Family takes Thanksgiving to the woods

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 24, 2000

Members of the Brasfield family, are from left, Chip Wright, Rebecca Brasfield, Henrietta Brasfield, C.W. Brasfield, Rusty Brasfield, and Becky Brasfield. They hold hands while saying the Thanksgiving Day blessing before eating dinner at the Warren County Hunting and Fishing Club. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

Underneath century-old oaks, miles from holiday china or last-minute grocery runs, Thanksgiving takes place after a long drive down a gravel road thick with gray Delta mud.

Here, turkey and dressing meet mudgrips and camouflage. It’s up before dawn, out to the deer stand, then back to camp to bake the dressing and baste the bird.

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At Warren County Hunting Club, that’s the way it’s been for three generations of Brasfields.

“I like being out in the woods on Thanksgiving,” said C.W. “Rusty” Brasfield Jr., who’s been making the trip since age 12. “It makes me feel more like a pilgrim.”

But being away from civilization doesn’t mean sacrificing good food. The deep-fried gobbler, stuffing, indescribable array of holiday veggies and three kinds of pie, would put the spreads of many in ultra-modern digital kitchens to shame.

It started with C.W. Brasfield Sr., and his wife, Henrietta, almost half a century ago. Since both were avid hunters, along with their children, they just decided one year that there was no sense in leaving the camp just for the holiday.

“Everyone we wanted to see was already here,” explained Henrietta, a seven-year state archery champion and still a mean rifle shot at age 77.

“My daughter shot her first deer here when she was 11,” she said. “My granddaughter killed her first deer here, and she was 11, too.”

The hunting camp, one of the state’s oldest, was started near the end of the 1800s. The Brasfields have been members since the 1950s.

The camp has undergone a few changes since then, with electric lights replacing gas lanterns and a commercial oven replacing the wood-burning stove that once doubled as the only source of heat.

But drinkable water still comes in the back of a truck, and as for that last-minute trip to the store forget it. The nearest store is about eight miles away, and five of those are on unpaved roads.

As the years wore on, the younger generation moved away, started families, but come Thanksgiving, they made their way back to deer camp, bringing with them their sometimes bewildered spouses.

“When I first started coming out here, I thought they were kind of crazy,” said Becky Brasfield, Rusty’s wife. “Now I understand the tradition; but we’ve come out here days when it was pouring down rain, it took us an hour to drive in from the road, mud just covered the door, and I thought, Why are we doing this again?'”

But the tradition stuck: a third generation, the couple’s daughter, Rebecca, drove 10 hours from her home in Kentucky to reach the little cabin at the end of that muddy road.

“I’ve been other places for Thanksgiving, but this feels like home,” she said.

Chip Wright is another part of that third generation, the son of Rusty’s sister, Peggy. Just married in March, he brought his new bride to eat turkey in the woods for the second time Thursday.

“I’ve been other places, too, but deer camp is original,” Chip said. “You get away from everything, all the noise.”

All the same, there was a bit of culture shock for his wife, Katie, who describes Thanksgiving with her parents as involving “nice china and everything.”

The plates at Warren County Hunting Club may be paper, but they seemed to hold up well against bombardment by potato salad, cranberries and broccoli casserole and a rapid onslaught of forks and knives.

And though the setting may be unusual, the results were similar to those in millions of households across America Thursday.

“Some will take a nap here, others will say they’re going hunting, go out to the stand and take a nap,” Rusty said. “I’ve woken up more than once looking at a deer. It’s the only way I can keep still.”