Zeke Dooley and the Inedible Deer

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Published on: Nov. 1, 1997

When the air smells like apples and walnuts and trees are beginning to shed the leaves they were last to grow, it's harvest time in Missouri and time for me to make my yearly pilgrimage to Blair's Creek, to visit my old friend Zeke Dooley.

This has become a custom for me and a way to keep my perspective in a world of computerization and constantly changing rules. For upwards of 90 some years, Zeke has managed to keep all of his rules the same, his theory being, "Use everything you can in this old world and if in doubt, fry it."

On the porch of the Dooley cabin, strings of leather britches beans, onions and garden peppers hang drying in the sun. A gray curl of hickory smoke wafts from under the warped shingles of a shed where hams are smoking, and Perletta, Zeke's wife, sits on a sunny corner of the porch, peeling apples for a pie.

Zeke himself is at work rubbing neatsfoot oil into the harness worn by "Old Maybe," his mule. With the garden laid by and the winter's wood hauled, the harness will hang on the porch until spring plowing, among the clutter of traps, wash tubs, lanterns and all the other 'porch plunder' the cabin wears.

Zeke and Perletta are always glad to see me, and to make sure they always will be, I bring some city treat that will tickle them, like a gourmet brand of coffee.

Zeke's appreciation is expressed his usual way; he drags a chair out of the shade with one foot and pushes it toward me.

MITCH: Hi folks. You picked a good day to sit on the porch.

PERLETTA: Well, while it lasts. This kind of day breeds weather I allus heerd. "Warm days in September means snow in November," I've heerd said.

ZEKE: If it stays as dry as Perletta, it'll do.

MITCH: I brought some tradin' goods down. Figured I'd swap for one of Perletta's venison recipes and maybe one of your funny stories.

PERLETTA: Why I'm no great hand to cook a deer, but Mamma had a receipt or two you could copy off. All the best cooks is named on tombstones, and venison don't taste like it used to anyway.

ZEKE: Don't know nothin funny off hand, but set anyway. Me and Perletta was jist now figgurin' out what-all we need to winter, and

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