by Gary Spina
(Copyright 2012 by Gary Spina)
One day, down by Frog Level, Virginia, I watched some farm folks kill about 25 chickens and roosters – adults and kids working together to kill and pluck and gut the birds. The farmwife cried, which was good because her crying showed the kids that killing is nothing a farmer, a hunter, or a butcher should ever enjoy. Later she cooked up a big batch of Southern Fried Chicken and somehow that made it all right because there, too, a person should only kill to eat. See how life’s lessons kind of swoosh on by us if we’re not watching for them?
Anyway, the chickens had all quit laying. I don’t know exactly what the lesson is there, but we can always make one up while making ourselves sound sagacious at the same time. Okay, so the chickens quit laying. How’s this for a lesson: Stay useful in life as long as you can, for the Egg-man cometh. Or a better one: Never quit doing what God put you on earth to do.
Which brings me to a parallel. On one of my stays in Alaska, I remember winter was coming on fast and a friend of mine named Paddy Lumpkins had blown the rear end in his GMC Sierra pickup truck. The truck was in another friend’s enclosed work-bay, and we may have been out of the weather, but it was still pretty cold and our fingers were near frostbitten as I helped him each night after work trying to put it all back together bearing by bearing, gear by gear.
Anyway, we worked on Paddy’s truck for a long cold week before we finally finished, and I was rewarded with an invitation to a home-cooked meal at Paddy’s trailer. A wife and kids and a home-cooked supper on a wintry night all sounded pretty good – especially when Paddy boasted how his wife was “a right-fair cook.” Paddy had his trailer parked between the ranch house and a corral on a cattle ranch at the edge of the Matsu Valley. And that brings me to the parallel about killing chickens in Frog Level, Virginia.
(Matanuska-Susitna Valley shown shaded in red north of Anchorage, Alaska.)
When I drove up that afternoon, the rancher and a couple of hands were about to kill and butcher an old Brahma bull named “Skid Row.” My friend was with them, just standing there watching, and so when I parked my car I went over to my friend to help him watch.
Skid Row had stopped bucking and he was no longer of any value either at the rodeo or with the cows. Again, the lesson: He had quit doing what God had put him on earth to do. Put in a kinder way, his work was finished here.
Anyway, they had old Skid Row in a small open trailer with a five foot high wooden rack around all four sides. The trailer was barely big enough to confine the bull. They figured the trailer being small was a good thing because they were planning to shoot Skid Row while he was in there, and they didn’t want him moving on them while one of the cowhands took aim with a rifle. After they shot him, they were going to haul the trailer under a stout tree limb where they would hoist Skid Row on pulleys and butcher him.
If Skid Row didn’t like the plan, he wasn’t saying much – that is, until a shot behind the ear just made him mad as hell, and he commenced to bellowing and bucking just like in the good old days. Bang! Bang! Bang! More shots rang out! I don’t know what caliber rifle the fools were using, but as Robert Ruark would say: “It wasn’t enough gun.” Another lesson learned.
Anyway, before he finally fell, old Skid Row had busted down the rack sides of that trailer with splintered wood flying everywhere. Later, as the sun was setting, we sat at a steamy window in the kitchen of Paddy Lumpkins’ trailer, at a table with Paddy’s wife and his two little ones, all of us eating boxed macaroni and cheese with chunks of hot dogs cut up and stirred into the mix. As we ate, we watched out the window as they butchered Skid Row.