I was raised in a household where dead game animals were on constant parade through the house. In they’d come with feathers, fins and fur. We’d strip them of their outer layers, filet, debone and then eat them. King Salmon from the ocean, steelhead and trout from the rivers were Friday fare. My father took some of the pheasant feathers to Stella, the woman who tied flies for him.
When I was 12, my father and his brother, Stormy, decided it was time to make a man of me. It would be the first time I carried a gun, although I had gone hunting with them without a shotgun to learn the ropes. I had ridden in the back seat of the car with dead pheasants. I petted their extraordinary beauty. They were impossibly designed, sheer overindulgence and had come all the way from China to brighten my life. But now, I had some ambivalence about dispatching them.
I took a gun safety course required by Washington State and got my hunting license.
Dad, Stormy, and I left for the killing fields before dawn in dad’s green Pontiac. My father put Ace, his German Shorthair hunting dog, in the trunk. Ace lived in a pen in the driveway and was not allowed to interact with our family. The belief at that time was that it made a better hunting dog. My mother couldn’t stand to see Ace put in the trunk and imagine him riding there. But Dad said Ace liked the privacy.
Uncle Stormy was a butcher by profession. He was just recovering from a bigamy incident. He’d gone to the Okanagan Valley to hunt deer at Ed Johnson’s apple orchard. At the end of the day, he got liquored up in a bar and met a woman. He called my father from Yakima to share the good news that he had gotten married. My father’s difficult lot was to remind Stormy that he was already married, a fact he had overlooked in the mysterious and powerful energy of love at first sight. My mother did not buy “love at first sight.” She had been doing a six-week Novena at Holy Rosary and was under the influence of an itinerant Dominican. For her, it was another example of Stormy’s unbridled carnal nature.
My father was a traveling grain salesman, so he knew a lot of farmers. The farmer who owned the farm where we were going to hunt had given Dad permission. I was carrying a twelve gauge shotgun. My father and Stormy had gone before me into the mist. I had no experience whatsoever of electric fences. When I ran into the hot wire, I wet my pants and discharged my shotgun. Never having been electrocuted before, I thought I was under alien attack.
“Little Mike, you’ve murdered Uncle Stormy!” My father’s voice died away, and there was silence. Both my father and Stormy had been on Okinawa during the war and they were still jumpy. The whole neighborhood of men returned from war was jumpy. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder as a diagnosis didn’t exist yet. These men startled easily and they were fun to scare.
“I ain’t killed, gentlemen. But we got another problem.”
A cow took form out of the mist. Her front legs buckled and down she went.
“Son of a bitch. Little Mike there just bagged his first bovine. ”
The farmer valued the dead animal at $100 (this was 1957).
Stormy cut up the carcass with his work knife so we could get the remains in the trunk. Ace rode in the back seat and seemed to enjoy himself. We went to Stormy’s butcher shop where I helped deconstruct the carcass.
My self-esteem was at low ebb when Stormy said, “You’re a natural with a knife, Little Mike. And don’t worry yourself about the cow. She’ll eat pretty good if we watch out for buckshot in the brisket.”
With that, he offered me his flask. h