As a child, I had the best of both worlds. During the week, I lived with my parents in the city–a city that then had good public schools, lots of restaurants, and three-floor department stores downtown. On the weekends, we spent a great deal of time on my grandparents’ farm. There were cows, chickens, a pony, pigs, dogs, and six or eight barn cats. There were occasional snakes, the creek was filled with tadpoles and frogs. Sometimes there were foxes and deer. And in the spring, rabbits and groundhogs were abundant.
My grandparents had a large garden in addition to their fields of corn, oats, wheat, and alfalfa hay. I learned to plant and hoe, can and freeze, pick apples and blueberries. I learned to drive the tractor, bag oats and corn for the feed mill, lift hay and straw bales, and even tap a maple tree to boil into syrup. At an early age, I witnessed the birth of calves and kittens, the hatching of eggs, the ringing of pig snouts. And I even watched while my grandmother chopped off the heads of chickens with a hatchet. Not for the faint-hearted, as indeed, chickens do run around after losing their heads!
Once during the late summer, my younger brother and I spent a week at the farm. I suspect our parents wanted a week alone with our one or two-year-old sister. (Believe me, my brother, Bruce, and I would rather be at the farm too.) “Suzanne, tomorrow the pigs will be sent to the butcher. You and Bruce are to stay in the house, when they come to pick up the pigs. I’ll be outside, when they arrive. You supervise Bruce in the house. Suzanne, do you understand?” Grandma must think I’m deaf.
I received the message…but why? We had free rein of the farm to roam the fields, search for kittens in the hay mow, catch frogs. Why did we have to stay in the house?
When I saw the big truck pull in the gravel driveway and my grandmother greet them, I said, “Bruce, come on, let’s go. They’re here to pick up the pigs.”
“But grandma said no, ” he whined.
“Come on, if you’re going, or stay inside by yourself.”
We snuck into the barn and cracked the door that faced the pig pen. My unsuspecting grandmother had no idea we had front row seats! One by one each pig was felled by a shotgun blast. Another guy methodically slit their throats. Blood spurted and gushed across the sty. My stomach lurched, “Bruce let’s go, before grandma finds us.”
When grandma came back to the house, she found her innocent grandkids coloring. She didn’t notice my pale green, about-to-barf face. Thankfully, Bruce didn’t blurt out where we’d been. My grandmother was right; we should have stayed inside. Sixty-five years have passed and have failed to erase my images of the day the pigs died.