by Viv Sade
Parents these days go out of their way to shelter their children from the harsher realities of the world — not wanting them to find out too soon that euthanasia is sometimes unavoidable in animal shelters, that some reality TV guy with a pompadour ego and combover and a tendency to talk creepy about his own daughter is running for President of the U.S. or that Cheetos contain no actual cheese, only cheese-like dust.
Children are innocent and should be shielded from such insidious truths. Which explains why my siblings and I are slightly warped.
(WARNING: Stop if you are sensitive to the words slaughter, carcass, decapitate or Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.)
Mom and Dad didn’t worry about sheltering us from anything, except for those occasional warnings to ignore Mr. Daviruthe when he stood in front of his big picture window wearing only a bathrobe and to never, ever enter his house, even if he offered us brownies.
Otherwise, we were kicked out the door early in the morning and told to be home before dark.
Our days were full, especially considering there were no cell phones and televisions had only three channels — which were never turned on before dinner and which required a person to get out of the easy chair and actually adjust a knob on the TV to select a station or raise or lower the volume.
We played games, went fishing, hung out with the neighbors, played ball, rode bikes, and much more, but the highlight of the week was the Cow Slaughter and Pig Slaughter days at Leitch’s Market.
Once a week, on Cow Slaughter Day, my brothers and I, along with other kids from the neighborhood would run to the alley that ran behind the Main Street market. Wide-eyed, we stood in the alley and watched as a butcher came out the back door into a small pen where a large cow was mooing as though he had all the time in the world.
He did not.
The butcher would not even glance our way, but would quickly and efficiently put a gun to the cow’s head and pull the trigger. We all jumped. Every time.
They he would proceed to slit the animal’s throat, butcher the carcass into carryable pieces and lug them into the store to grind up for Mr. and Mrs. Toucaan’s steak dinner and the Sade’s weekly Friday hamburger fry — a highly anticipated event.
There was a trough of sorts to catch most of the blood, but sometimes it missed the mark and flowed down the side of the alley. That always caused a moment of silence and anxiety among us. The cow was so alive and looking at us with big sad eyes one minute and dead and bloodless the next.
Two days later, over our grief and on the mend, we would again ride our bikes or run to the alley so that we could watch a huge hog get shot and slaughtered.
Sometimes some of our neighbors would have a chicken killing day. The women — who seemed to be the predominant chicken murderers — would chop off the chicken’s head with an axe and the headless chicken would run around the yard, squirting blood until it finally realized it was decapitated and flopped over on the ground, crossing over to that big cage-free poultry farm in the sky. The women would then hang them by their feet on an old swingset so they could bleed out, followed by a dip into a vat of boiling water to remove the feathers.
Kids from all over town gathered to watch this spectacle and to run, screaming, from the headless chickens as they ran and ricocheted in our direction.
I don’t think any of our parents knew we witnessed the cow and pig slaughter on a regular basis or they might have forbade it. Not wanting our exciting leisure activities to come to a halt, we never told them. There was not much they could do about the chicken slaughter, since it was mostly women from the PTA who were involved.
We all had a certain elementary school confidence and maturity that came from knowing exactly where our hamburger, drumsticks and bacon came from.
The farmers’ kids had that worldly wisdom from birth, but it took us inner-city rugrats a while longer to catch on. Slaughter days helped.
When we were told to stay in our own yards, we would make up games or sometimes my best friend from across the street and I would tear the rear ends off of fireflies just as they lit up and make necklaces and bracelets of weaved clover and iridescent bug butt “diamonds.”
It was not Mr. Roger’s neighborhood.
— The author is not a vegetarian, but came to understand why her grandmother could never eat fried chicken after preparing the bird — from the hatchet to the frying pan — herself.