I grew up in a middle class house in the burbs of the north eastern corner of the Midwest in the 80’s. It was pretty normal really. Well, I thought it was. I mean everyone’s dad hunted, did his own taxidermy and lined the walls of your den and living room with said stuffed animals, right? To make things even more interesting, he had a tendency to “find” animals that needed help and saving and regularly brought them home from his hunting trips along with the carcasses of the slain. Oh, and he was also on the sheriff’s call list for when a buck (a male deer for you non-countiefied readers) was hit by a car but not decimated and they wanted someone to come and take the decent body… To butcher, wall mount etc..
More than a few times I came home and opened the barn (think giant garage with room for his Kubota tractor and riding lawn mower and an upstairs) to find a giant lifeless deer strung up skinned and gutted ready for butchering. Totes normal.
My earliest memory was in our basement. In a nook tucked back under the stairs where he had rigged up a wood stove to our laundry shoot to help heat our little post war bungalow was his work bench. It was close proximity to the wash tub that our washer drained into. This was important for his taxidermy work. I didn’t remember the exact process and formulas for the chemicals but one of the first steps after the ducks were gutted and skinned the pelts had to be soaked clean and tanned. I used to stand next to my dad on an overturned bucket watching him at the sink. Sometimes if I wasn’t pestering him too much he’d give me the eyeballs to play with while he cleaned the bodies. My mother was repulsed which I couldn’t understand as I rolled the little jelly balls between my fingers occasionally turning my little hand sideways lining them up between my middle and pointer finger so it looked like my hand had little eyes and my thumb, working up and down resembled a talking mouth. Like a hand puppet. What? You didn’t play with eyeballs when you were a kid?
Anyway, he’d move to his work bench eventually where he shaped foam bodies with clay molded thighs and inserted wire into legs and beaks. I would sit on a tall stool he would pull up for hours watching him hand paint special tiny glass eyes, airbrush preserved legs and feet to be the just so shades as if they still had blood pumping through them. It always amazed me how suddenly some lumpy foam oval would suddenly have a feathered pelt stretched over it and to become the body of a drake mallard or hen canvas back. Sculptures clay molded to get the shape of the head just right. Some were bound to be in perpetual flight, mounted to a post off the carefully selected piece of drift wood to be wall mounted or a wire des retry coming from a selected spot in the back to hang from the ceiling forever coming in for a landing in out little bungalow’s living room.
My favorite were the standing ones. They didn’t just stand on the table. My father created entire vinettes to accompany them. Some perched on preserved and perfectly airbrushed logs with moss, preserved leaves and all. My favorite was a hen and 2 babies. Now don’t freak out. He may have shot the hen in season but the babies he found road side a casualty of a motorist. The momma and rest of the best were beyond saving from a taxidermist perspective but two weren’t so badly damaged that he couldn’t salvage them. So the hen he already has stuffed got a new habitat that was a nest and the addition of 2 offspring.
Yes, roadkil was regularly considered “finds”. One Christmas my grandfather and young uncle were in town for the holidays. On their way to join us at my Aunt’s house then hit a giant pheasant. Smashed their windshield. But they stopped and went back to see if the damn thing needed to be put out of any misery. It in fact was dead from what appeared to be a broken neck. It must have flown directly into the big old Cadillac’s windshield. Knowing my father they scooped up the fresh kill and put it in the trunk as a Christmas gift for my father. To say he was excited by that smelly thing was an understatement. In his defense, it was a big fucking bird. It hangs in mid flight to this day in his man cave.
I think all this leads me to where I’m at today. I have always had a little penchant for strange taxidermied animals over say, glass vases or pretty pottery. I have never had the opportunity to purchase any freaky stuffed squirrels or wall mounted boars heads but, should that opportunity arose, I’d be giddy with glee. That being said, The Sailor has just agreed that I can get a stuffed opossum wearing a little vest, monocle and top hat while carrying a little cup of tea or gentleman’s cane. I know, I married well. He’s a man of good taste and infinite understanding of how to make his lady happy. So, now the search for Sir Oliver Possington begins.