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Euphemisms for the Hunt

—Jessie Leitzel

Euphemisms for the Hunt

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My Dad’s father owned a 1993 Chevy Silverado, with stone-proof tires and a baby blue that

stretched around its sides like a soft bruise. It wasn’t the best truck, but it was the kind that

worked well on hills; could handle stones in a way that made passengers feel every bump and

jilt, every shifted gear.

          It was also the car that took them hunting. My Dad and I were driving along those old

hunting trails, the ones up past the edges of Pottsville that sharp-edged into Lewiston Valley.

During a short turn down one of the roads, one of them passed us; though it was maybe a year or

two newer, it was the same model, the same blood. “Oh, man,” my Dad said. “That’s Buzz’s

car.” I had never been to these hunting grounds before—we had gone, really, because I had

never seen them—but all around us, dark pines, the kind that stretch out into the road as if

saying: hey.

          When Buzz died, he gave the Chevy to my Dad, who, after a few good years, traded it in

for another truck, a newer one, one that was safe but not as sturdy. I’ve thought back in my mind,

as far back as I can go, trying to see if I remember this blue phantom car—did he still own it

when I was born? Did he park it in our garage? Does some version of me remember it, though I

don’t now?—and haven’t found anything. Memory’s like that sometimes. But though I didn’t

have an image of it, my Dad did, somewhere in his mind. That’s Buzz’s car. Like he could be

known by the things he owned.


***


My great-grandfather, William, was a farmer. He was the one who would, eventually, take the

family lineage and transplant it to Pottsville, where there was coal and electric heat and more

promising ways of making money. But even after he settled in what would become my

hometown, he would take my Nana back to the farm when she was a little girl. From everything

she’s told me, it was a place to be present in while there, but the type of place you leave

afterward.

          “Do you think we’d be able to visit? While we’re up here?” I ask. We’re in my Dad’s

truck, the new one, a Ram, built with four seats but somehow able to fit the four of us plus our

dogs and luggage.

          “Is that what you want to do today?” My mom asks from the front. She’s reading

something on her phone about mine tour hours, another thing we will not find time for. “I think

it’s pretty far from Pottsville. If that was all we got to see this trip, would that be okay?”

          “How far is it, actually?” my Dad asks. He’s usually the practical one—he and my mom

balance each other in this way, always the heart and the head—but for some reason, up here, they

switch roles, and my Dad is the one who wants to see everything, visit everything, even if it’s

near impossible to do so. He has some stories in him that need to be told.

          “I don’t know,” my mom says. “Far enough.” The truck moves a bit underneath us, and I

adjust. All outside the window, there are ranges and ranges of crops, dipping in and out of the

earth in a more diluted, softer version of Pottsville’s mountain range. “I didn’t visit the farm a lot

when I was little.”

          “Do you know the name of it?” I ask her. I pull out my own phone, open Google Maps.

          “I think it was either Pillow or Fearnot. One or the other. Maybe Pillow was in Fearnot? I

would call Nana and ask.”

          I’ve found, driving through the state over the years, that Pennsylvania has the best names.

Every once in a while, we’ll pass a bridge called Shanksville Connect or an intersection named

Cox Cross, and it just doesn’t get better than that. These names, personalities themselves, are

always sharp. They’re hard in the mouth. Shanksville sounds violent. Cox is like chopping down

something tall and wooden. But Pillow—what a soft name for a place people wanted to leave.

It’s too gentle. It leaves the mouth and immediately returns. I don’t tell my parents how badly I

want to see this farm—we end up driving to Pottsville and Sharp Mountain, which is where my

Dad will first point out that Silverado—but something in me hurts anyway.


***


          I do know that Buzz used to take that old Silverado out deer spotting. It was down in the

valley, a drive through Tumbling Run until he broke out of the trees. Right where the forest

ended, there was a clearing, still is a clearing, at the end of which trees tilt up until they stop

being trees at all but a sea of green, covering the ground level all the way to the top of the

mountain. I can only imagine what it’s like in the red and orange of November, when the real

hunting starts.

          Buzz would set up his car in the middle of this field and sit on its roof, a flashlight

propped next to him, and maybe a Yuengling. He’d drape his legs over the side, and would keep

the windows rolled down so he could swing them, back and forth, in and out of the car. He’d

wait there until night came, and when it did, he’d wait for the deer. From what I know, deer are a

lot more skittish up north. They’re skinny, and hungry, and they take off with a snap of energy

that tells you they’ve been hunted before. When Buzz finally spotted them, eating branches at the edge of that clearing, he’d turn on the flashlight and hit one with its beam. That’s all. No

shooting. Just a flash. Sometimes they’d run. Other times they’d stay put, staring at the man that

didn’t have a gun and was instead sitting on his car, ignition off, eyes silent and watching.

          My Dad, when he re-tells this story, says it in a way that makes deer spotting count as

hunting. I don’t ask him why, but I can only assume it’s because sometimes he went with him,

and they’d sit there together, and the only thing they really did together was hunt, so it made it

more legitimate. I like this softer version of hunting, though. It sits better with me. When we

finally drove past that clearing, decades later, I could see it in him, that memory. How well it

took up the space in his limbs.


***


What I could find about Fearnot says it was founded because of its postal office. That is, there

was a postal office in the middle of nowhere that had enough of an influence that the government

decided it was reason enough to give the community a name. I’m not sure if the farmers living

there at the turn of the century wanted to be put on a map, but they were; when the post office

shut down in 1920, I wonder if they felt something go out with it, like they had been given a

smell from their childhood and suddenly it was gone, nameless, drifting.

