Game Rooms

“I’m setting up the basement of the farmhouse as a game room,” I said. “Great idea!” my husband replied. “That’s going to be so cool.”

Hmm. I never thought of him as being all that enthusiastic about board games. But I proceeded to bring all the games down to the basement: Scrabble, Bananagrams, Boggle, Uno, Chutes and Ladders (God help me), playing cards and even a ping-pong table. “It will be nice to have rainy day group activities for folks who come down to visit,” I thought.  

Shortly after that, my family and I traveled to the Montreal Jazz Festival in Canada. My husband and I had attended the festival a few times before and wanted to share it with our girls. It is a nonstop musical celebration with incredible musicians from all over the world. And Montreal is an amazing city; it feels like you’re in Europe, without the jet lag. We were all very excited to explore the city when my husband went rogue, as is his wont. “I’ve booked a date with Musky Mike. I’m going musky fishing,” he declared. “Anyone want to join me?”

Silence. We had come all this way to one of the great cities of North America, full of beautiful architecture, great food and of course, world renown music at the jazz festival … No, no one was interested in hanging out with Musky Mike on a cold river when we could be drinking café au lait or wine in the city. Duh.

The girls and I dawdled around Montreal, touring churches, galleries, and local restaurants. When we met up with The Musky Hunter later that day, he was ebullient. “You should see this fish! We were in about 3 feet of water and Musky Mike told me just what to do. It took me about a half hour to get him in, but I landed a huge musky.” And he did. The fish weighed about 35 pounds and stretched about 52 inches. The Musky Hunter could not stop looking at the photo of his epic catch, showing it to friends and strangers alike. This went on literally for years. Still does, actually. Sometimes, even today, I will find him gazing lovingly at the image on his phone.

“I’m going to have a replica made and hang it in the game room at the farm,” he gushed. 

“Well … we’ll see,” I cautioned. 

“But that’s what a game room is for … for showing off your kills. This musky is just the beginning.”

It dawned on me that for the past year we were each talking about different “game.” Me, Parcheesi; him, dead animals.

You see, The Musky Hunter has long had game room envy. Our farm neighbors, Johnny and June Cash have an epic game room, or more appropriately, a trophy room. Some might call it a room of death. Johnny is an avid, accomplished hunter and has traveled all over the world hunting bear, antelope, gnus, wildebeest, crocodiles and of course, good old Ohio deer. And each of these kills has a place in his game room. It’s quite fascinating, really. He has complete reverence for each of his conquests and thrilling stories of how he got them. June is much more quiet about it all, almost apologetic about the still life display of once animated subjects. “I should be named Wife of the Year, honestly,” she says as she gently picks dust fuzzies from the bear. 

So, we now have a very realistic Musky hanging in our game room, all by itself over by the pool towels. I’m hoping he doesn’t get company any time soon, but The Musky Hunter is threatening to hang a big deer head down there when he lands one. Now, I’ve got nothing against hunters, really. Our farm is located in gun country. I get it that hunting animals is a tradition that has been passed down through generations. Johnny Cash has schooled me plenty on how hunting is actually good for animals: it controls the animal population (which, hello, is much needed here with Ohio deer.) And in African villages, it offers jobs and local income for guides, permits, vehicles, etc. as well as literally feeding the locals. It also discourages poaching, which is a completely heinous, immoral act. I get it, I really do.

But I sincerely don’t want to be met with an animal head hanging on my wall. I was afraid of my parents’ painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for goodness sake. As a child, Jesus’ eyes followed me all over the room. I can only imagine how Mr. Bambi will freak me out. “You spineless, heartless wench. How could you?” he would whisper under his breath to me.

But I know I’m going to lose this fight. The Musky Hunter will eventually be The Deer Slayer one of these days. He says he’s waiting for “the big one” with a giant rack.

Sigh … maybe I can hang my pool towels on its antlers?

