You never know who you are going to meet on an airplane. I’m one of those people who usually gets to know the person next to me. When I’m with Steve on one side in a three seated row there is always a stranger who shares our row with us.
I usually begin the conversation with “business or pleasure?” That clarifies the purpose of my seatmate’s trip to wherever we are going.
On our recent flight from CVG to Las Vegas Steve had the aisle seat (his consistent choice) and I had the middle (I actually prefer the window). We sat down wondering who was going to arrive to take the window seat and share the trip with us. About five minutes after we got settled a man came along and signaled that he had the window seat.
He was a very gentle man. I remember thinking how polite and timid he seemed. He smiled, took his seat and I proceeded to continue to read. But then I got the urge to get to know him.
I began, “Business or pleasure?” He said, “for me pleasure. I’m meeting my wife. She has been in meetings all week and we are going to have some time together. I’m really looking forward to it.” Curious, of course, I asked what her business was. He said she was an executive vice president for a company. Wow! She was a busy lady.
I asked what he did and he said they had two children and he stayed home with the children while they were growing up. They are now in college but he is the one who keeps the house in order. He stayed home. She went to work. I loved how he explained it-“It was in her DNA to climb a ladder and work in the corporate world. And he said it was in his DNA to be the nurturing parent who was home.
He was very quiet, balanced, and I could see that he could be very nurturing. I asked what prompted him to want to stay home. He told me that his own mother had left the family when he was 4 years old. He is the youngest of four and was the baby at the time. I asked if he had much contact with his mother growing up-“Nope-not interested. I was the bitter one. My siblings all stayed in contact with her until she died.” He said that growing up he was shifted from various homes of Aunts and Uncles and family friends. He was able to observe parenting styles and internalized what he thought was the best parenting.
I asked how old his children were-both in college now and doing well-a son and a daughter and they are very close. He and his wife are now in empty nest, but his wife still travels quite a bit. When the children were young they did gravitate to him more as their mother was working and traveling while they were growing up. She would get home at 8:00 many nights and often only home on weekends. They all appreciated their mother and made the best of their time together.
I wondered what he does now that the children are out of the house and his wife is often away. So of course I asked, “what are you doing for yourself now that you’re no longer raising children. He said “ I hunt.” Somehow this gentleman just didn’t fit the image of a hunter, and I thought of my own negative judgments about guns and hunting, but I hung with him.
“What do you hunt?” He said, “ rabbits, squirrel, deer, wild boar and bear.” I grew up with a father who hunted squirrel and rabbit and I can still remember the flavor, preferring the tasty dark meat of squirrel to the blander rabbit. I asked if he ate what he caught. He said, “ I eat everything I kill. It’s an honor thing.” I wondered about the bear. “ Yes, the bear, the boar and all of the game I catch.” He said he made steaks out of the bear meat. “It’s a little tough, but still tasty.” He also explained that he catches his larger game with a bow and arrow and only uses the gun for smaller game.
He told me how he got started hunting. He was 10 years old when his father got him his first gun and took him out to hunt. His father never touched a gun, other than to teach his son, realizing it was in his son’s DNA to hunt. He told me he has killed 73 deer since he started hunting.”
I asked what he did with the carcass. The story continued with interest. He said he freezes the carcass until he is ready to preserve and tan the hide. He is a taxidermist. I had never met a taxidermist. He explained the process. You pickle the hide, just like pickles; then you brush tanning solution on the inside of the hide which preserves it. He then wraps the hide around a form and creates a piece that looks like either the live animal as in squirrels and rabbits or he makes a cranium form, which is just the head. With the bear, he made a large rug with the head of the bear. He is well known for his work and sells his pieces. He has been commissioned to provide pieces for the Cincinnati Zoo, Aquarium and other museums.
He told me how he uses his garage to complete his work. Carcasses hang in the garage when they are first stripped and preparing to be frozen. I could only wonder what the neighbors thought. Of course I asked. He said he keeps the garage closed and there is a drape that encircles the carcasses. He keeps the forms and completed works in “his bedroom.”
Wondering what his wife and children thought about it all, of course I asked. He said his wife tolerates it and his children have never been interested in hunting. He is the only one who will eat the game meat.
I wondered how often he ate the meat. He said he ate meat every day and game meat three times a week. He was not particularly overweight, but I pictured the inside of his arteries and had to ask about his health and cholesterol. He put his thumb up about the cholesterol and explained that his doctor is also a hunter and they take the same statin drug.
What about exercise? “ Oh yes, I walk 3-5 miles a day with my father-in-law who has Alzheimer’s disease.” This opened up a whole other part of the story. Not only was this hunter, a nurturing father but he was now the main person looking after his father in law. He told me that although his wife has brothers, he was the only one who could take care of his “Dad.” He had the nurturing DNA and the psychological insight, the time and distance from childhood baggage that it takes to care for someone with dementia.
He told me how he gets his father in law to take a shower by telling him interesting places they will visit. When his father in law refuses to go to the doctor, he would say, “ Dad, I am so afraid to go to the doctor. Would you go with me? “ His father in law would then gladly oblige, arriving only to get his own examination. His father in law’s nutrition by marking the garbage cans with a napkin-noting that anything above the last napkin was eaten.
This gentle hunter, house husband, caregiver, nurturing parent had a quiet air about him. He seemed to have a spiritual essence and I shared this observation with him asking if he practiced any form of religion or spirituality. He said he was Catholic, but also very much enjoyed his sister’s mega church.
He still goes to Mass every Sunday because his father in law wants to go. He also takes his father in law to say the rosary three mornings a week. During Lent his father in law wanted to go to confession, so they went to church together. He told me that the priest who heard their confession had once been convicted and “sent away” for molesting a girl in a nearby park. My mind thought of the movie Spotlight. And yet they allowed him to hear their confession-“ I guess you have to forgive, “ he said. I then thought-Wow! I get it, but what about forgiving his mother. I did not say what I was thinking.
We talked a long time and I wanted to get back to my reading. I asked him what he liked to read. He said he read the Bible, and took his King James version out of his carry on bag. He also had a book on depression. He said he was reading it because of his father in law, noting that his “Dad” seemed more withdrawn and depressed lately. He was hoping to gain some insight on how to deal with his father in law’s mood swings.
My gentle hunter told me how he was looking so forward to this trip with his wife but was very concerned about his father in law. While away his wife’s brothers would be looking in on their Dad. He shared that when he got back to Ohio, it was probably getting close to having his father in law move in with him and his wife. “The wandering is a problem. He just walks off…”
I wondered how his wife felt about this-‘Oh, she is fine with it. I would be the one taking care of him.”
This man was a paradox-he obviously was a skilled huntsman, but also a gentle and nurturing soul. He ate bear, yet seemed as cuddly as a Teddy. I thought how fortunate his wife is to have him to take care of everything at home including her father. Yet he said he was very fortunate to have her as she is the financial provider and they have had a very good marriage. All he asks of her is to make and manage the money. He is the homemaker. They respect each other’s DNA and it works.
The gentle hunter told me his nickname-“Carcass.” It fits but Caress might even me better.
The last thing he said was that he was really looking forward to this trip and hoped his wife was okay with him staying the entire week. Somehow, that felt a little sad. I hoped she was looking as forward to seeing him as he was her.
All I can say is never judge a book until you’ve heard the whole story-the same with people. I am so glad I kept my vegetarian health values to myself and listened to a tender story.
Nice meeting you Carcass! Hope you had a great week in Vegas.