This might be the hardest month yet to write a blog post for me. I have never missed a month without writing at least one entry. It has been hard to find a topic during this horrible time…with the coronavirus and people being ill and losing family members and being unemployed. I don’t want to complain because I am healthy and getting a paycheck. I have racked my brain to find something to write about that is not negative or offensive or insensitive and I finally thought of a topic…deer skulls.
In the northeast region of our country, it is very common to see deer everywhere. Just on my two mile drive home from my sister’s house last night I think I counted 8 of them. Some people think of deer as a nuisance because they cause car accidents, while others appreciate their beauty. When I think of deer, I think of a specific memory with my father. It was a singular moment so insignificant in my life, I am surprised I even remember it at all.
One day, we were exploring some trails in the woods behind my childhood house. My father and I were walking ahead of my mother and my sister and my dad was pointing out various wildlife and plants. A squirrel would skitter along the path and he would shout “squirrel!”. He warned me not to touch poison ivy and explained how to identify it (a skill I still find useful as I am VERY allergic).
“Whoa! Check that out!” My dad pointed to something round and whitish on the ground a few feet in front of us. As we got closer, I realized that it was a skull of unknown origin. A dead person! was the first thought I had until I realized the shape and size of it could not be a human. My father, in true dad fashion, leaned down and plucked it off the ground with his bare hands. He turned to me with a sly smile and then reached his arm out to try to touch me with it. I jumped a mile and screamed, “groooooosssss!”.
My father carried the skull all the way home and by the time we arrived, he had determined it was from a deer, even though there were no antlers attached. By this point, my initial shock faded and I was pretty interested in the skull, with its gaping eye sockets and teeth still attached to the jaw bone. He soaked the skull in soapy water and cleaned it, while my mother disapprovingly kept asking, “what are you going to DO with that thing?” After the skull was clean, I was so fascinated with it that my father gave it to me. This is most likely the strangest “gift” I have received. I sat for a half hour just wiggling the teeth, until one popped out into my hand. I was able to put it back into place with much satisfaction.
I kept that deer skull on my bookshelf for many years. Once I got my own apartment, I decided that it did not really fit with my decor scheme and that it was weird to have to explain to people why I had a deer skull in my home. I gave it to a science teacher at the high school where I teach English and he gladly displayed it in a case in his classroom. Over the years, once in a while, I would pop into his room to look at the deer skull, the memory of that day running through my mind.
Children remember the strangest and most random things. My niece is only three years old and probably won’t remember anything from this time in her life. Or maybe she will? My sister and brother-in-law are both unemployed and home with her all day now. Maybe she will remember making tents out of all the couch pillows, baking cookies with my sister, or helping her dad rake sticks in the backyard? I have a very poor memory and cannot recall much from my childhood. And unfortunately, by the time I turned twelve years old, my father was a full blown abusive alcoholic, so there were not many happy memories made during my teenage years. Yet, there are these random moments, burned into my memory, that I fondly remember. My dad was fun (and cool!) at one point during my childhood and now that he is sober, I hope that my niece will make memories with him that she can look back on someday to remember her grandfather.
My deer skull still is on display in the science lab classroom. I am sure over the years, many students have seen it and assumed it came from a school supply magazine or they really do not think much of it at all. Some of them are my students as well and they have NO idea that they are looking at a piece of my childhood…a tangible, albeit very odd, reminder of a happy memory with my father.