I was a city girl and animal-rights sympathizer before I married a country boy who loved to hunt. I could handle the live traps he used for the raccoons that wanted to move into our attic; I pretended to believe his story about his “catch and release” plan for them. I told myself that the rabbit meat in our freezer was actually chicken. I even learned dozens of ways to prepare venison, although there really is no way to disguise its old-shoe consistency. But I learned early on that cooking venison was the easy part of dealing with a dead deer.
When a hunter takes a deer in for processing, it is common practice for the processor to return the head to the hunter to take to a Department of Natural Resources checkpoint. There, a DNR official inspects the head for age and all sorts of statistical data that helps them keep track of herd information.
I didn’t know that.
During our first deer season together, my husband –whom I shall refer to as The Big Guy– asked me to pick up our venison from the processor on my way home from work. The butcher shop, as it turned out, was in a converted outbuilding in the butcher’s yard. To get there, I had to drive down a bumpy road that became a dirt path and eventually dwindled to a two-wheel track through remote parts of the Michigan countryside. Just as I was about to give up and go home without the meat, I saw the plywood sign lettered in garish red paint: Homer’s Deer Processing!
The driveway was a mucky, slushy mess. I was wearing heels, and had to pick my way from clump to dryish clump of semi-solid ground. Just as I reached the building, the door opened and an obese man in a bloody apron stepped out to greet me.
I immediately started wondering if I had done anything recently to make The Big Guy angry at me.
Mr. Bloody-Apron turned out to be Homer himself, who took one look at me and grinned. “I think a city gal like you is gonna need help carrying this,” he chuckled. “Honey, you just go open your trunk and I’ll have the boys load it up for you.”
Any other woman in the world would have been grateful for the chivalry, but I found his condescending attitude offensive. I didn’t like the fact that he seemed to think me incapable of carrying sixty pounds of meat. And I have never liked being called “Honey”, especially by people who know nothing about me. I told him that I could get it myself, and his grin got bigger.
“You can carry the head,” he told me.
“Fine.” No way was I going to let him see how repulsed I was.
He reached into a bin behind him and pulled out the spike-buck’s head. I just stared at it, waiting for it to blink or scream or at least stop dripping down Homer’s arm.
“Could you put it in a bag, Homer? I’d rather not get . . . blood . . . on the upholstery.”
He was laughing outright when he dropped it into a plastic Wal-Mart bag. The little antlers immediately poked through the plastic. I debated asking for double-bagging, but decided against it. Instead I grabbed the bag and gave him my best smile and thank-you.
And decided to tell The Big Guy exactly what he could do with the deer head when I got home.