It’s a good thing that Buddy really likes Clarence. Sharing the small blind for hours while they wait for dinner to wander by would be agonizing otherwise. Old Clarence isn’t the sweetest smelling rose on the bush, not by a long shot. But Buddy and Clarence have been friends for most of their lives, and hunting is one of the many hobbies they enjoy doing together.
“Hey, lookee there, Bud.” Clarence points into the woods. “Ain’t that one of them ruffled grouse?”
Buddy looks where his friend is pointing. “Yep, I do b’lieve it is,” he whispers, “but that ain’t what we’re here for, Clarence. We come back without grub for the cookout, we’re in deep shit, and you know it. So best we keep it down so we don’t scare ‘em away when they come by. The other guys are gonna be right pissed off if we do.”
The small town of Hill Holler is nestled in the back of beyond, as the locals like to say. Life in the Holler is tough. They don’t get many visitors in this part of the Piney Mountains, other than the hunters who come every season, and then leave taking deer with them. Everybody knows everybody else in Hill Holler and residents rely on each other for support and community. They have to; there isn’t anybody else.
Every November, the town holds its annual cookout and barn dance. The eagerly anticipated Hill Holler Hootenanny is the last hurrah of the year before folks hunker down for the winter, always a harsh ordeal for the community. The whole town contributes to the festivities. Men folk take to the woods in true hunter-gather fashion, while their women start mixing and stirring. The bounty brought forth in the days before the Hootenanny not only creates a feast unlike any that Hill Holler residents enjoy any other time of year, there are always enough fixings for every family to put something by for the coming months.
The seductive aroma of freshly baked bread and baking powder biscuits follow Glory Sue as she comes in from the mudroom, where she has left trays of the baked goods to cool.
“Don’t you just love Hootenanny?” she asks as she tightens the sash on her apron.
A chorus of women’s voices agree enthusiastically.
Loretta adds the fruit on her cutting board to the pile already in the bowl and wipes her hands on a tea towel. “You know it, hon. I look forward to it all year, if for no other reason than it gets Buddy out of the house for a few days.”
“Yep, them boys sure do love to go huntin’, don’t they? Can’t see the attraction myself,” Glory Sue comments.
“Maybe not, but you always seem to enjoy the grub they bring home for the cookout,” Loretta smirks.
“Well, yeah, there’s that, I guess,” Glory Sue says as the other women in the kitchen laugh.
Women are gathered in kitchens all around Hill Holler, whipping up their favorite recipes for the feast the town will enjoy at Hootenanny the following day. Loretta’s kitchen is baking central. Glory Sue joins Loretta at the counter next to the sink and they work side-by-side peeling and slicing apples for the pies they’ll bake that afternoon. Wilma Marsh and Marge Dayton stand at the other counter assembling fruit cobblers and the traditional Hootenanny coconut cake.
The ladies, and their men folk, too, if anyone were to ask, would all agree that getting ready for the festivities is almost as much fun as the big day itself.
“I’m so glad the weather’s cooperatin’ for a change,” Loretta says to Glory Sue as they spread red-checkered tablecloths over the picnic tables in the town square. She remembers too many years when they had to move the meal into somebody’s barn because of rain. Today, the sun is shining and the air is crisp and clean. “It’s perfect Hootenanny weather,” she declares.
Loretta feels a little thrill of anticipation. She is really looking forward to the afternoon and evening to come. They’ll eat well, and then while the men clean up, as is tradition, the ladies will retire to their bood-waar to put on their best dancing dress and get pretty for the dance in the Jaspers’ barn that night. Oh, it’s gonna be a fine time, Loretta thinks with a smile.
Soon, the square is filled with excited voices. Young children run hither and yon playing tag. The town’s older folk are bundled in heavy sweaters and shawls and settled into lawn chairs out of the path of the shrieking children. Older boys play catch and pretend they don’t notice the gaggle of giggling girls clustered on the bandstand, where their view of the boys’ game is ideal.
The women have laid out the food they prepared in the days before, and oh, what a feast it is. The only thing missing is the meat, which the men have been slow roasting for hours over a huge pit back behind the firehouse. The smell of the cooking meat riding on the fall air has everyone’s mouth watering. A clang of the fire bell announces that dinner is about to be served.
First out of the big double doors of the firehouse is a group of men lugging several kegs of beer, which they set up in the shade of a big live oak. Norm Marsh and Fred Dayton follow, each of them toting several very large jugs of wine. They set them down with a clunk on one of the picnic tables. As he unscrews a couple of bottle tops, Fred announces, “We’re goin’ high class this year, ladies. We got here some genuine eye-talian Chianti and a nice chardonnay. It’s gonna go real fine with the roasts.”
The last ones out of the firehouse are Buddy and Clarence, each holding the end of a long spit of roasted meat. They set the ends of the spit into the forked braces on a rack specially built for the purpose.
As the town folk gather, oohing and ahhing at the sight of the juicy roasts, Buddy says, “Come and git it, folks. These two been turning over the coals till they was done just right. And there’s several more where these came from.”
“Yep,” Clarence chimes in, “we got real lucky this year. We done caught ourselves a huntin’ party of ten guys, all of ‘em young and tender. They’s plenty to go around, so dig in.”
Buddy takes up his long fork and carving knife, and turns to Loretta, who’s first in line with her plate.
“White meat or dark, Darlin’?”
Written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory.