Deer season has its own set of traditions in my family, and oddly enough, most don’t actually involve shooting deer. My cousins and I would play cards at the small money table using coins instead of actual bills and sit and talk for hours about all of the important things in life in our younger days. Sometimes we sat and listened to the card game at the poker table as it reached its crescendo, smiling at the wonder of our loud, boisterous extended family with Grandpa Ike at the helm. Time has a way of changing traditions. The aging and loss of a family member and the addition of the next generation into deer camp has a way of strengthening those family threads that can get frayed.   
This year, we introduced what I hope will become new traditions. The passing of Grandpa Ike this past summer left a more noticeable void the week of Thanksgiving. Ordinarily, I would be calling to invite him over for turkey dinner, and the day after my aunt and her granddaughters would arrive at his house for lefse making and gingerbread house building. Instead, Aunt Sherry, Jayden and Kendall arrived at the farm Friday just in time to help me clean up yet another dish disaster and prepare my potatoes for Saturday’s lefse making extravaganza. It was like the cleaning fairy that I had been wishing for arrived. Aunt Sherry started in on the dirty dish mountain and shooed me off to put Cora down for a nap. The girls helped boil and rice the potatoes with expertise, and when all 20 pounds were cooling on the porch, we headed off to the other house.
I had finished Henry’s quilt that morning, and the plan was for Sherry and I to tie it together that evening. It was as close to a quilting bee as I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. Jayden and Kendall threaded the needles to keep us working along, and Henry even snuck in a few stitches of his own. Peter started my chores and texted with a calving dilemma, so we worked until our embroidery floss ran out. I traded in sewing needles for breeding sleeves as we sped off to the barn. The girls hadn’t ever been in the barn with me, so this was an adventure. The giggles, squeals and overall willingness to pitch in (even reaching an arm in a cow calving) were pure delight for Peter and me. We love to see the newness of such an experience through someone else’s eyes. Two new calves fed and cozy an hour later, and we headed to the cabin for supper with the rest of the crew.
Saturday morning started early with Sherry and I finishing tying the quilt before I milked cows. Chores ran late, and the girls (and Dane, my lefse rolling professional) fired up the lefse griddles and had the first batch done by the time I walked through the door. Fresh off the griddle lefse, soft butter and homemade jam all rolled up in a perfect package. There is something so heartwarming in knowing you are making something your ancestors made decades ago, while using your great-grandma’s lefse rolling pin.
The hunters and their younger offspring make it a point to do some things to help around the farm on the second Saturday of camp. This year, one crew was busy splitting, throwing and stacking wood in the basement of the farmhouse while the carpenter cousins worked on a small building. All crowded in the farmhouse to devour Sherry’s chicken dumpling soup, a taco bar and the much-anticipated lefse. After a quick prayer of thanks, the loud hum of the house turned into delightful sounds of slurping soup and enjoying a meal together.
As the hunters went back to the woods, the boys got creative in their candy house making. They aren’t too fancy; a small milk carton covered in graham crackers for a house, marshmallow and pretzel fences, Oreo four-wheelers, pretzel log piles, animal cookies to represent a deer down in the woods, sprinkles for the blood trail. The first cousins involved in this are starting to become too cool to frost graham crackers with the rest of us but can be convinced to help a little one. This has become a coveted tradition for the young ones as they talk about getting to come along to the second week of deer camp with the big guys.
I had many helpers in the barn that evening as all the kids seemed to want a part of the action. Chores were done while four-wheelers kept delivering cousins down to the cabin to eat supper and hang out. Card games were played. Finley was the big winner of the night and will still grin from ear to ear if you mention it.
Frankly, I am grinning about the weekend as well. It was so good for my soul. I learned quilting tricks and what I need to do with my lefse to make it as silky smooth and delicate as Aunt Sherry’s. But, more so, the time with family made many memories for all of us. We may tweak our traditions a tad over the years, but at the core, it is still a family spending time together. As my cousins and I stood around observing the generation before us, sitting comfortably on the couch talking, and the generation we created, playing games and riding four-wheelers into the night with their cousins, the happiness was evident all around.
“This. This right here is what deer camp is all about,” we concluded.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira (14), Dane (12), Henry (7) and Cora (4), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.