I mean, we all multitask a little, and I have a hard time believing anyone who says they never scroll, tweet, post, shop, or game to pass the hours in the stand. But October 1 is special. Hunters have waited ten long months to rise up and watch the fruits of their off-season efforts ripen. Like a kindergartener on the evening before the first day of school, we laid out our outfits the night before, packed our bags, got snacks ready, and probably took a little afternoon nap. We are ready for this, and every nerve and spidey sense tingles from our camo snap backs to our scent-locked toes. The woods come alive for us, and other than the obligatory "I'm in a tree" snaps we send our buddies, we pay attention better on Opening Day than we do on many of the successive ones. Prove me wrong.
But this year was different. Instead of ranging each leaf and scrutinizing every clump of brush for movement, I was glued to my phone, frantically refreshing screens as I watched the timers wind down. You see, my grandma died this year - my rough and tumble tomboy grandma that spoke her mind freely and drank stubby Millers with the guys. My grandma that nicknamed me "shitbird" as a child and loved fishing almost as much as she loved her grandkids. She collected antique glassware and cheated at cards if you were dumb enough to let her, and she could make miracles happen in the kitchen with a little flour, water, and grease. From the outside, she lived a singularly unremarkable life as a housewife, then factory worker, and finally home health caretaker but to those of us lucky enough to be inside her shell, you knew she was an enigma. She gave away raccoon penis whistles for Christmas, drove a truck when other grams were in sedans, constantly fought with her mop of unruly steel grey hair and was most at home in jeans and a vacation sweatshirt from Gulf Shores Alabama. I was the eldest granddaughter to a woman with only sons, and she alternated between dotting on me and harassing me in a way that I cannot find words to describe. She was always my person when things got hard, and in my times of need she gingerly opened up about secret struggles we shared - divorce, pregnancy loss, and the feeling that we never quite fit with other women. Although our outsides looked nothing alike (I am short and stumpy and she was tall and willowy), she was me through and through. The spring quarantine was hard on her emotionally, and we talked often to pass the time, but in the end we lost her to a broken hip from a fall in her kitchen. We never got to say goodbye.
At her wishes, she wanted her estate sent to auction. To keep the peace among family members, we all had to bid and buy the heirlooms we wanted, using the auctioneer as an impartial mediator and mementos passing to the person with the deepest pockets. Luckily, my family is small and kind, and we discussed things we treasured in advance to prevent competition from within; unfortunately, we couldn't have that same conversation with the general population. And that is how I found myself in a tree on October 1 paying more attention to bids than bucks. I really only wanted two things - her kitchen table, around which we all learned to play cards and teased her about her inability to bake a cookie without burning it, and her kitchen dishes, a set of mismatched Jadeite that was the exact same shade of green as her eyes. Sitting 17' off the ground, watching lot after lot of my grandma's things become no longer my grandma's things was probably the worst I've ever felt while hunting - worse than all the blown shots and lost deer combined. It was if we buried her once again, but this time it was cold and sterile rather than the intimate graveside service where we all toasted her memory with coolers of cold, cheap beer.
I closed on my lot, the little wooden table, and my fiance swooped in and bought the dishes (oh yes - I have a fiance now. His name is Chris, and my grandma approved). With relief, I was finally able to put the phone away and enjoy the twilight hour as the sun set in front of Old Faithful, the original stand on our family farm. It felt like the right place to end one thing and start another, like bookends on a shelf carefully containing the volumes in-between. I miss her deeply and have secretly saved her last three voicemails just so I can hear her call me Corinney over and over. As I looked over the field and watched deer spill over fences to graze on the cool, damp alfalfa, I felt myself let go of the previous four months. I talk to her often in my mind and am blessed to know exactly how much we meant to each other - what more could a person want? And now, on to the next chapter of my life that will certainly being her joy from afar.