Wisconsin in November means one thing. No, not Thanksgiving-Deer Hunting Season. All the eateries -by that I mean bars-are dusting off their ‘Hunters Welcome’ banner, quilted orange jackets flap in the breeze trying to lose their ‘people’ smell, and property owners get busy posting ‘no trespassing’ and ‘private property’ signs everywhere.
When we moved to Wisconsin, twenty years ago now, we bought an 85-acre parcel in a part of the state that was known as a deer hunting mecca. My spousal unit, along with our son, were eager to try their hand.
Enter Bill, his wife Jeannie and their son Randy. Their property adjoined ours, and as all good neighbors do, they stopped by to introduce themselves. The three described themselves as avid hunters. Why even Jeannie, blind in one eye, hunted with a 357 magnum. Bill and Randy offered to help my man get started, while Jeannie promised to teach me how to make sausage sticks. Well alrighty!
By the time they finished talking, my husband held a very long list of crap to get. He, Randy and Bill left on a tour of our property trying to scope out the best spots to hide in while awaiting our venison. Later that day, Randy dropped off some orange clothing he no longer needed. These kind neighbors went all in to help us.
That first year, I hosted a morning hunt breakfast for us Bill, Jeannie and Randy. I felt that sending them out into the cold with a stomach full of eggs, pancakes, bacon and coffee was the absolute least I could do. Never mind that we ate at 3:30 in the am.
Thus, started a successful hunting partnership. For several years thereafter, we gathered just before the season to check gear, talk about which way the deer were moving and share new ways to prepare venison. And of course, I made opening morning breakfast for everyone.
Then Bill had a stroke. Yes, he could hunt still, but it had to be from a car. Their land nestled along some steep bluffs and didn’t lend itself to handicapped hunting. So, he asked, could he station himself on our land? How could we deny him?
On opening morning, the phone rang just after 6am. I stumbled around until I found the damn thing. “Hello,” I finally managed.
It was Jeannie. Bill had driven into a swamp. Black oozy mud coated his tires to the hubcaps. He no longer walked well, thus he couldn’t get out of the truck. He was stuck. Could we find him?
Knowing I risked divorce and public shunning, I drove to our field access, parked and blared the horn. It didn’t take long before my irate spouse clambered out of his ‘best spot’ and made his way toward me. “What??!”
Making sure I kept the truck between me and my pissed hunting husband, I explained. Sighing, looking like he’d lost his last friend, he turned and went in search of Bill. And he found Bill, stuck in the swamp, just like Jeannie had said. And Bill wanted out of his truck, and his truck out.
By now, we’d attracted a crowd. This was a good thing cuz Bill was not light, and owing to the stickiness of the muck and all, it took a crowd to free him. Then there was the truck. Triple A informed us that they did not pay for tows when the owner deliberately drove his vehicle into a swamp. Bill looked crestfallen-as none of our trucks could handle that much muck; he had to pay for a tow.
That incident began what I think of as a cursed period of time. Bill, diagnosed later that year with stomach cancer, died. His son committed suicide. Time heals I guess, but not enough sometimes. Jeannie couldn’t bear to return to the property and sold it.
As happens often in life, and despite the best of intentions, we lost track of each other. What began as fairly regular phone calls deteriorated into just a Christmas card. Jeannie moved somewhere else, and even those cards dwindled away.
Now every November I think back to those early years, and smile. I hope Jeannie is doing all right. I like to think that Bill and Randy are with her somehow, waiting for the day when she joins them.