The invitation said “Wild Game Party!” I was excited. Finally we were going to get to shake up the neighborhood and get a little crazy. I didn’t expect nudity, except from one friend in particular who always manages to either get naked or talk about it by saying things like, “When I was in college we used to get naked and run through the campus. Or, when I got naked last week at the beach,” or, well you get the picture. I thought there might be some charades of questionable taste, or maybe a few rounds of passing an orange from neck to neck. Bobbing for apples by committee could also present some biting moments. Since we were invited as a family I knew it couldn’t get too R—rated, but I figured the kids would play downstairs while the adults did some dirty dancing or something.
Now don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t hoping for any spousal swapping or anything like that. I am a perfectly happily married woman, and I’m pretty sure my husband is, too. I mean that he’s a perfectly happily married man. Well, I mean at least I know he thinks he’s perfect, but that’s another story altogether. But, the thought of a few embarrassing moments of “Truth or Dare” are what make great memories, and since I hadn’t played anything like that since college I was ready for a little harmless fun and “wild games.”
Well, I was in for a surprise because there weren’t any wild games. What there was was plenty of wild game. Our friends Andy and Luana created a feast made from all of the things Andy had hunted during the past winter. As all thoughts of debauchery quickly sprang from my head, thoughts of dancing carcasses replaced them.
I have never hunted and never will, but that is my personal choice. I can’t even fish because I feel bad for the fish squirming on the line with a hook sticking out of its cheek. I also have memories of the recurring nightmare kind of fishing with my Dad. My Dad had orange fishing gloves, made by Ron Popeil of “Ronco” or someone like that, with spikes on the palms to help make taking the hook out of the fish much easier. But my Dad is a big, strong guy and when he held the fish in his bed-o-nails gloves, he basically skewered it to death before he even got the hook out. Fishing with my Dad was like Fear Factor for young Jewish girls. The hook ALWAYS ended up coming out through one of the fish’s eyeballs and as he impaled the fish with his gloves and blood was running down his hands onto the deck of our boat he’d say, “Don’t worry. The fish doesn’t feel a thing.” Yeah. I thought to myself. Because it’s beyond dead. It’s really most sincerely dead.
I have nothing against people who hunt, especially when they eat what they catch. I am one of those people who take spiders I find in the house and put them gingerly on plants outside. The thought of killing a living thing, no matter what it is, is not something I choose to do. I am not a vegetarian, so you got me there. I eat fish and poultry, and occasionally some red meat when I need to boost my iron, but I have to gag it down because I really don’t like it.
I don’t get people who hunt “for sport”, leaving wounded animals to die a painful death, or even a clean kill that supposedly doesn’t hurt. I don’t get the killing of another living thing just for the fun of it. To me that’s for all intents and purposes just plain old murder.
What I do get about hunting, especially in our friends’ case, is the whole carrying on family traditions thing. In fact, I am a huge believer in family traditions. My sister and I always seem to end up making our Grandmother Eva’s lima bean and rice soup on the same cold, blustery days without even knowing the other one is making it. It’s as if we get this lima bean karma that today is the day Grandma would have made it. I love lighting Shabbos candles, making latkes for Hannukah, and doing things that are Jewishy or just family-ishy that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Last year when Andy was training his new German short-haired hound, Blade, Luana called me to tell me he had brought home a few live quails and that he was teaching Blade to find them and “point” them out. Then she said, “Oh, and don’t be alarmed if you see a quail walking around the side of your house near the garbage cans. A few of them escaped over that way. They don’t fly very much, so they may just wander over.” “Ok,” I said, not even sure what a quail looked like. “I’ll let you know if I see one.” I thought about how funny it was that there was a quail on the loose in the neighborhood. Sure we have all kinds of wildlife such as deer, hawks, foxes, and even the occasional coyote. But quail?
Sure enough, a few hours later, I went to take out the garbage and there was a bird I had never seen before looking at me from the bushes. I looked back at it. I said out loud to no one in particular, “Well, that must be a quail.” Before I could even think of what to do, Andy came bounding through the bushes with a net in hand and swooped up the bird. I decided not to even ask what was going to happen to the quail next, so I just retreated back inside, commenting to myself that that was probably an adventure I’d never have again.
I had another strange encounter involving wild game that I probably won’t ever have again, either. As Richard and I sat at a table eating dinner at a Supper Club in northern Wisconsin once, I overheard a man say to another man at a nearby table, “Ya know when you have a carcass sitting in the back of your pick-up truck?” I thought to myself, “Nope. Can’t relate. Down here in the northern suburbs of Chicago, we rarely if ever have any carcasses in our Volvos.”
But hunting to our friends is just a part of age-old traditions their family has prided itself on for generations. They grow their own vegetables, can their own home-grown tomatoes, make their own wine, and eat the game they hunt. I think that’s fab for them, especially since they are teaching their kids to do the same things they were taught as kids. And the fact that they don’t kill just for sport is admirable, but, there was no way I could eat it.
I tried goat’s milk once and couldn’t get over the vision of a goat with its beard snarffling food out of my hand at a petting zoo. Nope. I couldn’t do it. So I really couldn’t muster up the nerve to try any of the delicacies offered at Andy and Luana’s house.
And there was quite a spread at the “wild game party.” I really started wishing for naked Twister or Spin the Bottle when the pheasant and venison stews were put on the table. There was a buffet table filled with all kinds of things that had been shot by guns and arrows and then retrieved by Blade. I will admit it all smelled great, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat any of it. My husband and kids loved it. It wasn’t something they would ever be served at home, so it was a great opportunity for them to pig out on things they had never eaten before. And, because Andy and Luana are such great chefs, they knew how to prepare each dead thing to perfection.
As I ate a plate full of vegetarian polenta, which was very tasty, I asked Andy about a photo I spotted on the wall of him next to a ginormous dead animal. “What is that thing” I asked? “That’s what the meatballs are made of,” he replied, laughing. It turned out the meatballs were made of wild boar. I didn’t even know wild boars existed in the wild. Not that I thought there was such a thing as a domesticated boar, but wild boar seemed to be a mythical creature that only existed in fairy tales. Well, so much for a happy ending for the meatballs.
I’m sure Andy and Luana felt an enormous amount of pride watching their friends participate in their family’s long tradition of eating the things Andy had hunted and carefully prepared. I know I feel a sense of pride when sharing my homemade chicken matzo ball soup with friends who have never eaten it before. It’s even that much more special when my parents are over and my Dad says, “The matzo balls are the only edible part of the matzo, ya know.” That always gets an expression of sheer terror on the person’s face that has a piece of matzo ball in his or her mouth, and explosive laughter from the rest of us. No matter how many times my Dad has said that, it’s always funny.
So, while there weren’t any R-rated games, there was plenty of adventure as Andy and Luana’s guests tried foods they had never eaten before and loved them. I almost ate a meatball, but couldn’t get the picture out of my head of Andy smiling next to the wild boar who was not. But I’m like that with all kinds of animal foods. If I think about what it really is, I can’t eat it. If I see it in a pool of blood in its package from the store, it seems more like evidence for an episode of CSI than food.
So, after we came home from the party I thought to myself that here I was ready for an adventure that turned out to be a different kind of wild game than I had imagined. And, sadly, I was too chicken to try it. Maybe next time I’ll be game.