I met Clint’s extended family for the first time during the holiday season. I believe the invitation started with started with,
“I’m going to ask you something, and you can totally say no if you don’t want to.”
Every year, the paternal side of Clint’s family comes together to exchange gifts and spend quality time with one another on Christmas Eve. This year, the gathering would be hosted at Clint’s uncle’s house. Clint had mentioned his relatives several times before; the way that Clint’s aunt and uncle met is shrouded in secrecy and, to date, no one quite understands how their union actually works. Clint’s uncle, a southern man with a broad build and a face that reminded me of a slightly more handsome John C. Reilly, owned a landscaping company in addition to being a comically insatiable, enthusiastic hunter. Clint’s aunt was a sensible, accomplished real estate agent who appreciated art and decorated the household with original pieces by accomplished artists.
“Just wait till you see the inside of their house,” Clint gushed as we pulled into the driveway, “It’s like Two Face.”
As I approached the front porch, a woman with shoulder length brown hair, a tunic shirt, and a fashionable scarf opened the door, smiling from ear to ear.
“You must be Jas!” his aunt said as she ushered us inside. “Please, I’ll take your jacket.”
I was distracted from the smell of nutmeg and ham when I watched her take my coat and hang it on one of two buck heads mounted on the wall.
“This one is for keys,” she said, motioning to the more robust head, “And this one’s for coats!”
The buck heads provided only a glimpse of the treasures in store for the evening.
The house was its own universe of juxtaposition that seemed to be built around my obsession with all things ridiculous and out of place. There must have been at least twelve different deer heads mounted on the walls, each decorated with various holiday trinkets. Clint’s uncle caught me staring at one point and chuckled,
“Isn’t that the most festive damn deer head you’ve ever seen?”
“Hanging the stockings from the buck antlers was my idea!” piped one of the children.
Contrasting the primal, southified aura of the home was the array of gorgeous oil paintings that adorned the walls. Clint’s aunt had quite a collection, ranging from various prints to her prized, original Penleys. Any liberal influence in the household clearly grew from her side of the fence. She caught me admiring one painting in particular; a portrait of her four sons sprawled belly down on a sandy beach, side by side. It seemed as though someone caught them by surprise during of a moment of play to get the picture.
“My mother is an artist,” she said to me, “and she has me send her a picture of our family every year and she’ll paint us something.
Apparently, Clint’s aunt and uncle tried for years to have children and nearly gave up when, all of a sudden, they had triplets - all boys. Then, as soon as they had the triplets, they had another son. The triplets were named Lynch, Cutter, and Quid; the youngest son they simply decided to name Gary. Based on the flashes of camouflage pajamas that bolted to and fro as they took turns shooting each other with their plastic, neon rifles, I assumed that the boys took more after their father.
The most amazing segment of the evening occurred downstairs in the basement. It began when his uncle said, “Hey, you wanna see the deer butt?”
Moments later I found myself in the basement, face to face with a mounted rear of a deer. The fur at the top had been mussed to create the illusion of a mane. Two black, beady eyes had been sewn in above the ridges. The hold had been altered to create the illusion of a turned of noise over a slightly surprised mouth.
“Check that out!” he said, his arms crossed. He was beaming. Almost literally.
“Oh my god!” Clint shouted. “The monster!”
“Pardon?” I asked.
“Man, I made this thing one day and I brought it by the house, right?” Clint’s uncle said, picking it up. “And clint here was all into Bigfoot and stuff like that. So I went up to him, I said, ‘Boy, I’ve got me a real monster sittin’ out there in the living room. So he tiptoes in, all quiet and careful, peeks over and I yell, ‘BOO!’ and hot dang, you shoulda seen that boy run!”
“I was so scared of that thing!” Clint said. “I mean, look at it.”
Disclaimer: this is not the deer butt I saw and does not belong to Clint's family. It's close enough, though.The more Clint’s uncle talked, the more certain I became that I was standing in the presence of a real life character whose equal simply did not exist.
“Man, if you think that’s neat, get a load of this,” he said, emerging from the next room holding what appeared to be an old wallet. “I found this when I was walkin’ around in a creek. A creek, man! Found this little bag and then I dumped it out, and in there I found a - you know how in the 1920’s they had pocket books that were about this big and they were made outta sterling silver? So I found one of those - a sterling silver little pocketbook clutch bag. Opened it up and inside it was a 18 karat gold band, two 14 karat gold rings, and a 1940’s Bulova watch. Yap. I’ll show you the watch and the ring. The ring’s upstairs.”
“Granny Loretta once found this old bracelet in a parking lot in Florida,” Clint chimed in, “said it was real silver.”
“Yeah? What’d - Hey!” he called out. One of the triplets was trying to stand on top of the recliner to assume the most advantageous sniper position over his siblings. “Get outta my chair.”
When his son didn’t move, he repeated the exact same way, “Get outta my chair. Don’t break it.”
He turned back to us, giving up on his son, and said “Yeah man. So I go dumpster diving.”
His basement was like Felix’s magic bag of tricks - except instead of tricks, he had petrified deer butts and fossils.
“Look at that,” he said, bringing out an arrowhead, “that’s a tribal piece right there, baby.”
“That came out of a creek behind our house. He -” the uncle said, thumbing over to the littlest son, “he was diggin’ in the creek and he found it!”
“If it weren’t for us then he wouldn’t’ve found it ‘cause we ditched him,” one of the triplets butted in.
“In’t that nice?” the uncle said, stroking the arrowhead with his thumb. “That’s the real deal right there, baby.”
He passed around the specimen, making sure everyone marveled at how preserved and sharp it was after centuries, when the youngest son cried out,
The uncle’s gaze snapped toward the stairway where an older, white cat was rubbing its side against the rails. It meowed.
“Kill that cat,” the uncle whispered.
“No, not that one!” one of the twins screamed, “the fat one!”
All the kids started laughing until one of them yelled out, “Yeah, he eats too much carbs!”
Going solely off of how hard the boys were laughing, I eagerly waited for the punchline, but got none. I toyed with the idea that the remark had a pre-existing foundation that I had missed out on, but I highly doubted it.
“What about this one?” the uncle said, bringing out yet another specimen. “Anyone know what this is?”
“What is it?” I asked.
“Horse tail. Thirty million years old, right there.”
“Wait. That’s a horse tail?”
“No, not a real horse tail. It’s a plant. Know what I thought it was when I found it? I thought it was a piece of octopus. Like an octpous limb. ‘Cause you know that’s how they break off. They’re segmented. You know I took all my stuff to a dude, you know? He sent ‘em off to - oh, somewhere - and they told me what everything was."
“Thirty million years, though?” I said.
“Long ass time ago, huh?” the uncle said, bursting into laughter. “Coulda been in a dinosaur, man!”
“Yeah,” said one of the twins, gleefully. “A dinosaur coulda ate it and choked it back up!”
“Heh, I stole some more of that same plant from New Mexico where you’re not s’posed to take it.”
“Wow,” I said.
“Shoot, I could’ve took a piece of the empire state building home with me, but I didn’t. Kicking myself about it now,” he said, diving back in. “My buddy and I were on top of the empire state building and we were takin’ pictures, you know? And I looked over to the edge and I was like, that brick looks mighty loose. And lo and behold, the sucker was clean off. I could’ve taken home a piece of the empire state building, baby!”
His stories seemed to have no end.
“I had this killer - like a tooth from a bear or something that I got out’ve a fire pit. The people said, ‘Oh the remnants in here are from the indians or whatever!’ So I saw this tooth and I had it! And then my buddy was like, “Dude, you’re going to HELL for that!” and so I ran back and threw that sucker back in there!”
His trinkets had no end, either.
“I got this new thing I’m doin’. I make necklaces out of gator teeth. I’ll show you one in a minute. I only got one or two big ones ‘cause another guy actually found the gator and he’d already picked up a couple of the big ones, but I went back and got the rest.”
“Did you pull them out yourself?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, I got the jaw bone and pulled out all the smaller teeth. I would’ve got the whole head... but the dog ate the frickin head up!” he said, motioning outside to the dog house.
I considered for a second that there would have still had to be some flesh and matter still on the bones in order for the dog to find the head appetizing enough to eat, meaning that Clint’s uncle found and hauled off a rotting alligator carcass.
“Damn dog,” the uncle muttered, snapping me back to reality. “So anyway, I got the vertebrae and as many tooth pieces as I could get. I’m gonna make a necklace out of these little platelets around the vertebrae - these little guard platelets. Yep. Gonna make a necklace outta that.”
“Oh, geez! That reminds of of this story,” Clint said, eager to add to the conversation.
“Well, shoot. Go on.”
“So remember david? There was this one time - back in high school - he was doing an art project -”
“-David - the one with the tweezers! Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” Clint said, ignoring my inquisitive stare. “Well, a car ran by and clipped a deer. And the deer ran into his yard and died.”
