Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Turkey Trot

     Today is the opening day of Turkey Season in the great state of South Carolina.  For those women fortunate enough to be married to a turkey hunter, it's the beginning of a month of hell.  Every year on the first day of April, normally sane, polite, and courteous men suddenly turn into gobbling maniacs. They get up in the middle of the night to dress like an oak tree and go sit in a field, hoping and praying a big gobbler will strut by so they can blow his brains out and then come home to brag about it. It's no wonder they call it April Fool's Day.
     If unsuccesful in their efforts to nab an opening day Tom,  they return grumpy and exhausted, spending the rest of the day either napping or practicing their mating gobbles. If they do manage to bag a big one, they spend the rest of the day on the phone talking about it with their friends, then go back to napping and practicing their mating gobbles. They go to bed early, rise early, talk to no one except fellow hunters, and continue this insane pattern for the rest of the month.
     It's not that I'm opposed to hunting. I'm not. I support the NRA and the right to bear arms. I was born into a gun-toting family, raised my son to be a huntsman, and can cook some of the best wildlife dishes this side of the Mississippi.   I firmly believe men should be the hunters while women go to the mall and gather. It's just the seasonal transformation that takes place in these men that I oppose....the obsessive compulsiveness about it, the bi-polar personality of the hunter, the mutation of generally pleasant men into gun wielding, gobbling zombies.
     Take my father, for example, usually the most exemplary of gentlemen, a quiet and thoughtful man, a brilliant but retired executive. Starting in about March, something begins to happen to him.  Packages start arriving in the mail containing clothing that looks like shredded leaves. A man for whom telephone conversations are generally painful suddenly has the phone glued to his ear. He's on the phone all afternoon with his hunting partner, Dwight Pearson, who was my childhood preacher. This is the reverent man who taught me about Jesus and helped me memorize the Catechism, the man who performed my marriage ceremony and baptized my children-- and he and my father are gobbling back and forth to each other over the phone!  My father and my minister. Something is so not right about that whole scene. 
     After Pop and Dwight finish gobbling back and forth to each other, he calls the third member of the hunting platoon, Ladson Stringfellow, and replays the whole scene, gobbling over the phone, waiting for Ladson to gobble back, then returning his gobble. All that squawking is worse than a pack of pre-pubescent teenage girls calling each other on a Friday afternoon. It's even more embarassing to think that these are grown men, and one of them is my father.
     Pop runs his hunting season like a small corporation-- organized, focused, strategic, planned and prepared. He has his network of hunters lined up, and this trio of normally sane men--Pop, Dwight, and Ladson-- run through drills and practice sessions, go into the field to set up decoys and blinds, have brainstorming conversations about technique and strategy, plot and plan expeditions, and gobble, and gobble, and gobble, back and forth to each other, all month long.
      The television is permanently fixed on the Hunting Channel, where men whisper into the camera as they sit camoflauged in a blind, leading the mesmerized viewers step-by-step through the process of stalking and bagging a trophy bird.  My father watches intently as he slides the bar of his turkey gobbler slowly back and forth, back and forth. 
      My 77 year old father, who normally struggles to walk from the den to the bedroom, is suddenly able to leap from his chair, haul hunting equipment around the house, hop into his SUV, and sit in a field for hours. This same man, the one who has developed the habit of sleeping til mid-morning,  is suddenly able to rise during the darkness of night, get himself dressed, make his own breakfast, and be in a blind by five a.m. I can only think it must have something to do with the preacher and a miracle.
     And so it will go for the month of April...with the blessing of spring comes the beginning of turkey season, that time of year when sane men turn into gobbling goons, trotting through fields while dressed like trees, gobbling back and forth to each other like silly birds, forfeiting sleep and sanity and family relations all for the sake of bagging a tough old wild bird. 
     I hate to tell them that old bird doesn't taste nearly as good as the Butterball from Food Lion.
Different season, different bird, same old hunter!

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