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Thanksgiving entertaining with country family dinner

Nov. 30, 2004

By LAUREN SLUSHER, assistant city editor

I visited the "country cousins" out in Mayfield, Ky., this Thanksgiving, where "reckon" and "yonder" are used earnestly in conversation.

I'm among the travelers in the Slusher-Adair clan -- we're the group who journeys from state to state on holidays, having moved away from the whole crowd on the East Coast.

Every holiday, when people are at home relaxing with a nice glass of egg nog, my family is hanging around the airport eating $10 pizza and fighting over who has to carry the heavy bag.

It's a long trip, having to additionally drive several hours into the country. When our cell phones read digital roam and demand $5 per minute, we know we're nearby.

"We're havin' dinner in The Stripping Shed," Cousin Dianne tells us upon arrival.

Since no one else raises so much as an eyebrow at this, I presume it's custom to have Thanksgiving dinner in a shed.

We take the muddy pickup down to The Stripping Shed, and as I step into the country air, I notice something swinging from an enormous oak tree. Ah, poor carnivorously phobic me -- it's a beautiful young buck, half-skinned and hanging by its broken neck. A yellow tub lies beneath its swaying hooves, gathering sloshes of dark blood. I turn away, disgusted and afraid.

From inside The Shed, I can still see it. It's even worse from farther away, almost resembling a human form.

I decide I won't be able to do anything until I go and look at it, no matter how gruesome it may be.

But the buck is beautiful. It looks as though it were still alive -- except for its having no skin. I pull out my camera and start snapping photos, knowing it's the only way I'll be able to look at it. A little boy creeps up softly and leans against the tree, watching me.

"I killed it," he whispers proudly.

I'm stunned, because the little boy barely clears 3 feet and couldn't possibly hold a rifle. I learn his name is Ethan, he's 8 years old, and he's a new addition to my string of Kentucky cousins. I have to swallow my shock to give Ethan my best version of congratulations. It's obviously important.

But even more shocking than the dead deer is the news that my cousin Courtney, older than me by just three months, married in June and is four months pregnant.

My childhood playmate already is a homeowner preparing for the birth of her children and I still have crayons in my backpack to entertain me on the airplane.

"You got a boyfriend, Lauren?" Courtney asks, although the terms "beau" and "filler" are more commonly used among the older folks who also ask me the question repeatedly. I respond politely despite my fright in understanding what they're really asking: "Why aren't you married yet, Lauren?"

I'd have to call the visit entertaining -- especially when Ethan's dad decapitated the buck with a chainsaw and let Ethan chase us with its head -- so it's strange how glad I am to be back in Waco where there aren't dead animals hanging from trees and it's okay that the last big group gathering of friends was not for a wedding, but for a game of Capture the Flag.