Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Mighty Huntress (For Dad)

All of my favorite memories involving my dad are deer hunting stories. One in particular stands out because it is still grotesque and vibrant after all these years.

The year was 1986, my first year of college. I was living in the dorms at Bemidji State University in Bemidji, Minnesota. I had been hunting with my dad for several years by then, and this year would be no different: I rose at 4 a.m. and met him down in the dorm parking lot at 4:30 sharp, where he sat in the truck waiting for me. My parents lived in a different town 90 miles away—Staples—so my father had risen far earlier than I had to pick me up. He had brought a thermos full of hot coffee and my hunting gear (orange jacket and pants, boots, orange cap). I suited up while we drove in the dark far out of town, far down the tree-lined highway, finally turning on a dirt road and bumping our way deep into the snowy woods.

There sat our new camper—new to us anyway—in the middle of a clearing. My dad and brother had hauled it out there a few days earlier. While we usually called the truck our headquarters (to get warm and change clothes) and cooked our hotdogs over quickly-assembled fires, this year my father had splurged and bought us an old camper, where we could cook real food on a stove, sit in a cushioned booth, even lie down on a bunk if we wanted. And it was heated, sweet Jesus. No more frostbitten fingers and toes; no more fires that singed my towering bangs and burned holes in our thick, insulated outerwear—so thick that sometimes we didn’t realize we were on fire.

But there was one rule that came with our new/used camper, and my father set it down firmly: Do NOT use the toilet because the plumbing system was NOT hooked up. We could do anything we wanted in the camper except go to the bathroom. To underscore this rule, my father was using the tiny bathroom closet as storage: if you opened the door you would see cardboard boxes, extra clothes, and a couple cases of beer, all stacked to the ceiling. You couldn’t even see the toilet. That meant I would still have to poop in the woods, my bare butt and legs exposed to temperatures below zero, maybe sitting on a scratchy hollowed-out tree stump if I was lucky enough to find one, hoping that another hunter wouldn’t happen by while I was crouched there half-naked doing my business.

I hated pooping in the woods. To me, it was the worst part of hunting.

Soon enough my brother and brother-in-law arrived in another truck, and before the sun had risen, we were all on our stands. My dad put me in a stand that was closest to the camper and told me I could go back and warm up whenever I wanted, but remember: don’t use the bathroom. It was still dark and well below zero when he told me to be safe and walked away, his broad orange back gradually and silently swallowed up by the white-gray forest.

After about an hour of standing still in the freezing temps, watching the sun come up over a ridge covered with trees and bushes but no deer, I could no longer feel my toes. My fingers too were numb and stiff, and my body shivered uncontrollably. It was usually at just this point when my dad would magically reappear out of the woods to build me a little fire and rub the blood back into my extremities, but I knew those days were over: I would have to get myself warm, which meant going back to the camper, alone. It was big-girl time.

I followed the path that the guys had tramped into the snow back to the logging road we had walked in on. I headed towards the clearing where our camper sat, now surrounded by a few more trucks parked there by other hunters. I opened the unlocked door to our camper and walked into what seemed at the time like my mother’s womb, warm and cozy and enveloping. My mood instantly improved. I took off my hat and coat and wool pants, then my boots so my frozen toes could thaw. I turned on our little portable radio to the crackly country station, then sprawled out in the booth and ate a Snickers bars. This was the way to hunt, sitting around in the real indoors heat, not that stingy wood-fire heat. This was excellent.

But here is where my story takes an awful, awful turn. The Snickers bar had set my bowels in motion, and I had to poop. It was morning time, after all—the natural order of things. I dreaded having to put on all my heavy outerwear again, now wet from melted snow. Plus, who knew where those other hunters were or when they’d be returning. I would have to hike quite a distance into the woods to find a private spot.

An idea dawned on me: why not quickly unpack the bathroom closet, spread a Hefty bag over the toilet, and crap in there? I could already see myself cinching up the garbage bag with my little wad of poop at the bottom. I would have a comfortable bathroom experience, then I could brave the freezing air for thirty seconds as I ran to the edge of the clearing and whipped the bag into the snow. No one would know.

