The Gathering

A memoir of the 1942 opening of deer season

        The Christmas season would not start until the Alpha males closed deer camp. It happened every year. Guys traipsed around town in heavy head-to-toe plaid woolen suits with gaudy two inch red and black squares. They wore goofy hats, some with ear flaps tied on top of their head, others left swinging in the breeze like Dumbo ears.

            Hunters gathered in camps scattered throughout the hills of McKean County. In the 1940’s the local deer herd was a large attraction. The bucks were big and there were a lot of them.  The rut was on!  Men traveled from as far away as Pittsburgh and Cleveland for their annual testosterone fix on opening day, the first Monday after Thanksgiving.  Of course, there was more than hunting going on at camp. There was card playing, whiskey drinking, swearing, and gobbling down gallons of the camp cook’s favorite chili. The men might even eat a little venison if somebody got lucky early.  

            My uncle, Parker Moore, was one of them. Arriving the day after Thanksgiving from Port Clinton, Ohio with several friends, he stopped at our house to say hi before heading into the wild to set up their camp.

            “Hey, Mame!” Barely out of the car, Uncle Park hollered his arrival as soon as they stopped in front of the house. They always traveled in Doc’s car. I never knew if Doc was a physician or a dentist, or even if it were just a nickname. Doc drove, uncle Park rode shotgun, and one or two others, different from year to year, in the back seat. Doc’s cars were always new. Of course, with a war on, there were no new civilian cars made from ‘42 to ‘46, so his big 1939 model Buick, was as new as you could get. My dad said it probably cost close to $1000.

            “Hi folks,” Doc waved as he stepped out of the car,  Seeing my mother on the porch he called, “Hi, Ginner“  Hope you got some of those great cold turkey sandwiches for us again this year?”

            “We sure do!” my mom said. I think she lived to feed people. The entire family moved onto the back porch in a noisy greet fest, then back into the kitchen where we caught up on family affairs with a snack and a beer. 

            “So, how about it,” Uncle Park asked, “Are we getting a little snow before Monday? Don’t need much, just a couple inches.”

            “I thought you guys were better hunters than that,” my dad kidded. “Can’t handle the challenge?” Dad, crippled for as long as I could remember, could not hunt. I had been often invited to join friends, but I never hunted either. 

            The men left for camp with a brown paper grocery bag with a stack of turkey sandwiches and wax paper wrapped green onions and radishes. We knew they might make a brief stop on their way home, unless, of course, they got a big buck. Then we would see them for sure! Braggin’ rights and storytelling were as important as the hunt itself. Some hunters relived deer camp right up to the first day of Advent.

            All season long, you would see cars parked on Main Street, or doing a drive by, with their trophy buck tied to their car fenders, roofs or sprawled out in truck beds. Grotesque tongues, dangling in the buck’s last gasp, distracted from his once regal beauty with large brown eyes and a trophy rack.

             Small groups often gathered for a cup of coffee at the Emery Hotel, Johnson’s or Galani’s restaurant before heading home.  It was one last chance to share the thrill of the kill.  The gamey smell of wet wool, lingering campfire smoke, and boisterous bragging did nothing to enhance the fresh perked coffee atmosphere for other customers, but nobody cared. the cash registers were ringing.

            “See year next year, Guys!”

             Finally––we could get on with Christmas.