A Rural Education
Another look at sex and livestock from The Mouth of the River
Country kids have it over city kids when it comes to sex education because all animals perform their reproduction rites openly. From a very early age that’s pointed out to children as a natural thing, whereas city kids learn sex education by playing Doctor with the neighbor girl out in the garage, or by walking in on Mom and Dad during the height of their Sunday morning wrestling match.
Then there’s the back seat of most cars made in the 40s and 50s, where you might find your sister and her boyfriend. There was once a movement by a women’s group to have the car dealers replace the back seats of any car they took in on trade-in before it was resold, for health reasons.
My dad always had a simple explanation for things like that. “What about chickens?” I would ask. “How do they reproduce?”
“Shut up and go get my whetstone so I can sharpen my K-Bar.”
“But Dad, whose idea was it to eat the next thing that comes out of a chicken’s butt? And what if it wasn’t an egg?” I’m in my end days now, late 70s, and I still don’t know about those damn chickens, but I can understand why they’re part of the fowl family.
Another things country kids get in on that city kids never hear about is the killing of animals. In the fall, when the weather starts to turn cold, it’s time to butcher hogs and beef for the winter larder. Dad taught me at an early age where to place the shot on a hog for an instant kill‑-right behind the ear with a downward slant and the hog will drop like a shot. Beef is a bit different: you draw an imaginary line from the ear across the face to the opposite eye, do the same thing on the other side, and where these two lines cross is where you place your shot. Not between the eyes where most people think it should be, this would just mess up their sinuses and cause a nose bleed.
Country folks take care of their old, sick, and crippled animals in a way that avoids traumatizing them while putting them down with the least amount of disturbance. I got my first taste of this as an adolescent, and a small one at that, when the ranch boss came to me on a Friday afternoon and said, “I have a job for you which pays five dollars and the use of my new Mossberg automatic .22 with a seven-round clip. Also, you can drive the ranch pick-up”. These were three of the most exciting things I could think of, because all I had was an , bolt-action Remington with the stock held on with bailing wire. Plus, the only thing I had gotten to drive on the ranch was a old John Deer called Popping Jonnie with a hand clutch.
“Tomorrow when we go to town to do our weekly shopping, I want you to load that old cat up and take it up the creek about a mile and dispose of it.” We hauled that old cat all the way from Illinois when we bought the ranch and she hads declined to a point where she was no good for nothing. “She has scurvy, body sores , is now blind and has the runs. So, while my wife and family are in town tomorrow you can dispose of her and they won’t know how she disappeared.”
“You bet, boss, you can depend on me, the job will be done.” I could hardly wait to see their car pull through the ranch gate the next morning. I trotted up to the truck and opened the door and there it was, his new Mossberg with the plastic stock all shiny and with a full clip of long rifle shells. All I could afford was shorts for my .22, so this was outstanding. I looked around the barn and found the old cat sitting next to the feed room door. I picked her up and set her in the front seat of the pick-up. With one eye barely open a crack, she seemed quite content. I scooted forward in the seat so as to reach the starter and the gas pedal, turned on the key and stepped on the starter. That big Ford roared to life. Apparently, you’re not supposed to push the gas pedal all the way to the floor. Also, releasing the clutch is a gentle process—don’t just let it go.
Both the cat and I were slammed to the back of the seat as the Ford fishtailed back and forth across the gravel parking lot, slinging gravel all over the tin barn. It was about this time I noticed the cat had both eyes open and was looking for an escape route. The door window looked good to her but, much to her surprise, it was closed. Ricocheting off that window she tried my side of the vehicle, using my thighs as a spring board. With all claws extended, she ripped me a good one. Going up my shoulder and across the back of the seat she spotted the windshield; diving across she splattered into the glass and across the dashboard, slinging old license plates, cans of Sir Walter Raleigh, half used plugs of Day’s Work, an open can of Copenhagen, and an assortment of pins and pencils. With my foot still trying to catch up with the gas pedal we were lurching across the parking lot and, after circling around the cab several times, the cat ended up down behind the back of the seat. Out from under the seat came a jack, a set of wrenches, and some old Playboy magazines.
It was at this time I began to smell something raunchy; apparently the cat had lost control of its bowels and was spraying everything in sight. By this time the pickup had lurched its way down near the creek where I turned off the key and bailed out, along with the cat who hit the ground running back toward the barn. I pulled the Mossberg out and opened fire on an educational experience: I didn’t know a cat could jump that high when dead.
I spent the rest of the day trying to clean out the truck and when I was finished, I placed the Mossberg back across the seat. Forgetting it was an automatic, I pulled the trigger. The bullet went through the door panel, the rolled down window and made a bulge in the outside door by the handle.
That was one of my more memorable days growing up on a ranch.