Stephenson Tales


I remember, during the depression every once in a while Dad would bring home a squirrel or a rabbit that he had picked up. He had a knack of following cars that hit things - not purposely, mind you, but just as it happened. He was never a person to let an opportunity slide by with no action! Mom would fry a rabbit in the same way she did Southern fried chicken. Squirrel was baked in a very slow oven - stuffed with onion, green pepper, celery and spices. (I have written in another "tale" about eating raccoon in the story "Swimming in the Ocean.")

Of course I have done the same thing and as I write this on November 13, 2008, there is a squirrel all denuded and cleaned out ready for baking waiting patiently in our freezer.

We came to Interlochen from Ann Arbor for Thanksgiving one year before Toni and Robbie were born. Of course I had already drained the water pipes and put antifreeze in the drains as a precaution against an early hard freeze. It was not an onerous chore to get the water system going for the time we were to be there and then to drain it all again two days later.

As we drove through the countryside just beyond the intersection south of Cadillac the car in front of us startled a pheasant from the right side of the road ahead, and the bird took off right in front of the car to be smashed by the top corner of the windshield. The driver did not even slow down as the bird sailed high over his car and landed on the hood of my car. I pulled over at once. The bird was quite dead. I put it in the car (as with the raccoon many years later) under my feet. I was jubilant. Here was our Thanksgiving main course.

View from the bankWhen we got to Harper House and unpacked and restarted the water system, I went out and sat on the ground at the top of the bank overlooking Duck Lake and plucked it clean, putting the most attractive feathers in a large paper bag. I pulled out all the pinfeathers and took it inside and cleaned it. I had never had pheasant before so I looked it up in our Joy of Cooking to see what I should do.

Early the next morning Lucy Chase and I went to work preparing for the feast. We separated the liver, gizzard, heart, and neck and put them in a large pan to make giblet gravy. Then we made bread stuffing with sausage and chestnuts, as the cookbook advised, and it was in the oven by breakfast time.

Lucy Chase, Lucky and I feasted on the unfamiliar taste. John mildly enjoyed it, but Evie would have none of it, and Robin sucked on the bones, not being as squeamish as her next elder sibling - or she was just not old enough to know any better!

Surely it was one of the most delicious Thanksgiving birds we ever had.

Composed 13 November 2008; Transcribed by Lucky

Lucky's Note: I vividly remember our pheasant dinner. Of all the road kill Dad ever prepared, this was the most delectable: tender, moist, flavorful, and not at all gamey. The road kill turtle he prepared was the next best. Squirrel and rabbit were OK, though as I got older I refused to eat them. However possum and raccoon were entirely unappealing!

Robin's Note: One year when Mom, Dad, Toni, and Robert came to visit us in St. Petersburg, Dad came home very excited over finding a freshly killed opossum. I watched in fascination as he cleaned it and did all of the necessary prep work, rushing to complete it before Toni and Robert came home. He cooked it for dinner and as we all sat down to eat, Rob and Toni looked at each other and began the questioning:

"What is this?"

"It is an old southern dish."

"Where did it come from?"

"It is common here in the south."

"Where did you get this one?"

Finally the truth was revealed and my two younger siblings, thoroughly disgusted, refused to eat it. Some years later when Michael and I went north for an October visit, Dad was very excited that he had a fresh, young opossum waiting for us to enjoy together. He said he had learned some additional tricks in cooking them since the one in St. Petersburg, and the fact that this was a younger beast would probably help. Much to the horror of most of my siblings, we ate it and I was delighted to find that it was sweet, and tender, and succulent, and truly one of the most delicious meats I have ever enjoyed - and Michael felt the same. I treasure the memory of that meal, it was a very special time of sharing something unique with Mom and Dad.

©: Jim Bob Stephenson 2008

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