This idea seemed very good…almost too good. I imagined that if I accomplished this task—pooping into a Hefty bag inside the warm camper on the toilet instead of pooping outside naked in the freezing cold—that everyone in my hunting party would want to do the same. I could actually be a hero for figuring this out.

There was no time to lose. I got up immediately and started removing items from the bathroom closet. The cases of beer were heavy and all the extra clothes cumbersome, but I got it all out, then unfurled a Hefty bag from my father’s supply. I whipped it so the opening gaped at me, then pushed the bottom into the toilet bowl, the edges over the sides. My need to poop had become urgent, so I plopped down and unleashed myself. Ahhhhhh. And wow, I didn’t realize I had to pee so much too.

Paper towels replaced toilet paper and soon enough I was ready to lift up the bag—now fully loaded—and take it outside to toss into the woods. I carefully gathered together the top of the bag, closed it, and pulled. To my horror, the bag lifted up with no weight on the bottom, as if it was empty—and, to my second horror, it was empty. In fact, there was a poop-smeared hole in the bottom of that white Hefty bag: I had evidently burned a hole in it.

I peered into the toilet itself and to my third horror, my pile of poop and pee and crumpled paper towels were all sitting in the bottom of the toilet—just as my father had instructed against. We were not supposed to use the bathroom, and I had gone and shit in it. And there was no flushing that away.

Panicked, I whipped out another Hefty bag and made sure it was not the Hefty bag from hell like the other one. I still couldn’t figure that out—had my poop really burned a hole in the bag? Was my pee strangely hot and acidic? Or was it a fluke that the bag had no bottom, like it was a tube? Whatever the case, I carefully put the poopy Hefty bag into the new one, then picked out the paper towels and put them in there too. That left me with a steaming cesspool of shit and pee to somehow get out of the toilet. I was just glad that it was my shit and pee and not somebody else’s; otherwise I might have died.

I knew at that point that I would have to use common household items to remove my soggy pile from the toilet, and everything would have to be done quickly because my dad or the guys could walk in at any second. I tore off some paper towels and sopped up the pee that was sitting on top. Then I grabbed a serving spoon from the silverware drawer and dug in. Scoop by scoop I dug my shit out of there and flung it into the new Hefty bag. As I got closer to the bottom—not gagging, not vomiting, because again this was my shit and I could handle it—to my fourth and final horror, I realized that against everything that was right in the world, there was a little trap door at the bottom of the toilet that kept tilting down every time I dug into my shit. My shit and some pee had left the toilet and entered into the bowels of the camper, somewhere that I couldn’t get to. There was no way to get the remaining shit out now without making that trap door open again and again. No matter how much I wanted it to quit opening, I instinctively knew that it would continue to do so, and that part of the situation was therefore out of my control.

This entire episode of emptying the bathroom cabinet, using the toilet, and scooping it out with a spoon had all transpired in about ten minutes. It was sheer luck that no one had returned to the camper during this time. To finish the job, I used the whole roll of paper towels to get as much of the poop out of the toilet as I could, then I sprayed 409 in there and used my mother’s dishcloth to wipe it down one final time. I hoped the dishcloth—embroidered around the edges with a homey scene cross-stitched in the middle—was not an heirloom of some kind. I hoped my great-grandmother hadn’t made it.

I threw the spoon and the dishcloth and all the paper towels into the Hefty bag, tugged my boots on, and walked to the door of our camper. First things first: get rid of this bag of shit. I opened the door and peered out: nobody I knew was around, though there were a couple other hunters standing by a truck nearby. They wouldn’t know what I was doing if I ran to the woods and threw this bag into the brush; they would probably think I was just throwing out some trash. You could do that in 1986.

Without putting a coat or gloves on, I burst from the cozy warmth of the camper into the biting cold of outside. I ran to the edge of the clearing, and then—to make sure this evidence was never found—I scrambled into the brush and deep snow. I shoved the bag hard under some bushes, where it blended in perfectly, white bag on white snow. Mission accomplished.

