I was a fiber design major, studying at CCS CAD (Center for Creative Studies College of Art & Design) at the time. We had a field trip, everyone loves a field trip, this is when all hell breaks loose, right? We were told that we must dress appropriately. I guess most art students have some amount of rebellion in them and feel the need to express it through some form of non-conformist attire. For me, it was typically green long johns, Doc Martins boots, a white t-shirt (undoubtedly with some kind of colored dye stain on it) and a flannel either tied around my waist or worn open down the front.
We were going to the Toledo Art Museum and we were representing the school. We must be presentable. So, on this particular day, I wore a little black dress (highly unusual for me at any point in my life) and little kitten heels (also not my strong suit) and a flowing scarf for good measure. I looked fantastic. My hair was up and properly coiffed. There I was ready to go to Toledo. Since I had my own car, I could go at my leisure and meet everyone down there. It was a straight shot down I-75, so in my little red Mercury Lynx vibrating heavily at 75 miles per hour and feeling slightly out of control, I made my way south.
I don't recall exactly at what point in the freeway I took notice of this, but it was somewhere near the Michigan / Ohio border. In the middle two lanes of the freeway was a large animal hide. It looked like it must have been a deer hide that fell off the back of someone's pick-up truck heading home from hunting. But per my usual, I was already running late and had no time to - what? stop on the freeway for a closer look? Right, no time at all.
However, the whole rest of the drive heading to the museum, all I could think about was what I could do with a leather hide. As an art student, my mind was always going off in some strange direction, like the time I had my boyfriend coat my naked body in Vaseline for a release agent before covering me in plaster to try and make a mold of me. But I digress... A leather hide, I could make clothes, paint on it, make furniture, pillows, rugs, who knows? The options are endless.
So, once I got to Toledo, I asked everyone else if they had seen it. Nope, no one had. Strange though, it was so evident to me. Well, at that point it was settled, on the way home I would try to find the spot and see if it was still there.
Travelling back north on I-75, I wasn't quite sure where to turn around and start looking, but my instincts were pretty good as it did not take me long to spot the deer hide. I pulled my car over, and yes, I was one of those people who backed up on the shoulder of the freeway. Thinking back now, if that were the worst of it, it might have been okay, but of course, it was not.
In my little black dress and kitten heels, scarf flowing, I got out of my car and in rush hour traffic started playing that video game 'Frogger' live on the freeway. I darted out in between cars and tried to quickly pick up the hide. However, it wasn't quite that simple. For one, it had been run over a number of times, though apparent that people were trying to avoid it. Back to the shoulder of the freeway, I looked carefully and tried to determine the best way to get this thing 'unstuck' from the road. Cautiously waiting til the precise moment when I felt I would have the most time (maybe 10 - 15 seconds?) I darted out again.
Horns blaring, cars whizzing past, the harsh noise of the tires on the concrete, the blurs of cars passing at speed. It was like those moments in an art film when the camera is blurring out and there are too many sounds to decipher. But somehow in that moment, in what seemed like one seamless effort, I peeled the deer hide off the road, and ran back to the safety of the shoulder, popped open my hatch and threw it in.
With a sigh of relief I looked more closely at my prize. It was salted on the flesh side and hair with dirt and debris on the other. It was a light tan color, fairly uniform with small amounts of white around the belly area I presumed.
As I got back into my car, I looked at my hands and suddenly became completely aware of what I had just touched. What kind of bacteria was on this deer hide? What have I touched in my car so far? I know I pulled the door shut, grabbed the shifter and the steering wheel. I think that is it; and as I drove to the nearest exit I chanted to myself, 'don't touch your face, don't touch your face, don't touch your face'. I pulled into a McDonald's, because they have clean restrooms (note the amount of sarcasm in my voice if you could hear me telling the story live). I scrubbed my hands, pulled up my sleeves and washed my arms, somehow at this moment, I felt I needed to scrub my entire body. I brought out some paper towel - wet with soap and washed off my car steering wheel and parts as best I could. I got back in the car and headed home to my parents house.
Upon arrival at my parents, after changing my clothes and cleaning up, I went back to the car and as I tried to take the deer hide out of the car found that I wasn't strong enough. That was strange, how did I get it in there in the first place? I must have had an amazing amount of Adrenalin coursing through my veins to give me that super human strength people talk about. Too bad I used it to risk my life getting a deer hide instead of saving someone else. But so the story goes.
When my father got home from work, I told him the story and he said 'well let's go get it and take a look'. So we did. It was a rather large deer hide and took the two of us to carry it to the garage. We did some investigation in the yellow pages of the phone book and found a gentleman that would tan the hide and prepare it with the hair on, just as I had wanted it. So my father and I took the deer to his out building to have it 'processed'.
We pulled into the drive and the gentleman was walking out to greet us. As we approached with the hide, he looked at us and said 'that is no deer, that is a cow!' No wonder it was so large and heavy, especially with the salt cure and flesh still full. My father and I looked at each other, shrugged and proceeded to make the tanning deal.
This cow hide did end up serving me well for many years. It started as a lovely floor area rug (with a couple of tire tread marks in it - good for conversation starters), later while studying cave art in school, I painted obscure markings on the back side and hung it on our wall. After that it was turned into a cover for an ottoman and a pillow. I am not sure at what point if made its way to be sold at a garage sale. My, oh my, the things you can find at a garage sale.