Copemish Deer Lovers Club
Snow piled along both shoulders of Cadillac Highway and turned the road into a valley again. Locals in the UP are used to it. For visitors, FIP tourists as they are called, the UP means Upper Peninsula. (FIP colloquialism to disparage people from Illinois) The gray sky that cooked clouds like dumplings in hot gravy was another usual that day at the Bear Claw Cafe in Copemish, Michigan.
The cute server sporting long braided Swiss Miss pigtails always smiles. Especially on mornings when the holidays edge closer on cold winter calendar days. Her red dress, candy striped socks, and apron with a large Santa face with black dots for eyes and a large red nose just about lower abdomen made all the old guys smile and twinkle more so than most mornings.
She greets the regulars at the table they take over in the window everyday, “Hey Yuh guys.”
The skinny one in the John Deere cap said, “Looks like Santa’s nose is just about to make you a happy woman.”
“Liam, I’m gonna’ tell Olivia about you. Be the last time your nose ever gets anything.”
The other four men laugh and elbow Liam the way old harmless men tease and spend the breakfast hour each morning. They all order coffee and Liam can’t stop himself, “Just stir your finger in it to sweeten it up for me, Darling.”
She shakes her head and turns, “Figure out what you want, and I’ll be back for the order.”
These guys have been meeting here long enough to watch each other grow old and every once in a while a seat becomes vacant when time runs out. In addition to Liam, there’s the red headed one with a full red beard, and the old guy with a bald head. It’s been some time since a vacancy at the table opened up, so it seems concerning that one chair is empty, “Wonder where Bill is,” the older Bald head said.
“Don’t worry about Bill. He’ll stumble in here before you know it bragging about where he spent the night.”
“If that man lived in life what goes on in his head, it would sure be something.”
“Well,” Bald head continued. “His truck ain’t across the street at the hardware store. He never opens up late.”
The sever makes it back balancing cups and a coffee pot on her tray, “You want to wait for Bill or get started?”
Liam answers, “Let me have the biscuits and gravy.”
As she scribbles on her pad she asked, “How come you never order from the expensive column on that menu?”
“Do I look like a crème brulee French toast kind? That ain’t no real man food.”
One of the men said, “Yeah Liam, you look like you could go for that egg florentine.”
They sure liked teasing, but truth be told, none of them graduated much past scrambled eggs and toast.
She said, “I’ll be glad when the season comes back to make some real money.”
“Hell with that,” said another. Then he added, “You see that bumper sticker from over in Traverse?”
“Guess they figured like deer hunting season. Bumper sticker said, ‘If it’s tourist season, why can’t we shoot ‘em.”
They all laughed and said condolences for how tough the locals have it in the bigger cities on that side of the Mitt. About as soon said, some young guy from one of those hybrid cars pulled up, “Well look at that.”
“He must be lost.”
The kid huddled up in a Michael Kors nylon down jacket that made him look like the Michelin Tire mascot in a black coat came in and took the table next in hearing distance to the men. Before looking at the menus, his tablet was out. He was pounding away some useless drivel like he was the only person in the place. The Santa apron server greeted, and he just ordered coffee without looking away from his screen. The men at the table paid little notice to the kid’s long girly curls as the conversation turned, “You see that story on TV about being energy independent?”
“You really believe anything don’t you?”
“No, it’s a fact,” the guy snapped back. “We sell more oil and gas than we take in now. Who would have ever thought that?”
Bald guy said and was interrupted, “Shoot. I remember back in the seventies...”
“Damn you are old.”
He continued, “As I said, in the seventies we had to wait over an hour in line due to gas rationing thanks to that dumb ass peanut farmer in the White House.”
“Yeah, that is true,” said Red beard. “I remember people saying if we could just get free from OPEC, we could tell the Middle East to kiss our ass.”
“Never thought the day would come.”
“Yet, here we are.”
The kid, for some reason overheard the conversation and showed some discomfort at the idea of gas. After all, he had arrived in a new hybrid. That didn’t stop the men from jabbering on about this and that of world circumstance; as if they could do anything about it. About that time, a large Range Rover pulled into the front parking space by the door and in plain sight of the men. “Damn, look at that.”
The front grill was pushed in and the bumper folded up under the front end. Bill got out of the truck wearing only his lumber jack plaid flannel and overalls.
“About time you show up. What story you gonna’ brag about today?”
“So, that’s what happened to your truck. How many this year?”
“That’s number four.”
The kid next table perks up at hearing that.
“You have any insurance left?”
“Probably have to switch again. That last time really got to me.”
“Remember during the last rut. Big old buck run out on me soon as I pulled out of a two tracker on to pavement. So, to miss him, I swerved and ran across the ditch and took down old man Williams’ fence. You know what the insurance woman told me?”
Bill pushed his cap back to scratch his forehead and continued, “You should have hit the deer.”
The statement sounding unusual caught the attention of the kid on the tablet. He actually looked up from the screen to eavesdrop on the men, as Bill continued, “They informed me that I was covered in the event of an animal involved accident, but if I hit a fence, or a tree, there are exclusions that require a different coverage.”
