LAKE OF THE WOODS COUNTY, Minn. — A deer camp in the now-defunct town of Carp, Minn., might not be the traditional setting for an afternoon gathering of senior women, but gather they did Thursday afternoon at “Buttercup’s Bungalow.”
Now just a memory southwest of Baudette, Minn., Carp once had a store, gas station and post office. The area is sandwiched between Beltrami Island State Forest to the west and Pine Island State Forest to the east.
John “Buttercup” Humeniuk, 73, of Baudette, who owns of Buttercup’s Bungalow with his wife, Judy, recalls going to the Carp Store as a kid.
Even in the heydays, though, it’s hard to imagine the Carp Store was livelier than Humeniuk’s cabin Thursday afternoon, when he hosted a group of eight senior women to an afternoon feast of venison with all the trimmings.
The women at Thursday’s gathering ranged from 80 — the minimum to be invited — to 97. The average age: 88½. All of the women either live on their own or in senior housing.
“They’re all a bunch of good, old gals,” Humeniuk said. “We joke around and have fun and really get a bang out of it.”
That was obvious Thursday afternoon.
“Buttercup” might not be the first word that comes to mind to describe Humeniuk. He landed the nickname while working at Marvin Windows in Warroad, Minn.
Long story, so we’ll leave it at that.
Deer season’s been kind of slow so far, Humeniuk said — at least in this neck of the woods — but the weather and the entertaining has been great.
“I’ve gone out hunting for a couple of hours,” he said. “It’s almost too nice too hunt.”
Still, he was able to tag a small buck that served as the main course.
Last Thursday afternoon’s gathering marked the second time in as many years the senior women have converged on Buttercup’s Bungalow for a deer camp feast. Humeniuk says the tradition started when a friend, Helen Curtis of Baudette, mentioned she’d never been to the deer camp.
“I said, ‘By golly, Helen, we’re going to have to straighten that out,’ ” Humeniuk said.
His wife suggested kicking things up a notch.
“I said, ‘Well, I can think of a lot of other women that need to come out,’ and that’s pretty much how it got going,” Judy Humeniuk said.
Rounding up the women wasn’t a problem.
“This is Baudette,” she said.
As in most small towns, everyone pretty much knows each other.
“Within a couple days, it all came together,” she said of last year’s event. “We aren’t noted for planning too far ahead for anything.
“It’s been fun.”
John Humeniuk, who’s earned a bit of a reputation for his culinary prowess and especially his homemade coffee can bread, served up venison, fried potatoes and coffee can bread with homemade raspberry jam Thursday afternoon.
For dessert, the women dined on “gorilla bread” with ice cream.
Friends Dave Marhula and Steve Carlson of Baudette helped with the cooking and cleanup, and Carlson’s wife, Carol, provided transportation for some of the women.
Young at heart
All of the women are young at heart, Humeniuk says, and as they showed Thursday, they can sling the bull with the best of them.
“We must not have been too bad last year, because he invited us back,” Lois Achen, 90, of Baudette said.
Achen says she likes venison but didn’t do much deer hunting in her younger years.
“I shot at one once,” she said. “I scared him a bit, that’s all.”
Linda Hansen, 80, was the newcomer in the crew.
“I wasn’t old enough last year,” she said.
And no, Hansen corrected, she’s not from Baudette.
“I’m from Carp,” she said.
Venison was part of the menu for the women when they were growing up, but 87-year-old Evie Slick probably was most familiar with the work that goes into shooting a deer.
“I gutted a deer once,” she said. “I’m pretty much a novice at it. One time and that was it!”
Her husband, Brandon, shot the deer, she said, but needed help because his hands weren’t very good.
“He said, ‘Hey Evie, I need some help out here,’ ” she recalled. “That was something I never expected to do in my lifetime.”
Thursday’s weather was perfect for the venison get-together. The temperature soared into the 60s, and the cabin door was open throughout the feast. The forest surrounding Buttercup’s Bungalow kept the stiff wind at bay.
Still, the fireplace felt good.
Later in the afternoon, neighbor Steve Lavasseur of Baudette and his nephew, Andy Duszynski of Monticello, Minn., stopped by for a visit. Duszynski is a musician and plays in a classic rock cover band called Touch of Rust. He serenaded the women with acoustic versions of tunes from Johnny Cash, Pink Floyd, Green Day and Nirvana.
That’s something you don’t hear at deer camp every day.
“How many of you have been at a deer camp where a professional singer from the Twin Cities comes and serenades you?” Marhula asked the women.
That was a first, they all agreed.
As the sun dipped toward the western horizon, the feast wound down, and the women headed home.
If the hugs and smiles that accompanied their departure were any indication, they’ll be back next year.
“It’s a fun event, and when it’s done, I really feel good,” John Humeniuk said. “We enjoy doing it, and I think it helps other people think, ‘You know, maybe I should do something like that.’ ”