I got back to the camper as fast as I could and repacked the bathroom closet. I had just sat down in the booth, wild-hearted and panting, feeling like a criminal, when my brother walked in. “Hey!” he said, cheerful as always. “Isn’t it great to have this camper?”

I just hoped my poop and pee that had gone down the hatch were freeze-drying at that very moment. That’s all I wanted.

***

I did not tell this story to anyone —not one person—until about five years later when I was sitting around my parents’ kitchen table with my mom and one of my sisters, having some drinks before dinner. We were telling family stories as usual, and I knew I had a good one. After I swore them to secrecy—swore them to secrecy—I told them about the time I crapped in the camper toilet and had to dig it out. This story got them rolling pretty hard, and I was proud not only of keeping my own secret for so long, but also for giving them a good laugh.

About five years after that, we were gathered around the kitchen table again, my dad too. This time we were telling deer hunting stories, and all the old ones had been trotted out. Feeling brave—and knowing that I would face no real consequences for disobeying my father so many years ago—I looked at him and said, “I have a story for you.” I started at the beginning (“Do you remember when we first got the camper?”) and worked my way all the way to the painful end (“And then I threw my bag of shit into the woods.”) My dad sat fairly quietly as I told this story, listening intently. His eyes brightened and he held back smiles, a grin turning up the corners of his mouth. He did not look away as I pushed through every sorry detail; my mom and my sister were in fits. Finally, when I finished, he said, “Kathryn, you are in deep shit.”

My dad then launched into his own version of that story, which began after he had driven me back to the dorms that night and returned to the camper to make supper and have some beers with the guys. They were sitting around playing three-hand cribbage when my brother said, “My beer smells like shit.”

“Yeah, mine too,” said my brother-in-law.

My dad examined his own beer and the others, then got up to take a closer look inside the bathroom closet. He too smelled shit, but since obviously no one had used the bathroom, he figured somebody had stepped in dog crap. He returned to the cribbage game and later made dinner, looking for paper towels the whole time.
My dad, brother and brother-in-law stayed at deer camp and continued hunting for a few more days, periodically taking more beer and extra clothes out of the bathroom closet. The shit smell lingered, bothering them all. At one point my brother found shit on his boot, and somebody else found shit on the floor (they had originally thought it was a smudge of dirt). Apparently all my whipping and scooping and snapping had resulted in a bit of shit-flinging too.

The existence of human waste in a camper that my father had meticulously cleaned before deer hunting season absolutely confounded these men. As I sat there ten years after the fact with my father nearly erupting with joy and delight, I was falling to pieces myself. “I’m so sorry!” I gasped. “It was the Hefty bag!”

And then my sister chimed in, “Katie, we already told him. We had to—it was too good of a story not to tell.”

The rush of excitement and glee that had come from confessing the poop story to my dad drained away, suddenly replaced by embarrassment: Here he had known for five years that I had shit all over his hunting camper, and he had never said anything to me. He had been waiting for me to decide when the time was right.

My cheeks flushed hot, but my dad continued to bubble over with long-held laughter. “What the hell," he squeaked, tears rolling down his face. "What the hell kind of a father-daughter outing is that?”

The kind you remember for a lifetime.

Thanks for all the memories, Dad. Happy Father’s Day! Can't wait to get on the road with you again.

Click here for one of my dad’s favorite songs.

3 comments:

  1. What a story! You have a great family, and a wonderful father. My husband and I have had some outings that weren't great at the time, but gave us lots to laugh about in later years.

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  2. That's a great story! It started out so warm with you trekking into the cold with your dad to hunt (which, it sounded like, wasn't your favorite past time other than being with your dad) and then it devolved into a good old defecation tale, excellent!! Your dad sounds like a great father, I'm sure you appreciate him. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I never laughed so hard in my life, Katie, as when you told me this story the FIRST time. It has now been trumped, when reading this 25 years later. Hysterically funny, and warm all over (and I mean ALL over).

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