“That’s damn crazy,” Bald head jumped in.
Red beard agreed. “You can’t trust them big companies. Screw you every which way they can.”
Liam felt the need to steal some of the center stage and share a story, “Well, we all have had our share of hitting those damn deers. It’s a wonder we ain’t been laid up in the hospital or dead with so many wrecks.”
“That’s right,” from Red beard.
“Amen to that,” from Bald head.
Bill nodded up and down as Liam continued, “Remember that time back a few years?”
Of course the group had heard the story, but polite protocol at such gatherings kept everyone quiet to let Liam narrate, “I was coming out of that same two tracker...”
“That one they named Lake Road?”
“Stoplight should be put up there,” added Red beard.
Liam explained, “Hell ain’t nothing there except old man Williams’ place. He’s never done half a job to keep up that fence. Anyway, it was late afternoon, sun just about set; good time for deer to be moving about, so I was paying attention. Wouldn’t you know it, soon as I made my left and hit the gas there stood a beautiful doe and her two fawn kids.”
“Hate it when a family gets up in your face like that,” Bald head said.
“That is a shame,” added Red beard.
“Well,” Liam gets to the point, “When I saw them, I swerved out of the way and gunned it around them just barely missing the doe. That’s when my truck fished tailed back and forth leaving rubber, but it straightened out. I looked back over my shoulder and that doe high tailed it with the two kids right at her hind quarters.”
“You saved the day,” said Bill.
“Woo hoo! I was smiling with pride at that,” said Liam. “Then I turned back to the road and wouldn’t you know it. One of old man Williams’ cows was standing there straddled across the double yellows shooting her big brown eyes at me.”
“Did you swerve?”
“You kidding, you ever see a ton of beef about eight feet long across a road as narrow as Cadillac? Ain’t no swerving around that.”
“You hit her?”
“Boom!” animated Liam, “Stopped me like a brick wall. All she did was fall over. Damn truck didn’t move her an inch but was completely totaled. ”
“You just got that truck, right?”
“Last year. Loved that Ford one fifty. Real pretty metallic blue that matched my baby blues.”
Bald head chuckled, “You think you have pretty eyes?”
Liam just gave him the eye and told more, “That big three point five six cylinder powerhouse had been snapped clean off the frame and damn near pushed all the way into the cab.”
“Your insurance pay?”
“I did not hit a tree.”
The sever now sporting a new set of velvet antlers with bells hanging and jingling walks up to the out of place millennial, “Can I get you something besides coffee?”
“What’s the password for your Wi-Fi?”
She wrote it on a sheet from her order pad, “So, coffee is it, huh?”
The bells jingled making a sound more of anger than happy holidays as she stomped off. The guy just punched keys as he leaned over to listen to the men.
Liam had another story to share, “My wife took out one last week and it could have been a lot worse.”
“How’s that?” Red beard scratched his whiskers and listened. Bill leaned in. Bald head sat up. Liam continued, “She was taking the kid to school, and the little feller saw she had not buckled up. Now, he likes to scold his mama anytime the opportunity presents itself, so he sternly asked her if she had not heard the dangers of not strapping in.”
“That is a danger,” Red opined. “Better be safe than sorry,” added Bald head.
“So,” the guy started again, “She slowed down and fumbled around for the belt.
Red sounded shocked, “She did not pull over and stop?”
The bald scalp of Bald head just shook back and forth.
“No, she did not. Soon as she snapped in and turned back to the road, there he was, a big ten pointer starring right at her.”
“Oh my,” from Bill, “I can relate.”
“Then, boom she took him out and he totaled the new car.”
“Just her feelings when Junior said how he told her so.”
About as soon as the statement was made, the curly haired kid jumped in, “Excuse me, but that sounds awful.”
The four seniors starred down the intruder, “What’s it to you?”
“You old farts just laugh about killing an innocent animal.”
Liam leaned back and up in his seat, “Well junior, a man’s got to eat.”
Red beard added, “Yeah, son, why don’t you just hop back in your electric weenie car and run over to PETA to alert them.”
Bald man says, “Damn right junior.”
Bill added, “Won’t my fault. Damn deer did it.”
The young guy then began a quick lecture, “In one year, death totals of deer just here in Michigan nearly eclipsed the number of those lost in the entire Vietnam War.”
All four men laughed, and Bill said, “Yeah, like you know something about fighting a war in your safe zone.”
Red beard adds, “Did your mommy tell you that?”
Bald head stood to speak, “You know nothing about war much less about the number of deer running havoc all over the place.”
There was a pause. The kid couldn’t help himself, “Furthermore, I know this because I just Googled it. Close to fifty thousand deer died here in your neck of the woods in one year, and if you project that number out over the entire United States, the number climbed to over a million innocent deer lives were lost!”
All were quiet.
Bill said, “Ain’t that something?”
Red beard agreed, the bald man folded his arms and starred at the kid, and Liam said, “Sounds to me like a whole lot of people won’t go hungry.”
There was quiet.
Then, the faint jingle of bells from the cap of the server grew closer.
She handed each one their checks and said, “Yuh guys drive safe now.”