Along the Way: Bovine Blues
A family that breeds beef cattle adheres to an unspoken rule, mostly
My people aren’t hunters. We shoot and we eat, but we don’t shoot what we eat. It’s just not in our DNA, I suppose. At least it doesn’t appear to be part of the genetic makeup of the five generations of Warners currently inhabiting the planet. Case in point: My grandparents owned a cattle farm and growing up, we didn’t even do the dirty work of putting down the sacrificial cows selected to fill the family freezer. Pop would farm that chore out to a man named Tom. My guess is, Pop didn’t want to give the animals a reason to fear him, given he was their caretaker. But, this is just a theory of mine. I never asked and Pop wasn’t much of a talker.
Now, you might be wondering: How did she come up with this theory? Well first, Pop would name each cow. I mean, what sort of lunatic names an animal he plans to personally shoot and kill? Pop would often let us suggest names, too. There was sweet ol’ Rusty, for example. My cousin Jimmy and I were there when he was born, so we got naming honors. Rusty’s burnt orange coat inspired his name and before long, we had grown attached to that lil’ bull. Second, Pop was not an uncaring man and saved us the pain of seeing Rusty slaughtered by selling him at market.
Conclusion: Men who name their cows and allow their grandchildren to name (and grow attached to) said cows employ other people to do the darker deeds. Seems plausible, huh?
So, once or twice a year, Tom would come by, fell the poor beast, drain the blood on site and then haul him or her off to the meat processing and butchering company down the road. Us kids would gather with morbid curiosity close enough to the barn to be able to hear and make out what was happening, but at the same time far enough away to shield ourselves from the most icky and traumatic parts. Dad would often gather with us to instruct us on the process and answer our questions. He made sure we were sufficiently reverent and that we understood the importance of showing respect and gratitude for the animal that was losing its life for our benefit. It was at once fascinating and horrible.
A week or so later, Pop, Dad or one of the other adults would bring home a huge cooler filled with various cuts of meat. Each one was neatly packaged in white butcher paper with “hamburger,” “New York strip” or what have you written in black marker on a piece of masking tape. By then, we’d all have conveniently tucked away into the far corners of our youthful brains the horrors we’d witnessed just a few days prior and look ahead to stews, burgers and barbecued ribs.
Where the livestock were concerned, our collective, selective memory was as inherent as our aversion to pulling the trigger on anything more animate than an empty soda can or gallon milk jug. It was a given that a descendant of Granny and Pop’s would embrace the cognitive dissonance and we were happy to oblige, as long as Rusty and any other bovines we befriended didn’t end up on the wrong side of the meat freezer.
Which is why no one in the family ever brings up Susie.