Twelve of us — 5 women and 7 men, including my brother and 16-year-old niece — turned out at 9am on Sunday morning, the day after the neighborhood turkey harvest, to help Momma Goose’s husband, Brooklyn Man, slaughter and butcher a 900-pound boar. Even though it’s only three years old, he’s just too heavy to mate with the female pigs. The pig farmer gives him away and is glad to find a taker.
I was the only one who cried out when the huge pig slowly lumbered out of the trailer sniffing the trail of raisin bread and was shot in the head so hard it fell over like a bowling pin.
I wailed and sobbed, and my niece hugged me. But I couldn’t breathe, so I excused myself to walk home and…what?
Stand at the kitchen sink. I thought I’d be fine. I’m a veteran of four poultry harvests. Just yesterday I helped slaughter 22 turkeys!
I stroked the necks and held back the gobbly flesh so Momma Goose could make a clean hard cut.
Mainly I rotate between butchering and wrapping the plucked birds…
… although I’ve worked the scalder and plucking table a lot, too. I’m seasoned. Or thought I was.
I’ve been staring at the rain for just fifteen minutes when my niece comes walking in the back door. She is my youngest niece and lives in San Diego, California and I haven’t seen her in years.
“How are you, Aunt Christi?” she says and I burst out crying again. She holds me for a long time, letting me press my heart into hers, this niece I haven’t seen for years, hugging the tears out of me.
“I don’t know why I’m so upset,” I say finally.
“I do.” My niece’s dimples are her mother’s as are her Asian eyes. Her hair is long and dark and thick and she asked me to braid it before we went to Momma Goose’s this morning. We had laughed at how thin my ponytail is compared to her mane, which she now flips over her shoulder. “It’s the cycle of life,” she says. “A farm thing.”
“Yes, but it’s still a violent act, no matter how much you thank the animal and treat it compassionately and humanely.” I grab a paper towel and blow my nose. “You don’t have to stay here, Sweetie, but thank you so much for coming back to comfort me. I’m okay now.”
“I want to be with you,” she says, and a few more tears leak out of my eyes. “Let’s do something therapeutic.”
“I told Brooklyn Man I’d make him an apple cake,” I say and point to the recipe hanging from the light fixture over the kitchen sink, the pot of Braeburn apples from our neighbor Lou, and the cream cheese on the counter for the frosting. She reads the recipe and says, “Two eggs!” and heads for the fridge. Then she peels and chops apples while I line the cake pan with parchment paper and gather the other ingredients.
As the cake bakes and fills the house with a caramel apple scent, I get my personality type books. “Let’s do your numbers and letters now,” I say and give her Enneagram (numbers) and Myers-Briggs (letters) tests to read and fill out while I heat some defrosted homemade chili for lunch. I told her earlier about these tools to help figure out who you are, which I’ve given to our kids, and she is very interested. But she clearly already knows a lot more about who she is than I did at age 16.
I’m getting out onions when she comes in with her results. “You know,” she says, “if you chew gum when you chop onions you won’t cry.”
I laugh. “Maybe I should have had some Juicy Fruit this morning at the pig harvest,” I say. I feel much better.
Then the men come home. My brother says he took almost 300 pictures and puts his huge camera case in the living room. He is a professional-grade photographer with a foot-long lens, and he worked all the night before editing the 600 photos he took of the turkey harvest making an exquisite 97 image slide show.
Momma Goose is going to offer it to the Pierce County Conservation District, where we rent the equipment, as instructional promotion. In an odd bit of good timing, they had asked her if she’d take a few pictures.
The four of us eat chili and cheese and onions and salad, then we frost the cake and my niece decorates it with pecans shaped into a heart. She takes half of it to Momma Goose’s and stays there all afternoon to help make sausage.
I’m upstairs sitting at the computer when she returns. She kneels beside me. “Smell,” she says and holds up her palm.
I smell something sharp and raw and fleshy.
“Meat,” she says and smiles.
“Something else, too,” I say, “not just meat.”
“Oh, yeah…that’s the seasoning.”