Friday, September 23, 2016

The Legend of the Swamp Buck

Now everyone who knew my mother well knew there was never a penny she couldn't pinch. I don't think she was naturally miserly, but was of the generation who had to survive the Great Depression. Mostly it served us well, though there were frustrations growing up. I mention it here merely to give the proper emphasis to the family story I'm about to relate.

I was in a conversation with my middle son this afternoon when he started talking about trapping and butchering rabbits. He's currently in a survivalist phase. Or maybe not just a phase. Time will tell. Anyway, having raised rabbits to eat, I had a few tips to pass along about the butchering process: where the meat was, what to avoid, etc. I cautioned him that when splitting the pelvis he needed to use extreme care not to cut the bladder or urethra. Tends to spoil the meat, you know.

That led to my asking him if his grandfather had ever told him - say, 30 times - about the swamp buck he shot years ago. Rich hadn't heard the story, so I filled him in.

Back in the early 50's, the family lived on a resort in central Minnesota. Times were still financially challenging, and hunting grouse, pheasant and deer, as well as keeping the fish we could catch from our and surrounding lakes were a regular way of filling the larder. We'd also head out into the countryside to pick bucketfuls of blueberries, raspberries, chokecherries, and lowbush (swamp) cranberries. I have great memories of these trips, except for freaking out over the tiny spiders that made their way to the top of the berries and tried to get loose in the car.

One year when we kids were very young, my Dad killed himself what has come to be known in family lore as the swamp buck. He was a big old thing, way out in the swamp, and my dad had a heck of a time dragging it back to the car. But it would be worth it with all the meat it would bring to the family.

It went to the local butcher to be made into the usual various cuts of meat.

It was the wrong butcher.

Rather than carefully remove the meat from the bones, leaving them intact, before cutting or grinding up the venison, this fellow cut through the bones, just as if it were a cow. In case you don't know it, deer marrow has a very strong flavor. Very. I mean nasty. This method of butchering spread that marrow flavor into all the meat. Since we were already starting with an old, swamp-fed buck, what was already strongly gamey meat was rendered inedible.

Thanks to Mom, we tried. For several meals we tried. The final straw was when it was offered to the dog and even she refused to eat it! After that final rejection, the meat rapidly disappeared from the house, and the legend began.

By the way, we still all love venison. We just make sure it's butchered properly.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Birthday Present

It was all great fun until Steve wound up throwing his Coke in my face. And since he only drinks the sugared stuff, I still have sticky bits to take care of before bed tonight.

But let's back it up a bit. I was getting a serious attack of Cabin Fever. Only partly the knees, I was feeling entirely cooped up other than trips for groceries or prescriptions. Steve, of course, was getting out fishing every few days, weather cooperating, either down at Franconia Landing on the St. Croix, or one of several lakes he and Les fish via Les's boat.

Of course I was envious.

I wound up getting fairly grumpy, and finally let Steve know what was going on. I would have loved to get out on a boat somewhere too. Not to fish, particularly, now that I'd have to pay the cost of the out-of-state permit, and I didn't think it worth the expense. We'd gotten such a late start on summer this year after my knee surgeries, that even before we'd arrived summer was half gone. The pressure to enjoy it was on, and I wouldn't get my money's worth from a fishing license that might get used once or twice.

What I was getting to do was cleaning the house, dishes, and on a rare day, pruning weed trees  that had sprung up in the yard. In other words, one of us was enjoying summer.

Even my actual birthday wound up being filled with joining in on other people's stuff. A friend held a birthday party for her kids. It seemed too tacky to mention it was mine also. Evening was dinner with my daughter and her husband. It was the one day all schedules matched for getting together. Nobody mentioned my birthday then either, and I wound up with the restaurant bill. Don't get me wrong: the company itself was a real treat. It just wasn't a birthday.

Steve had listened to me vent about my cabin fever a couple weeks earlier. As a result, with his friend, I was taken out for a several hour boat ride today as my birthday present from the both of them. I not only had a great several hours on the lake, I came away with a few scenic shots, photo proof of the northern each of them caught, plus the fish Steve reeled in that we laughingly referred to as "bait". Even with him pulling the trick of holding it way in front of himself to make it nearer to the camera and look bigger, it was still little larger than his hand.

They fished several different areas of the lake and were in the process of discussing where next to fish and how. One of them asked how I was doing and I decided to confess that my butt had been cramping for the last couple hours. I hadn't even taken a water bottle out so there'd be no excuse on my part to shorten the excursion. However, it was decided it was time to get me back to the car where I'd have a comfy seat and could leave to do some needed shopping. Their plan was to head back out after dropping me and fish till they dropped. Win-win.

They put the rods away, pulled anchor, and started back to the launch at top speed: fun ride plus more fishing time for them. There was just one little hitch. The wind caught Steve's fishing hat, and as he attempted unsuccessfully to keep it on his head, he jerked the other hand which was holding his opened Coke. Most of it landed in my face.

The hat was not lost, however. It floated, and the boat did a u-turn in order to pick it up. Steve put the wet hat on his head, holding it in place both to keep it on and try to preserve its shape. Of course he was sitting upwind of me, and the boat's renewed high speed drove the water running off the hat all over me as well!

Good thing I have a sense of humor.

For the record, both guys helped me step down into the boat safely before our trip. For the return, three extra adults were involved! Those are high steps on an unsteady platform, and I'm sticking with that excuse.

But excuse me. It's time for a wash-up.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Finally Found

For those of you who have moved out of state in the last - what? 27 or fewer years? - and have missed the news, young Jacob Wetterling's body  has finally been found. As most of us have always assumed, other than his mother and possibly other family members, he was murdered nearly immediately after his abduction and buried in a farm field. His murderer finally led the authorities to the spot. Identification has been officially verified.

For those who have no idea who he was, he was a ten-year-old boy out bicycling on an October afternoon  on a rural Minnesota road with another young boy when a vehicle pulled over, grabbed him, and sped away.

We were never allowed to forget him. His adorable picture and his story reappeared regularly, his mother got very involved with missing children organizations and even ran for political office. She also very publicly never gave up hope. That word was made into a sign across the front of their house, where the family still lives.

There are so many ways to look at this tragedy. Start with the relief that it was never your child - or the horror that it was also yours but without the press coverage. Whether you applaud the mom who refused to lose hope or, while understanding, held absolutely no nope yourself for any kind of good outcome for Jacob, one can still appreciate the courage and determination to spend all those years fighting for all those lost children.

The unthinking catch phrase now that he is found is "closure". There is no closure, there is only loss, and grief, and finally the knowledge of what happened with imagination filing in all the horrible missing details for as long as people are still alive who remember him. Or just heard about him. The pain remains, the hope has ended. Someday, given enough time, perhaps for those who knew Jacob, the love may become the strongest part of the legacy left behind. The rest of us can put our hope in that.