“So he got all the bones?”
“Well, his father decided to just bury it with lime and just let it sit. Eventually he was like -”
“God, dang!” the uncle interjected, “That’s nasty! I bet that stank!”
“Yeah, so he dug it up and used it as his art project. We threw a cape onto it and put a big king’s crown on top and got like -”
“You dug that shit up?” His uncle said, quietly and out of earshot of the children, “And you guys put it back together? Damn, son!”
“Yeah, he got like an A on it. It got into an art book later on.”
The children, who had been here and there during most of the conversation up to this point, began to carve their own place in the circle of discussion.
“Dad,” sad Gary, tugging on his father’s pant leg, “You remember what Cutter did to the possum?”
“He buried it?”
“Oh!” the uncle laughed. Then, patting his son on the head, he said, “Man, Cutter chased a possum down, hit it with a lawnmower blade. Pummeled it! Then he took it, shoved that sucker in a hole, n’ buried it. Came back a year later and got all the bones. Crazy, int’ it? I was thinkin, Hoooly shit, he killed a possum with a lawnmower blade! and I laughed. Then I whooped him for killin’ something with a lawnmower blade.”
When the laughter died down, Clint’s uncle positioned his hand for the circle to see.
“You heard what happened over at grandaddy’s, right? These boys caught a cat in a net?”
“One of those feral cats?” Clint asked.
“Yeah. So they had it in this freakin’ big net. So I go out and it’s just this little kitten. A medium sized kitten. So I stick my hand down in there and this cat’s like,” he pulled his hands near his face to make little paws, “Mroooow! Mrooow!’ and I said, ‘Boys! Ya’ll scarin’ this cat to death, leave it alone!’ And I went to pet it and this frickin’ thing went in and,” he mimed taking a giant, volent bite - “bit the hell out of me right here and right here!”
He held his hand back up to show the bite marks.
“So I thought, man, this damn cat just bit me!’ And blood’s just sprayin’ out and I’m like, ‘Hoooly moly, what am I gonna do?’ so I call my doctor and my doctor said, ‘Dude, you need to go to the emergency room!’ and I said, ‘For what?’ and he said, ‘Dude, to get a shot. That thing’s gonna get in infected!’ and I say, ‘Whatever.”
He chuckled for a moment, shaking his head.
“Not in three hours, man, three hours, that finger was this big,” he said, spreading his arms to indicate a whole meter.
“Not kiddin. It was like a heartbeat. I mean my finger was that frickin’ big! I went to the emergency room and they gave me rabies shots. Had to take those shots for three weeks. Cost two THOUSAND bucks and that was after the insurance! It cost twenty thousand dollars.”
“You’re kidding,” I said. I was in shock.
“Nope. And it’s still over there, too. Still lurkin around. Still hidin’ out in there.”
He laughed again and I marveled at how jovial he seemed about the whole situation.
“Thing bit the shit out of me, man! Had to get rabies shots, man, that hurt so bad!”
“Think it really was rabid?” Clint asked.
“Nah, man. But you can’t take the risk! Think about it: what if it ate a bat or something? It’s a hundred percent fatality. No survivors. So I was like, ‘Man, I’ll just take the shot.”
He was quiet for a second, clearly in thought.
“You know, I never really thought about this, but I guess that means I can get bit by rabid animals now. I have the antibodies. So now if I get bit all I gotta go do is get a shot and I’m good forever. In case I ever wanna go find that cat, you know. Dang, shoot that cat. And they’re all still there! I can’t believe they’re still livin’, man. They’re feedin’ off the land.”
As I pondered to the Powers That Be how on earth I had been fortunate enough to warrant being connected to such an insanely characteristic individual, Clint’s mother called us upstairs to open gifts. I took one last glance at the monster deer butt, snapped a picture with my phone, and followed everyone upstairs.
The evening ended on a warm, happy, less carnage filled note: the presents were exchanged and everyone thanked each other and hugged while reminiscing on the holidays past. Afterwardm Clint’s aunt sent us home with tupperware containers brimming with delicious food.
That, folks, is how I first became acquainted with Clint’s family.
Unfortunately, no, I do not have the exact photo of the infamous deer butt monster that was mentioned earlier. However, a quick Google search led me to one that looks similar enough.
By the way, writing this post has led me to discover that a website called “www.bigassdeer.com” actually does exist.