To celebrate having everyone home for the holidays, my step-Dad took us out to eat at a quintessential Montana steak house. The building was constructed from beautiful, rustic, heavily lacquered logs adorned with an army of stuffed animal heads. Many Montana businesses boasted at least one or two prize trophies but this place seemed intent on singlehandedly wiping out the entire animal population.
But staging a zoological genocide wasn’t enough. They wanted to humiliate their prey. A muscular black bear mounted nearby suffered silently beneath two small, stuffed chipmunks which appeared to be dancing merrily on his head. An impressively massive buffalo wore a placard around his burly neck advertising his favorite kind of beer. A coat rack, hanging near the door, turned out to be a creatively configured line of antelope feet.
An enormous elk head stretched out above our table. I wondered if anyone else was picturing its flakey dander sifting down and coating our food like softly falling Christmas snow. His antlers blinked merrily with alternating red and green Christmas lights. Happy Birthday Jesus.
I nudged Julia and pointed upwards, “Want some of nature’s parmesan on your salad?”
“Gross,” she laughed before subtly shifting her plate out of the Elk’s shadow.
“How did stuffed-skin get to be such a popular motif in these places anyway?” I mused. “You don’t see KFC putting a bunch of chicken heads up on their walls.”
“You overthink things,” Julia replied. Then she paused and smirked wryly, “Maybe they would but they need the heads for filler.”
I giggled, gagging on my water in the process, “That’s so wrong!”
She smirked, mischievously. “Waste not, want not. Eat everything but the beaks.”
“Hey!” I smiled. “They could put the beaks in the kid’s meals. They’d be like tiny maracas. Click clackety click clack baby!”
Julia laughed. I looked around the table. Everyone was busily engaged in their own conversations. This was the closest we’d been to alone since she’d arrived. I grabbed the opportunity.
“Hey, I was just wondering, what happened this semester? When I last saw you … you … umm … this wasn’t exactly the track you were on.”
I was worried she’d be offended but Julia smiled amicably and replied, “Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s a big change. Honestly, nothing really happened. I just got so sick of my old life that I was ready for something more. I think I’d been ready for a while. So I started going back to church. Then I met Austin and I just knew it was right.”
I started to say something but she continued, lost in the memory, “But it wasn’t about him. It was about choosing a life that I wanted. I wanted a deeper, more fulfilling existence than the one I’d had before. So nothing really happened, except that I made a choice to live a better life, intentionally. Everything else just fell into place.”
This is the latest installment in my story. If you haven’t yet read the previous entries, click here to start at the beginning. Then continue to read each post in numerical order.