taking their girlfriends along with them on the first day. I’m still dealing with the reality of those former little boys having serious grown-up lady friends. Girls hunting deer wasn’t the shocking part by any means.
Back during high school in the early ‘70s, any girl who could bring back proof that she had bagged a deer received an automatic “A” in physical education. I don’t remember seeing a trail of bloody droplets leading to Jean McComb’s office, so I’m assuming that a filled-out game tag was sufficient proof.
I’m sitting here drinking coffee this morning and snickering at the thought of an intrepid female hunter dragging a deer carcass through the hallowed halls of Redbank Valley High. There are some things best left to imagination.
I was never one of those girls, and I think I might have missed out on something grand. It never occurred to me to ask to go along. Deer hunting always had the mystique of a male bonding ritual, a means of escaping females and their cooties.
Or at least that is how it was presented to me. Ladies of an earlier generation told us that the girl-nimrods hadn’t really shot the deer, that their fathers or brothers probably did the deed and gave the credit to their daughters or sisters.
I had my doubts about that, especially having seen the way the girls walked into the locker room after their tags were posted. They bore the pride of successful hunters. I’ve never hunted, but I used to fish with enough dedication to appreciate their self-satisfaction.
I didn’t see photos of my grandsons’ girls dressed in their hunting garb. I’m betting that there were no oversize and borrowed Woolrich plaid wool jackets. Nearly everybody wears woodland or digicam patterns instead these days.
Where is the fun in those? I mean, to my nose, you have to have the aroma of wet wool coats hanging in the air during deer season. We won’t speak of the aroma of wool socks.
This is the point at which I should start ranting about how this younger generation will never know the joys and hardships of growing up during the ‘60s and ‘70s. I don’t do that as a matter of principle. My generation shares the collective guilt of having worn bell bottoms, for example.
But it makes me smile to know that my grandsons were carrying some old memories around with them, courtesy of my late father. I suspect that at least one of them was toting a rifle that belonged to him, maybe even one that he had inherited from my grandfather, Darl Kerr.
Gentle readers, it is simply tribal. Passing along a favorite weapon and gathering in the pre-dawn dark to pursue game are timeless, things our distant ancestors did when they still lived out on the Asian steppes or in the dense growth of an 18th-century German forest.
There is where I start thinking about those ancestral Schreckengost gunsmiths who I wrote about a few years ago. One branch of that fertile clan settled in Rural Valley just a few miles from where my son-in-law, grandsons and potential granddaughters-in-law were hunting the other day.
What always strikes me when I’m in one of my contemplative moods is how all the little snippets of family stories, recorded history and modern-day activities collide to form a new story.
Sometime in the future, maybe 40 years from now, my gray-haired grandsons and their wives will be walking through the woods remembering the first time they went hunting together. They might be doing it on the same land that once belonged to long-forgotten ancestors. That’s a ghost of a story that you might hear about ancient tribesmen hunting bison on the Russian steppes.
It is this deep connection between people and the land that city folks don’t quite grasp, the passing down of favorite guns to grandsons, the sharing of the pre-hunt feast in fire halls and restaurants in every town.
It isn’t an unwholesome thirst for blood. It’s a reenactment of age-old rituals.
That is as philosophical as I want to get this morning. This is more likely to happen when I’ve had a cup of tea too near bedtime and end up staring at the ceiling thinking about strange things.
On a more practical note, our hunters didn’t have a good tracking snow to help them out on Saturday. They might have their wish tomorrow morning if they decide to take off work and hunt instead.
Today is Cyber Monday, so the deer widows might be shopping for bargains online. This is a sensible way to shop, but it isn’t nearly as much fun as swamping a department store while the menfolk are out feeling manly and getting dirty.
Rituals may change over time, but they are still rituals.
[Susan Kerr is a semi-retired freelance writer living in her hometown of New Bethlehem. Previously, she was the managing editor of a regional-interest magazine and a business journal in State College.]