For many people it’s hard to recall the first time they encountered the concept of death. I suppose usually it is the loss of a family pet. For me it was the shocking reality of the loss of a young bull we were raising for meat, but I had begun to think of as a pet. I was barely 3 years old. My folks had no money to speak of, and we were apparently poor, but being as young as I was, I wasn’t really aware of this fact. I had about all I needed to enjoy my life, and food enough to eat, along with an occasional candy bar I was offered if we visited any of my folks’ friends. One day, I was in the house with my mother and father having breakfast and the two of them were talking about how they’d like to have some meat for our meals. Usually, my father would go out into the woods and hunt for deer.
On this particular day, my mother and father were including me in something that I really didn’t understand. I knew about eating meat, and about Dad bringing deer home and dressing them off, but this was something entirely different. Up to this point, I had never seen him actually kill an animal. My father asked me if it would be OK to shoot my small bull. I remember he said we needed something to eat, and he’d need to shoot my bull. I was a bit foggy on the meaning of it all but I said sure. He said I could go out and watch him do it and be a help afterwards. I stood next to Dad, he told me to plug my ears because the sound of his rifle would be too loud. I put my hands over my ears as I watched my bull standing there a short distance from us. The old man pulled up his rifle and shot. The noise was huge and the bull fell to the ground instantly. I stood there a few seconds and waited. I looked up at Dad and said innocently, “When is he going to get up?”
Dad looked back down at me with a bewildered expression on his face, and said, “What do you mean Ricky? He’s not going to get up. We’re going to eat the meat.” I still didn’t really understand at first. “You said it was OK to shoot the bull when I asked you. We need to have some food, and the bull will give us meat to last a while,” he said. That was it.
My father did the preliminary preparations for the cleaning up of the carcass, and brought it into the house in sections for my mother to help cut it up and freeze. I wasn’t really aware of all that went into getting things organized for supper. I do remember my mother saying to me several times during the process that it would taste good. Maybe this was her way of trying to convince me we’d done the right thing. The first meal from the bull was supper that night, and my folks were still telling me everything was for the benefit of our family. I ate, and agreed that it tasted good.
I hadn’t thought of this event as a negative thing right away, but years later I would recall it while I was out deer hunting with my father, and saw him pull the 30:06 up to his shoulder. It was then, that I remembered what happens when we need meat on the table. Most people buy their food at the grocery store in little shrink wrapped packages. They don’t know or even really consider that it had once been a live animal, and that someone had to kill it. The process is not all “bad”, but we as a culture should be more aware what is necessary to literally put meat on the table.
(c) Rick Wyman