Every Christmas morning for all of my childhood, my father served a special breakfast that included venison prepared like chicken fried steak with country gravy. The thumping sound was our father pounding away at the venison tenderloin slices with a meat tenderizer tool. The pounding and preparing went on for what seemed like hours while my brothers and I dressed and waited for breakfast. Our father took pride in preparing the main course while our stepmother prepared every other breakfast food imaginable. It was a feast for our family of eight. The gift giving of Christmas was always after breakfast and though we were excited about gifts, the breakfast was something we thought was very special and became a Christmas family tradition.
I grew up in Northern Mississippi where the landscape is forest-like. Deer hunting in Mississippi is regarded as almost a rite of passage for young boys and is one of the major hunting sports for men. My brothers and father spent a considerable amount of time together in the fall and winter months tracking “Gar-Buck.” A gargantuan buck deer allegedly lived in the shelter of the trees and my brothers were determined to find him. Everyone within earshot of my brothers knew of this “Gar-Buck” and had been humored for years with jokes and stories of sightings. I’m sure they never found the creature, which was probably less real than the Loch Ness Monster, but they did bring home plenty of venison for everyone to share. The sport of hunting has been the most important family activity that my father and brothers have done together. They created strong bonds during the ritual of hunting and the resulting venison meals became symbolic and special for the entire family.
Our father continued to cook his traditional venison Christmas breakfasts for years as long as he could plan around our schedules. Eventually though, my brothers got married and had families who looked forward to their own developing Christmas traditions. I moved to Dallas where venison is only thought of as an extravagant entrée on a menu. I think our father probably misses those mornings in the kitchen cooking for his family, but he must also enjoy the more leisurely pace of the holidays now.
This Christmas is an anniversary for my family. It marks 10 years since my oldest brother was buried after suffering a sudden massive heart attack. It’s poetic that his death occurred at the hunting site he shared with his closest friends and while spending time with his best friend: his younger brother. The symbolism of his life and death was integrated into the flowers that adorned the top of the casket. Reaching above several dozen red roses were the points of the preserved antlers from the first deer hunts of my father and bothers. The sight and significance of the antlers representing my oldest brother’s love of life and nature was breathtaking.
These past 10 Christmases have seen my family still too stunned about my brother’s passing to organize an event of remembrance. However, this year at Christmastime our family should prepare a venison breakfast to remember and honor my brother’s life as well as honor family and tradition.
In loving memory of Mark Allen Boyd (July 28, 1962- Dec. 21, 2002).