2011-12-03 / Viewpoints

DEER SEASON: TIMES HAVE CHANGED

By Paul Kengor

(Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College.)

My mother’s family lived in Emporium, as did dozens of their relatives. Back in the 1940s, when my mother was born, my grandmother had worked as a Rosie Riveter at the Sylvania plant.

Sylvania employed half the town. Farming was another means of employment, which my grandfather and his parents and nine siblings had done down the road in Rich Valley.

Still, neither Sylvania nor farming nor anything else did much to populate Emporium.

Once a year, however, the place was flooded with people. That time of year was deer season, when out-of-town hunters arrived like an incoming army, loaded with rifles and bullets.

During that special week, Emporium’s streets were bustling, the bars were jammed, and churches had more people than usual, including St. Mark’s, where hunters sought out the priest for a blessing before heading into the woods.

Some packed into makeshift hunting camps. Some slept in their cars.

My grandmother always took in boarders during deer season. In fact, the whole town did. Up and down every street, hunters knocked on doors asking if the home was taking boarders.

Bear in mind, these were complete strangers carrying guns and lots of ammunition. And yet, there was never any fear that they were a threat.

“I never heard of any problems anywhere,” recalls my mother, who was a little girl when the hunters stayed at her house. “There was never any concern about the safety of anyone, including the kids. Today you can’t trust anyone. It was different then.”

The hunters marched inside with all their gear. As evening fell, early in the winter, my grandmother made dinner for everyone. They all shared a meal. The hunters talked and played and joked with the kids. After dinner, they got their equipment in order and went to bed.

Around 5 am, my grandmother made breakfast for the hunters, typically bacon and ham and eggs.

Then they were off to the woods. If they shot a deer early, some headed straight back downstate, hoisting the gutted carcass atop the Oldsmobile. Others, if they got a deer late, might return to the house, where my grandmother cooked up some venison. If they had no luck, they stayed another night or two.

This scene was repeated in house after house in Emporium. My Aunt Della, who lived across the railroad tracks and river, took in boarders in an apartment above her garage. She tended to get the same guys year to year. I’m sure her rigatoni and meatballs were a factor.

Can you imagine this today? Any of this?

Yes, the culture has really changed. America has changed.

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