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Oh, Deer…!

Mary Jo Shannon
Mary Jo Shannon

No, this isn’t a lament about the deer that wander into our garden, devouring the green beans, feasting on kale, and nibbling grape vines for dessert. This incident occurred years ago, before the native pines that covered the upper level of our backyard became victims of high winds and my husband cleared the area to create a vegetable garden.

My oldest son, Harry,  was due to return home from the University of Virginia for summer vacation. He had called to report his stop to visit a relative in Augusta County. Being typical, hospitable Augusta County farmers, they persuaded him to stay for supper. (I’m sure they didn’t need to twist his arm!) He assured me he would leave immediately after supper, and should be home by ten at the latest.

When ten o’clock passed, my mind began to entertain frightening thoughts. Tension built as the short hand of the clock moved to eleven, twelve, one… His car – that dilapidated rattletrap he purchased with his own money – had it broken down? Or worse yet, had he wrecked on the interstate? Or was he lost?

I paced the floor, stared out the window at the empty driveway, and wondered why these things always happened when my husband was out of town.

At 2:00 a.m. I heard the car pull into the driveway.

“What happened?” I shouted, torn between gratitude and anger. “Did you get lost or have an accident?”

“Both,” he replied. He explained he took a wrong turn after leaving the farm. Driving on the unfamiliar roads in a wooded area, he hit a deer. His car was stuck in a ditch, the deer was dead, and he was unsure what to do. A farmer stopped and helped him get the car back on the road.

Then he asked me, “Can you help me get the deer out of the car?”

“What? You brought the deer home? Why?” I imagined a gory scene in the back seat of his car.

“I want to tan the hide,” he explained.

Fortunately there was no blood in the car. But what a struggle to get that deer out! It was now after 2:30, and I had to be at work at 7:30 the next morning. Harry said he would skin the deer the next day. But where would we leave it overnight so dogs could not get to it? We tied ropes to its hind legs and left it hanging in the stairwell to the basement.

All the next day at school my thoughts wandered, wondering what mess awaited me at home. Fortunately, Harry had handled everything well. The carcass was inside a plastic garbage bag, the hide was soaking in a solution created after advice from an experienced neighbor and a Firefox book, and Harry was stretched out on the sofa, resting.

There was only one problem—how to dispose of the carcass? It was Friday, the day our garbage was collected, but the men had refused to take the remains. The temperature on that May afternoon reached the upper nineties, and flies swarmed around the bag that sat on the stone wall in front of our house. I called the City Manager, who happened to be a friend of our family, and explained my problem, asking him what I should do. He said he felt responsible since the garbage men had refused to accept it, although they are not required to accept any animal larger than a dog, and he promised to send someone to dispose of it.

Soon a rusty car driven by an elderly man arrived and my son hurried to assist him with his unpleasant assignment. I watched as they lugged the heavy bag to the car, talked for a few minutes, and then proceeded to carry it with a shovel to the upper level of our back yard.  There they buried the bag. The old man smiled and waved goodbye as he shuffled toward his car.

When my son came inside, I asked him why they buried the deer instead of letting the man take it.

He explained, “The landfill is closed for the weekend. That poor old man would have to take that stinking bag in his car– without air conditioning — to the gate, cover it with gravel and go back on Monday and dig it up to take it inside. I told him we would just bury it and be done with it.”

The tanned hide was a perfect job. Harry and his younger brother nailed it to the exterior of the tree house my husband had built for them on one of those pine trees. The tree house is no longer there, since the land was cleared for our garden. The deer hide is rolled up and stored in our attic along with other articles from years past.

Today deer visit the garden and gorge on our vegetables, unaware that one of their own fertilizes the ground upon which they stand. Oh, deer–!

By Mary Jo Shannon
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