A man and his musky

A man and his musky

Wild Turkeys

We are officially at the beginning of turkey hunting season and my husband, The Turkey Slayer was super excited. He’d never been turkey hunting and our farm neighbor, Johnny Cash was stoked to show him the ropes. Turkey Slayer was eager because, besides the new challenge of shooting a wild turkey, he would get to wear as much camo as he wanted. It seems that, unlike deer, who are a bit dim and don’t really take notice of hunters in their bright orange gear, wild turkeys are pretty wily, have great eyesight and are hard to fool. So, turkey hunters get all dressed up like Viet Cong and stalk down the enemy: Tom Turkey.

Wild turkeys used to be an interesting novelty. When our daughters were little, Turkey Slayer would take the girls on hikes in the woods or in the country. On one of those hikes, they all came across a flock of wild turkeys. “Girls look, those are wild turkeys,” he whispered to them. Our youngest, Meriwether, was about three years old and was fascinated by these strange, dark, prehistoric looking creatures. On the car ride home later, she took a swig from her sippy cup and whispered, “Dad … those turkeys were wild!” as if to say they were crazy, off the hook, unhinged.

In the years since I’ve been noticing turkeys all over the suburbs: walking past strip malls, hanging out in backyards, outside the doctor’s office. Much like suburban deer, wild turkeys are very incongruous in civilization and frankly, they’re a bit surly. Out in the country, they nibble their way across cornfields and woodlands. They stick close to the ground. They have wings but don’t use them much, kind of like tonsils or apendix. They do jump/fly up into trees to roost at night and over fences when need be, but mostly they just grouse around, hunting and pecking for food on the ground.

I was invited to go along on the turkey hunt this week but sadly could not make it. Besides, I’ve got no beef with turkeys. The closest I’ve come to one is, like most of America, on Thanksgiving Day. I’ll never forget my first turkey roasting experience. I was a young mother, about to host roughly 50 family members for Thanksgiving Dinner. The fact that I’d never roasted a turkey didn’t dissuade me. How hard could it be, right?

That day, I was up early, had already set the tables and was ready to tackle the bird. I washed him in the kitchen sink, like a chubby, slippery newborn baby, and then dried him thoroughly. My sister-in-law down the street was doing the same thing for her family and we kept calling each other for reassurance on what the hell we were doing.

“Ok, I’ve washed him and dried him. Now … where are the damned giblets?” I asked her. 

“I don’t know. I’ve been looking for them too,” she said.

“Wait … I think I found them,” I cried. “They’re in the cavity. Just reach in and grab them.”

“Ewe ... Ok, got ‘em,” she said with victory in her voice. 

“Wait … I thought there were more. This is just his neck,” I said, confused. “I guess maybe they just throw that other stuff away.”

“Yeah, that’s probably right. They’re gross anyways,” she said. “Gotta go.”

We each proceeded merrily along, basting, rubbing, stuffing and roasting our respective birds. All of the sudden, about two hours into the process, there was a commotion in my mudroom hallway.

“Stop!” someone screamed. I turned around to see my sister-in-law and her sister, falling down, laughing hysterically. “We found them!”

“What the …?”

“The giblets! They’re in the butt!” they screamed.

I gingerly opened the oven, pulled the big tom out and checked my turkey. Sure enough, there they were, giblets steaming in a paper bag shoved up his arse. I quickly extracted them and threw them in with the neck parts I had simmering on the stove and then returned my turkey to the oven.

“Good Lord,” I thought. “What a humiliation for Mr. Turkey.” This was a bird that Benjamin Franklin lobbied to make our national bird, so impressed was he by the turkey’s intelligence and stature (take that, Bald Eagle). Now, the poor species have been domesticated and humiliated with his kibbles and bits shoved up his downside. Quite a fall from grace, I would say.

But he is tasty.

The Turkey Slayer sadly returned from his hunt empty-handed. “I got close to a couple of hens. We kept calling back and forth to a tom, but … nothing …” he sighed, plopping down on the couch. “Turns out the darned guy was toying with us all along, strutting around in a field of horses the whole time. Bastard …”

“Too bad, sweetie,” I said, rubbing his head. “But, you’re a mild-mannered guy. I don't think you stood a chance against them. You know … those turkeys are wild.”

He could have been our national bird, but he was too wild.

He could have been our national bird, but he was too wild.