As Da Yoopers belch along in their classic deer hunting song, “The second week of deer camp is my favorite time of year.”
I remember memorizing the words of this song in junior high, because I wanted to impress all the guys who knew it. Now, I impress, or embarrass, my children with my sing-a-long skills. Either way, it amuses me.
The second week of the Wisconsin gun deer season is my favorite time of year. It has Thanksgiving, which is less stressful than Christmas, and the much-anticipated family time at deer camp.
When Grandpa Ike and the uncles, my dad included, decided to build a hunting cabin on our land in 1998, it was done so with the hopes of continuing the tradition of deer hunting as a family for years to come and having a place where all could drink, play cards and shoot the bull.
Twenty-four years later, we are as strong in numbers and enthusiasm as we were during the first years when my cousins filled the 15 bunk beds. Back then, alongside snoring uncles and Grandpa Ike, they attempted to sleep in a cabin that doubled as a sauna after Grandpa “Woody” stoked the fire a bit too much.
Years ago, the uncles would pull in with their trucks filled with cousins, pulling trailers with four-wheelers on them. They would unload tubs of blaze orange gear, the appropriate weapons, and enough food and beverages to feed an army for the weekend.
Now, it’s the cousins, all of us parents now ourselves, arriving in trucks packed with giddy children, pulling trailers strapped down with four-wheelers behind. Everyone rolled into camp by midday on Black Friday. My children were bouncing off the walls with excitement at having quality cousin time. The boys took to the cabin or the woods that afternoon, and seven of us girls got to work on making lasagna and bars for our Saturday lunch and boiling and ricing potatoes for lefse.
Then, it was off to the barn for nightly chores with my troop of eager learners and helpers.
Thank goodness I had Gardenia in my hospital pen. She stood so calmly that everyone from age 5 to 15 could take a squirt out of her and proudly claim to have milked a cow.
Pens needed cleaning; calves needed feeding. Many hands make light work. Many mouths make lots of squealing and a fair amount of organized chaos. The boys arrived just in time to pitch in with feeding the overflowing pen of bull calves.
When I made it to the barn Saturday morning, Clarice had been in the pen for four hours with no action. Last year, Jadyn had the privilege of reaching in a cow to feel a calf. This year, Kendall decided she was ready for the challenge.
With an audience, Kendall and I investigated why Clarice wasn’t progressing. Priceless facial expressions, a few “Ewws,” a giggle or two, and we had it. Three legs and one head. One calf was coming forward out between her twin’s back legs. The entire time I was working on delivering the calves I was praying they would be alive after all this time.
I breathed the biggest sigh of relief. The kids were all excited to watch the entrance of Peanut and Butter into the world. No doubt that tale is one that has already been repeated countless times to their classmates at school.
Chores were done. We started on our lefse making for the day. Jadyn, Kendall and I worked on remembering our rhythm and teaching our newest recruits – Jessa, Whitlynn, Shaelynn, and Cole – how to roll thin, carry carefully and flip gently. Perhaps our most important teaching was how to eat it the proper Mlsna way: a bit of butter smothered in homemade jam rolled up tight. The lesson in smothering in jam was well executed. I am down four big jars of jam after eating all the lefse made last week.
As we worked, Shaelynn asked me, “Why do we make this?” Jadyn and Kendall answered in unison, “Tradition.”
We do this because making this food brings a bit of Grandpa and Grandma Ike back to us during the holidays, and everyone loves fresh lefse. I explained the Norwegian connection to the girls, and we shared memories of making lefse with Grandpa and Grandma with those who aren’t as lucky as we are to have those mental pictures to cling to. Aunt Sherry and Uncle Steve couldn’t make it down this year, and I became aware of being the bridge between the generations.
After a busy morning of calf pulling, lefse making and lasagna eating, we set up for our annual candy house building. I started this tradition when the oldest of this generation of cousins was 6 or so. He is now 20. It was something for the kids to look forward to doing while the men were in the woods searching for the elusive 30-point buck. Creativity runs high as kids recreate edible versions of our hunting cabin, a snow-covered roof or a deer stand.
Saturday night in deer camp equals shaking dice. We crowd around the table and put our $3 down. The volume gets louder as the money pile in the center gets higher. After two rounds, it was decided every kid under the age of 18 would split the pot. There were 11 winners grinning from ear to ear. We tacked a dollar to the wall declaring the winners of the game and denoting the year; a new tradition was born in doing so.
In the end, though, we are all the winners of the week. The treasures of the memories and laughter we shared together makes us all rich. As the clouds of dust filled the farmyard on Sunday afternoon, everyone left with full bellies, minds swimming with stories and happy, thankful hearts.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and farm 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira, Dane, Henry and Cora, 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.