          According to tradition, the name Fearnot comes from the people living there: they fought

like hell. They fought each other, often getting into fist fights, pummeling matches, sometimes

over nothing, sometimes over emotion I can’t even imagine. They called their little

unincorporated community Fearnot because they feared nothing, feared no violence known to

them.

          This was a town of farmers, keep in mind. They had dirt stains on their knees. Their

children ran around in corn-yellow hazes, dodging stalks and equipment, their hair loose and

wild. They ate halupki and wantmore on the weekdays. They were poor. They had stars hanging

on their barns and the sides of their houses, big brass things that looked like they were rusting

but never broke away from themselves, no matter the storm, a tell-tale sign of the Pennsylvania-

Dutch. These are people who knew how to braid hair in a way that would keep calm throughout

the day, who knew the harsh syllables of Dutch and how they wove into English. They felt the

words lapping between them like waves. These are people too far inland to have seen the ocean,

but they would have seen the Susquehanna, which rolled through the land about twenty minutes

west of them. They would have played in the river where the current evened out. There was

peace amid those brown rapids, soft rock found like hidden gems underneath their feet.

          I’ve never seen Fearnot, but we would have to pass through it to reach Pillow. I can taste

what driving through it would be like, that loose brown dust-dirt coming up under our tires. It’s

important because when my great-grandfather left his farm, left his family and their traditions in

the field to make new ones mining under the earth, he would have had to pass through this town.

There are many ways to get to the farm now, but not back then. There was only one road, and it

passed through Fearnot, and I can imagine my great-grandfather, the dirt soft and familiar

underneath his feet, walking away from all this. I wonder if it would feel the same to me,

someday, when I walk in the opposite direction, back home.


***


There’s an Atlantic article I’ve been chasing down for a few months now. I found it because I

was online looking at blogs about white-tailed doe, and there was a quote: “It's that time of the

year again: In late autumn, a bunch of stories on how hunting connects us to meat always

appear—but they're all wrong.”

          The article is called “Hunting for Euphemisms: How We Trick Ourselves to Excuse

Killing,” and I was obsessed with trying to access it. The Atlantic is one of those subscription-

only sites, and for a while, I asked everyone in my creative writing class: “Hey, do you by

chance have a subscription to The Atlantic? Do you know somebody who does?” I found no one.

          But what I did find, after a while, was a word: ‘harvest.’ Hunters call deer season many

things, but ‘the harvest’ is one of them. And though I don’t know a lot, what I do know is this:

game season starts in the tail end of November, that soft ease into the ice of winter. And corn, in

Pennsylvania, is harvested exactly that month.

          November, because of these things, has always been the month of magic for me. It is the

month when my Dad and his Dad would go hunting, and the month when my great-grandfather

farmed his land, and if we were lucky, it was the month when snow first showed its face. I was

born in a snowstorm, the first large one of the season. It carried into December, when I arrived,

but it started on the thirtieth, the month prior. Though it was a storm, I’m told that in the most

important moments, it fell so fast that it was one large coat of white, descending to the earth.

          I don’t think it’s a coincidence that ‘the harvest’ also means ‘the hunt.’ I don’t think it’s

surprising that smart, tactful people from my hometown figured out this connection before I did.

Because whenever I think of Pillow or Buzz—and I do, constantly—it’s always a peaceful

thought. Though I know that on some level both of those places hold some sort of violence, I also know that that’s not all there is to it. I have to tell myself that a lot. I have to remind myself

that sometimes, it’s okay to soften a history down to really get at what it was.


***


I have this dream, sometimes, about finding Buzz’s car. About what it would feel like to meet the

guy who owns it, pot-bellied with a lit cigar in his mouth, and that adrenaline when I put the wad

of cash in his hand and take the keys from the other. In the image, I am in my twenties, my hair

long and loose, and the car has mud marks all along its door but I don’t care because it’s mine.

The man’s house is rural enough that when I put it into gear, the rest of the drive home is a job of

switching between second and third, going maybe thirty five along the easiest turns, but the rest

glorifying slowly. And I think about how I wouldn’t drive directly to Pottsville, or to my

apartment, or maybe to college, if I were in college, but how I would take the car and drive along

the hunting grounds instead, especially the one with the wide open field, where Buzz spent his

nights. I would drink Yuengling’s Chesterfield because it’s my Dad’s favorite. I would listen to

tapes and the wind, simply because it felt that good to be living that slowly.

          In order for any of this to have happened, I would’ve needed to still be living in

Pottsville. We would have needed to have never left in the first place, and maybe in this world,

the town would have been a brighter place, with more opportunities and more life, and maybe I

would’ve been someone who hunted too, would’ve been able to drive stick-shift on mountains

and hold my own at parties and understand slang like pea shooter and slick head. It means that

my Mom and Dad would still live on Mahantongo, with my Nana and Popi down the road and

Meme over in St. Clair and maybe Grandmom Tat, over ninety-five at that point, still alive. It’s the kind of dream you know won’t happen, shouldn’t have happened, because the person driving

that car wouldn’t be the same person wishing for that car now.

          But still, there is something in me searching for things to inherit, for traditions to call

mine. I was taught to hunt, then, in a way; you can hunt for a heritage. You can hunt for a

feeling.

About

JESSIE LEITZEL was born in the mountains of Pennsylvania and raised in Charleston, SC. They are a YoungArts award winner with distinction, a Presidential Scholar in the Arts nominee, and a gold medalist of the Scholastic Writing Awards. Their work has appeared in multiple publications, including Rattle, The Interlochen Review, Beyond Queer Words, Lucky Jefferson and Jasper Magazine. Pieces from their debut collection, The Small Hours, have been recognized by YoungArts, The Poetry Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The co-founding editor of Trace Fossils Review, Leitzel will study biomedical engineering at Harvard College in the fall.

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