The Ten Point Club
For years, I had heard rumors about the annual game dinner and auction at the Ten Point Fish and Game Club. Now, this is not one of those leaf-peaking tourist events where city people get hayrides, listen to professional storytellers, and buy maple syrup at the flatlander rate of $65 per gallon. This is a game club dinner that has been held since 1948, when the members of the club started meeting on the second Tuesday of every month at the Bunker Hill School in District 15, club headquarters. It's a brick schoolhouse with four blackboards, and it's heated by a number 322 Smith System round woodstove with a 6-foot curved door that opens and closes to regulate the heat.
This year, I finally got Harley Smith and his wife, Dorothy, to take me along; unlike me, they knew how to get there. (Head out of town for a bit, take a left on Joe Bean Road and a right on Ferguson, just across the way from the dairy farm.) After delivering my Tupperware container of homemade chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, I took a short tour of the schoolhouse, noting the four mounted heads (one buck had a long, sneering mouth, as if he were embarrassed at having been shot and then irritated that he had been stuck on a wall), the stuffed fox, the owl, the pheasant, a collection of prints with titles like "Ain't That Just Like a Woman?" (husband hooks into big fish at the moment his wife jumps off the dock into the water), a casual shot of Douglas MacArthur, and a sign over the door to the kitchen that reads, Hunt'n Stories Told Here.
I spoke to Tom Risse, the current club president, who has a stentorian voice and the imposing friendliness of Tip O'Neill. He said that dues were $3 per year and that the club had two purposes. The first was to educate folks about protecting the environment, thus preserving the fishing and hunting. The second was to play "pitch," a card game that is a cross between hearts, poker, and bridge.
Three long sets of tables were laid out. The women brought covered dishes and the men did the serving and cleaning. Liquid refreshment was limited to root beer, no-name cola, orange Shasta, and ginger ale. It was all you could drink and eat. The first course was an excellent fish chowder, followed by what I took for the main course, a wild turkey pot pie. I almost asked for seconds when I realized that dinner hadn't even started. Out came the venison, the mashed potatoes, the gravy, and a host of side dishes: casseroles including green bean, broccoli/cheese, macaroni/beef, and corn, and then coleslaw, potato salad, good homemade bread, butter, and a country specialty-- a combination of Cool Whip, mandarin orange segments, and orzo. For dessert there were plenty of cookies, pumpkin bars, a frosted yellow sheet cake, chocolate cake, coconut macaroons with maraschino cherry halves, and brownies with peanut butter chips.
Now the Ten Point Club doesn't charge a set fee for this meal-- it's just what you can afford-- so Tom walked up and down with his wicker collection basket with the 4-foot wooden handle. After everyone had chipped in, he started selling raffle tickets at 50 cents each or 14 for $5. The table at the front of the schoolhouse was covered with items to be raffled: two 5-pound bags of potatoes, honey, maple syrup candy, hunting gloves, Wildcat 22 shells, a jar of homemade Queen Anne's Lace jelly, Scent Bomb, a "shotgun sack," and two frozen turkeys. (When the first turkey was won and claimed, Tom told the winner that it "also comes with a turkey call.")
But before the raffle got started, Tom addressed the 50 or so well-stuffed diners. "I'd like to say," he began, "that it has been a busy year at the Ten Point Club." He paused a moment. "But it hasn't." He went on to say that tonight's dinner and raffle would be the last in the schoolhouse. The club had been paying the taxes on the building as a form of rent (it doesn't own the land or the building), but with only 45 members and poor attendance at monthly meetings, it seemed that those who were left would have to take leave of their beloved clubhouse and borrow a friend's camp up on the mountain for the annual dinner.
I won some maple candy for the kids, and, after the raffle, everyone pretty much cleared out, except the members in the back washing up to the constant whine of the generator just outside the door. We had eaten the last supper in the old Bunker Hill Schoolhouse. The bucks, the owl, the fox, and the pheasant will be packed up and put away. The woodstove won't see any more splits of oak. Douglas MacArthur will probably stand in the back of someone's closet for a long time before he is offered up for two bucks at an estate sale.
It's true that country people are not sentimental. If something no longer serves a purpose, it is quickly abandoned, just like that old schoolhouse. (Ours was put out of service in 1952 because of a lack of indoor plumbing.) And, truth be told, passings are rarely memorialized in a place like Vermont; people are just too practical to waste words on the obvious. That's left to others. So I'll say a few words, seeing that nobody else will.
It's a shame. It's a shame that the Ten Point Club can't afford to meet at the old schoolhouse anymore. It's a shame that we can't make the effort to cook for each other, to split wood for a woodstove, or to take a few hours once a month to play a game or two of pitch with our neighbors. It's a shame that we all think we have something better to do and we know we don't. It's a shame that we think we're too good for wild turkey pot pie and a big slice of yellow sheet cake. It's a shame that farmers can't afford to farm and that cornfields are turned into backyards. It's a shame that almost nobody walks to school anymore, that storytelling is no longer entertainment, and that inconvenience is a sin. It's a shame that at the beginning of this new century, the world is watching America and America is watching television.
It's not being sentimental or old-fashioned or afraid of something new. It's just a damned shame.