Thoughts on Taxidermy and Hunting. What if Bell HAD married Gaston from Beauty and the Beast?

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Hello from the Suburbs of Salt Lake City. I have a few things I would like to share. First of all, I’m going to make an an announcement. I realize this announcement may be met with some controversy. Let’s have a talk about Taxidermy. Oooh…yes. To some of you I may have just said the word Mufasa. Does the word send shivers down your spine?

Some people quite like it. Some people are appalled by it. I never gave too much thought to taxidermy until I had to live with it. My dad is a hunter and an outdoorsman. I’ve tried it all. Venison steaks, Venison Jerky, Deer salami, cooked pheasant, fried duck with apples and beer, battered trout, smoked trout, cooked rabbit, elk stew…The list goes on. I apologize to any vegetarians who may have had to endure that list. My daughter is one of them. I also have an antique cookbook that has recipes for cooking wild game. I find it to be rather fascinating. I hang onto it in case there is ever an apocalypse.

I may have mentioned that my dad was a steelworker and we had a few rough patches when my dad was laid off.  I will say this for my father, he had some skills. Wild game and garden vegetables kept me nourished in times of need, and my dad could cook wild game like no other.  If you are of the meat eating kind, I promise you there is nothing like a good fish fry in the high Uintas, or duck dipped in flour and fried with apples, onions, and beer.

I will also say this for my dad, we never had any deer heads on the wall. I don’t know if this was partially due to my mother, or if it was because we could not afford it. By the way, do you know how much money people spend on taxidermy? You could buy a used or new car for that!

There are stories to all of this. I grew up as a child of the seventies. Many of the men my father hunted with went to Vietnam, and I feel blessed that I came to know them. My father’s best friend was a former vet who lost two brothers in Vietnam, and his mother was a former female marine. Oorah! (My daughter is also a Marine).  One of my father’s friends was out riding on his four wheeler one day and suffered a massive head injury that left him with a serious brain impairment. My dad’s friends would still pick him up, wheelchair and all, and bring him out to camp so he could spend the day with us. I so admired them for that.

One of my dad’s friends LOVED going to the disco and I swear he is the reason why I still LOVE Motown to this day. I remember sitting outside the liquor store in the cab of a truck waiting for my dad and two of his friends to return with bottles of liquid wrapped in brown paper. Funky Town was on the radio. There was a sign outside the liquor store that said “watch your step.” My dad’s Motown friend, was doing some kind of clappy maneuver with a spin, tripped over the first step, and stumbled into the liquor store. They wouldn’t let him purchase alcohol after that.  Everyone had themselves a laugh.

On many of our camp trips, my parents would party late into the night, and still be up at five to hunt deer, or warm coffee. We mostly camped on Skyline Drive in army tents. Our camp was usually the one with  the American Flag hanging from the trees where all of the children were running around looking like they needed a bath. We would make huts in the trees, wade in creeks, and whittle homemade bows out of branches that we would tie up with string.

At night, our mothers would check us for ticks. One day one of us got shot in the leg with a b.b gun. Another time, I crashed a small motorcycle into some trees, and walked around on crutches for a month. Luckily I did not hit my head, because I wasn’t wearing a helmet. That’s how we rolled. Another time, we witnessed a horrible accident that barely missed us while we were riding in the back of a truck.

Sometimes we would play Gin Rummy in the trailer while listening to songs on the radio.  I first learned about biblical Joseph and his amazing coat of colors from Dolly Parton, and from Hank Jr. I learned that a country boy can survive. ( I was getting a lot of other lessons from Hank Jr. at that time, I just didn’t know it). Our school schedules would have time outs allotted for the Deer hunt. This was really a thing.  School let out as if  hunting were it’s own holiday.

There’s a sad thing about deer season that I must mention now. It goes beyond fall leaves and wearing bright orange. I’ve lost many family members in the fall. A few of them before their time. My dad’s brother was shot in a hunting accident at the age of fifteen, by another fifteen year old. Another of my family member’s truck went over a canyon ledge where he hit his chest hard on the steering wheel and was pinned in the water. He showed up in the ER where my aunt was called to the code not knowing that it was her own husband. He didn’t make it. She was never the same after that, and went into a downward spiral of prescription drug abuse that turned into cocaine and heroin.

This is the part of the story that becomes a downer. As a child, I thought we were living the dream. I would not take back any part of growing up in the outdoors, but I do realize there were certain elements to the times that weren’t always so tender.   I do have gratitude for our mothers, some of whom, were scout leaders. They would send us out with trash bags before we left camp because we were told to leave every place better than we found it. It was like we were rednecks, but we had our principles. I also don’t regret knowing what it was like to spend time growing up around War Vets. It taught me a lot.

I grew up. I rebelled. My dad stopped taking me hunting with him when he had his bow pulled back with an arrow and a deer in sight.  As a young adolescent who was developing her own mind, I thought I’d help a deer out and shouted, “RUN!” (It didn’t go over very well). In high school, I became a “granola chick,” a passionate debater, and a thespian. I went to College on a theatre scholarship. The biblical story of Joseph’s coat, became the story of  Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. I learned that some of Hank Jr.’s lyrics weren’t so great. I took literature and women’s studies. I learned about toxic masculinity. I learned about guns.

I had a recent conversation with my husband where I told him that if he ever sees me straddling a dead deer carcass in a photo and I was smiling than I should be committed. The irony is that I still eat meat. I apologize to fish when I catch them, but will openly admit that I’m addicted to the way they flitter around on my line. I don’t know about some of you, but catching a fish is exciting, it’s exciting  every time. It never gets old. It’s the sensation of having your first wind-up toy in the bathtub, only the wind-up toy has a mind of it’s own and you have got to get it under control.

In some ways, I have revisited my roots. I married a man who hunts. The photographer for our wedding was somewhat of a celebrity. He had his own outdoor hunting show. My family was thrilled and floored. I know many of my girlfriends were astounded. In some people’s minds, this could be considered a calamity. It’s as if the literary bookish Bell actually did marry Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. My husband has more principles than Gaston, I can assure you , but he does share the same fixation with taxidermy which baffles me.

I have taxidermy in my house that I ‘ve been living with for four years. Some of my vegetarian and vegan friends won’t stay here. My daughters have too much of their mother in them to find it quint. They shudder. I can’t sleep in the same room with them. It gives me the feeling of being at a constant viewing, and I never like viewings anyway. Sometimes I apologize to them. I don’t like dusting them. What the heck am I supposed to do with their eyes? It bothers me that they are a talking point when people come into my house. I am not opposed to hunting for food, but I can NOT for the life of me see them as tasteful decor.

So friends, If you are still with me on this controversial subject, and I apologize, I know this announcement may come with mixed reviews, but here it is anyway…

MY HUSBAND JUST ANNOUNCED THAT THE TAXIDERMY IS GOING OUTSIDE! Yep. He insulated his shop, and has built pallet walls. The taxidermy will now have a new home in the man cave.

Okay, I could not keep this one to myself. Some of you may see this as my husband becoming too soft, some of you may be cheering me on, some of you may want to send hate mail to me to forward to my husband about the plight of these poor animals, and I get it.  Today, I am grateful. I am grateful for small victories, and I just couldn’t keep this one to myself. So, yes, I am basking in the newfound energy dynamic that has changed in my home. It’s as if a small poltergeist just left the house. It feels GOOD.

I leave you all with this photo from the hunting grounds of my youth. I  take the good with the bad, and feel blessed that If life was going to throw me some hard lessons that at least I was able to take them on in such a beautiful place. My children and I still visit from time to time. There are stories here, but there is also so much peace.

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