While most people will be making plans for a traditional Thanksgiving, complete with a turkey, dressing, and all the trimmings, 78-year-old Arthur Exley is getting ready for an annual celebration that’s just a little bit different.
Every year on the Friday following Thanksgiving, Exley invites several of his friends to visit his property outside of Springfield and spend the night out in the woods at his hunting camp. The camp is small and rustic, Exley and his friends have added onto it over the years. There is a generator for electricity and gas for cooking and bunk beds for those who want to really get the full experience. And there is a bathroom — with a glass door.
Exley said it’s known as the “pump camp,” having been named that by his grandson because it has a pitcher pump onsite for water.
“Now, we actually have a little hunting club here,” Exley said of the gathering. “I’ve got 10 men and they bring their boys from time to time. We hunt deer on the place and turkeys, sometimes. We do have some turkey here. They come in; some of ’em spend the night. I don’t ever spend the night — I’m too close to my bed. They hunt deer, and they hang ’em up and butcher ’em out.”
About years ago, they began having a stew there on the Friday night after Thanksgiving.
“We call it a goose stew,” Exley said. ‘It’s not geese – it’s mostly turkey and hens. We put in a big pot and stew it til it’s done – make up a big pot of rice and stuff to go with it, you know. Some sweets and stuff to go with it, too. But we’ve been doing that something over 50 years now over here – every Friday after Thanksgiving.
“That’s my hunters and my friends. Nothing but men can come to this. We don’t have women to this — just men. We used to spend the night in this when we didn’t have as good a house as we have now. As time goes by, people don’t care for that as much as when they were young. We eat and we tell tales and we just have a good get together here usually.”
Anywhere from 35 to 40 men take part in the day after Thanksgiving stew.
“I was a real little fella and I remember the chicken snake crawling down the post,” recalled Exley’s son David. “Sometimes we’d get together and they’d sit around and play cards. They were in there in the old lean-to shed we had, way back when, and while they were at it, a fella was sitting there playing cards, and all of a sudden, an old chicken snake started coming down the post.
“It got over there and looked in the fella’s ear, and he was sitting there. And he turned around and looked, he said his ears were so big the old chicken snake thought his ear was a chicken nest there. He was looking for eggs.”
Other guests have brought guitars, leading to singing among the group.
“Good times, tales told, solve the world’s problems,” Exley said. “Just a good time.”