With deer season well behind us, I can tell one of those Ozark stories that encompass a culture where children are not allowed to believe that the world owes them a living. From “time out of mind,” as a friend pinpointed it, Ozark kids have taken part in harvest rituals such as bringing in a crop, gathering pecans and walnuts, getting the winter’s firewood put into stacks and laying in a supply of meat for the long winter ahead.
“The biggest deer this year,” as an old friend told me proudly, “was killed by my granddaughter, who’s not but 11 years old.”
When I taught one room schools in the Ozarks, I got used to this priority of values that shut school down for deer season, ostensibly for the reason that “It’s dangersome for children to walk through the woods when hunters are about.” But actually because my students were expected to take part in the season as an important piece of their education.
The finest example of this preoccupation with Ozark values is a story that’s stuck with me for 40 years now and is worth retelling.
One of my eighth graders, Allen, went into the woods, with numerous uncles, cousins and some neighbors to set up a deer camp. In order to keep the place tidy, they dug a latrine outside the camp—a trench 3 feet deep, to accommodate seven people, and the hunters had the path well worn by the second day of deer season.
On the morning of the third day, there were three deer hanging in trees to cool out, and the smell of venison cooking established the place as a real deer camp. One of Allen’s uncles, who had already killed his deer, was cooking lunch, and it was Allen’s turn to bring in firewood.
Allen described what happened in his own terms.
“I was just draggin’ in limbs for the wood pile when I heard hounds a’comin’, and all of a sudden the biggest old buck you ever seen come runnin’ into the camp and stopped just short of a tent, lookin’ around like he was figurin’ out the best way through. Uncle Alvy yells ‘Head him!’ like it was a cow instead of a deer, and makes a dash for his gun, and all I knowed to do was run and wave my arms to keep that thing from runnin’ over me. Uncle Alvy was a runnin’ and shootin’ that 30-30 and not payin’ any mind to where he was, and next thing I seen, he had measured his length in that ditch we had dug for everybody to go outdoors in. Best we could tell he never touched that deer.
“‘Well,’ says Uncle Alvy when he’d got up out of there. ‘This here proves what I’ve always said; these deers is always catching a person at his worst!’”
In my experience, the moral of that story hasn’t changed one bit in 50 years!
Mitch Jayne, 1928 to 2010, was a 20-year contributor to Today’s Farmer. Reprinted from March 2002.