" The next day our five older children, even Jenny the Fainter, were pressed into action. They took 10-minute shifts grinding the deer meat. Fifty-five years later they all have sharp memories of the awful stench that permeated our whole house for several days. "
“You’re going where?” I asked my husband in surprise.

“Hunting. Larry invited me.” Co-worker Larry and his uncles, two of Maupin’s finest hunters, were going to go camping and hunting for three days, and thought Bob would enjoy that.

In our 14 years of marriage, he had never expressed a wish to go camping and kill an animal. I guess he had never been asked.

The invitation accepted, my steadfast spouse hustled to find hiking boots (Goodwill had a pair his size), his old wool jacket, a jaunty red hat, suitcase which stayed shut, and a little something in a bottle in case of chill or snakebite.

The weekend was to leave me not only minus a husband, but the family wheels. “No problem —you can borrow you dad’s car for church and the store.” With eight children, there was no boredom that weekend.

The Great Hunter came home Sunday afternoon with a three-day beard, a barracks bag of dirty clothes and a four-point buck in the trunk of our ‘48 DeSoto. The deer’s soft brown eyes showed malice to none. The victim was a gift from Larry’s Uncle Sarge.

Neighbors gathered to congratulate the victor. Grownups exclaimed about the size of the antlers and how nice it would be to have all that meat in the freezer. Little boys gingerly touched the dead animal to show how brave they were. Squeal and giggles emerged from children seeing for the first time the spoils of the hunt. You could almost hear a brass band playing “Hail to the Chief.”

Friend Jack helped Bob used a rope to hang the luckless animal by its neck from a beam in our basement. Jack used his skinning knife to relieve the animal of its hide from the neck down. The children and I sat on the basement steps watching in fascinated horror.

Seven-year-old Jenny was ushered upstairs: “I think I’m going to faint.”

The gruesome skinning finished, Jack took the hide to be part of a coat for his wife, Ann. Ann was welcome to it.

The next day we held an informal open basement for family and friends in the “slumber room” to say goodbye. Two young nieces made two visits; I don’t think they believed it the first time.

After dinner we bid goodbye to our gory family pet. We watched as Bob (he of the squeamish stomach) wrapped his prize in canvas for its final trip to the butcher, from whence it would return in edible form — neatly wrapped roasts, steaks, ground meat. I planned to watch a first on television — Pope Paul VI was to speak at the United Nations in New York City.

Bob was home in an hour. “The butcher said he cannot take any more deer. This was opening weekend for deer season, and his storage space is full.” In our innocence this had not occurred to us.

“He said I can easily cut up the deer myself, wrap it for freezing, and save the cost of his doing it.”

I felt a gnawing suspicion.

“You brought that thing back here? Where do you plan to do that cutting up?” No more suspicion — cruel certainty.

“The kitchen table will be the best place. I’ll use the sharpest carving knife we have and my electric hand saw. Check our supply of freezer paper and tape.”

“I hope you don’t expect me to help with the slaughter. Call me when it’s over.”

Bob’s silence should have been a clue. He went outside then appeared in a minute struggling under the weight of the canvas-draped deceased. It was not getting any fresher. Carefully turning head and legs, we arranged our venison — still on the hoof — upon our six-foot table.

“Thank goodness the children are all abed,” I thought. “Who knows what damage this could do to their little psyches?” My psyche was not feeling too good, either.

My newly-courageous husband instructed: “Fill the canning kettle with cold water and lots of salt.” Despite my clear stated preference, I was being included in this venture.

“Now as I slice off each piece of meat you put it in the water for a few minutes, then run it through the meat grinder, and we’ll have our own ground venison.” I protested and declined his kind offer.

“It’s all in your head. Just don’t watch what I do.” He sliced a meaty thigh and dropped it in the salted water.

It was the moment of truth. “After all,” I told myself, “marriage is a partnership, and Bob is doing the worst part. It would not be right to abandon him at this point.” Maybe I could catch the pope’s visit on the late news. Daintily I picked up the smallest piece I could find and put it into the grinder, averting my eyes from the nearby surgery.

“Be sure to peel off the fat. They say that’s where the wild taste is.”

For the next two hours we sliced, peeled, ground, wrapped and labeled. It was not my idea of “a lovely way to spend an evening.” Forgotten were those gorgeous roasts and succulent steaks. They were out of our league. For us, the whole creature would become deer burger.

The next day our five older children, even Jenny the Fainter, were pressed into action. They took 10-minute shifts grinding the deer meat. Fifty-five years later they all have sharp memories of the awful stench that permeated our whole house for several days. They have survived nicely.

What would a children’s services worker say to such child labor? Our son Terry, six at that time, sums it up: “I guess you had to have been there.”

Mitchell is a member of The Madeleine Parish in Northeast Portland.