After managing the Shelby County Farm, the folks moved permanently back to Manilla. One afternoon Mom and I poured ourselves some coffee and sat at the kitchen table to visit. Mother told me about a dream she had the night before, one that frightened her. In that dream, in front of the barn was an old flatbed trailer, tongue dug into the dirt, pointing west, which meant that it wasn’t going to be hauled anywhere soon, big rocks behind each wheel to stabilize. No tractor nearby that she could remember. She said she saw the scene standing down by the end of the lane, peering through some shrubbery as if she was ordered not to be around. Around the flatbed were men, Mom thought about three, maybe four, two for sure on the south side, all dressed in butchering clothes, which meant white, bloody aprons covered them from chest to overshoes. With huge butcher knives these men stripped the black hide from a cow, not a steer, that Mom emphasized. How they removed the hide from the side that laid on the flatbed, I never asked. Mom said she couldn’t take her eyes off the butchering. She said the men cut off the hide in one piece, and laid it aside on the flatbed.
Mom had been around steers being butchered since she was a child. Her seeing such a sight should not have been usual; however, a steer is trusted up by its hooves after being knocked, throat cut, or shot in the head. Then someone would slit it from the groin to the neck two cuts and pull out all the organs, keeping the kidneys, the intestines, the heart, liver, and when the skull was opened, the tongue and brains. Most of the time, Dad and Mom butchered only hogs and chickens; a steer was hauled in the back of a pickup to Joe and May Price’s locker plant in Irwin.
I disliked intensely being forced to eat slices from a tongue or a heart on sandwiches, but if that was the only option, nothing could be done, especially since Mom guarded the cooking carefully. No waste ever, and for children learning how to cook, waste was the inevitable result. In the evening as a treat for herself, Mom would fry brains. The pungent smell permeated the kitchen. The first time I remember asking what was frying–the mess in the pan looked like gray worms–the answer I received was just one word: “Brains.” I don’t remember ever having to eat kidneys; maybe we did but didn’t know it. Mom told me that when they were little, she and her brothers and sisters filled bladders with gravel or sand and used them like kick balls or baseballs to throw back and forth in a game of catch.
The last time I was around a hog being butchered was at the County Farm. I was still married to my first husband. He had driven me and the three kids down from Sioux Falls the weekend before and was planning to pick me up the next weekend. There was an old shed the folks used for a garage not far from the County Farm’s north door that opened directly into the kitchen, windows across the east wall, four tables perpendicular to the windows around which the residents ate. I remember the steer trussed up in the center of the garage, and by the time the kids were settled down to watch tv or napping, the hog had already been slaughtered and butchered, the meat wrapped, and placed in one of the three huge deep freezes. While the beef was being butchered, it was a frenzy of stripping the hog’s intestines, cleaning them up, but not by me. I couldn’t touch the stuff. Mom did all the work. I tended to whatever needed to be done to feed the residents their evening meals.
Later that afternoon Mom put the casings on a sausage machine and stuffed them with a mixture of freshly ground pork and spices. On the stove that day in a double-boiler, batches of lye soap was being made. Rectangular cakes of soap when done were laid out on sheet cake pans, cooling and solidifying. Mom used those for the immense number of loads of clothes that she had to wash and dry throughout the week. At that time there were 17 residents; most of which were men. I did help Mom with the head cheese that afternoon, boiling the head and stripping off each little bit of meat. I still remember working around the dull eyeballs that had fallen out of the sockets. Later Mom would boil that meat and the meat from the hooves into a gelatinous mess.
When the men in Mom’s dream finished stripping the cow of its hide, Mom watched the cow sprout wings and take off, sailing over the barn, like, as it seemed to me, one of those ancient Greek mythological creatures. I didn’t know then what it meant, knowing a tad of Jung and Freud. Mom knew nothing of those theories, but she dreamed most every night, and remembered those dreams, sometimes writing them down. Dad swore he never dreamed, never reached that depth of sleep in which the past comes to haunt the present.