Venison Stew

14 Jul

Over the last few weeks we’ve been seeing a lot of deer in our backyard. The delicates fawns remind me of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s classic tale– The Yearling. My fourth grade teacher, read it to us one chapter at a time and all but the most jaded fourth graders , anxiously awaited each installment of this cracker coming of age story. Our teacher was from the deep south and the color of Rawlings’s writing completely captivated her. She also read us a rather dubious story about a little “colored boy” named Skip, who is depressed about moving up north but gets to eat at automat and after taking a piece of cherry pie from its plastic cubbyhole, decides that the north is really cool after all.
I don’t remember all of the plot of The Yearling but it went something like: Boy meets deer. Boy loses half-wit friend. Bear almost gets Dad. And boy loses deer.
I remember crying when the boy, Jody Baxter learned that his brain-damaged friend, Fodder-wing, died from the fever. Fodder-wing got his name from jumping off a roof while flapping his fodder-laden arms eventually landing on his noggin.
Fodder-wing came from one of those families that had more hounds living under the front porch than are in most foxhunts We had neighbors just like them so I could easily relate to this part of the story. Our neighbor ran a beauty salon and her children enjoyed throwing aerosol hairspray cans into a blazing trash barrel for the explosive reaction. Hey also played in the piles of discarded hair, much to everyone’s revulsion. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they glued hair to their arms and jumped off the garage.
In The Yearling Jody’s mother, Ora (Ma Baxter), was depressed, traumatized, and irritable, woman, having suffered the loss of several babies. I wondered if our teacher , no beam of sunshine herself, identified with the melancholic Ora. Jody’s long suffering father, Penny, was essentially worthless at home, although he fared better out in the scrub, tracking Ole Slewfoot– the killer bear.
The story’s dramatic conflict centers around an orphaned fawn that follows Jody home one day. He names it Flag, teaches it to fetch, roll over, and bring Penny his corncob pipe and slippers. The crabby Ma Baxter was not impressed. SoonFlag gets too big for his pen and after Penny is injured going a couple rounds with Slewfoot, the household just can’t afford to mess around with exotic pets. Too domesticated to return to the wild, the voracious Flag keeps threating the family’s subsistence garden, driving Ma Baxter to want plug the pest in the porterhouse. It’s a Florida coming of age story, so Jody is suppose to grow up and put a bullet between the trusting deer’s antlers. Jody runs away but eventually returns when the Johnny cakes run out and is reconciled with his family.
We all cried our eyes. The story aptly demonstrated something we were all becoming acutely aware of– growing up pretty much stinks. I always hoped that Jody, at least, didn’t have to eat the stew.
Rawlings, who shared the same editor as Hemingway and Fitzgerald, wrote another Florida best-seller– Cross Creek. In doing so she managed to infuriate most of her neighbors and ignite one of the longest and most vicious libel trials in Florida history. But that’s another story.

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