Monday, May 30, 2011

2011.05.30 Time to Remember (Memorial Day)

I remember summers on the farm in Ancramdale NY.

On the farm I learned everything I ever needed to know about life, death, love, terror and courage.

I saw a horse birthing a colt, feet first. I saw a surgeon slash open one of a cow’s four stomachs, heard the blood splash onto the concrete floor, smelled the stink of gastric air that rushed out, cringed as the gloved arm of the surgeon plunged in and pulled out a piece of hardware the cow had swallowed. God knew how. The cow ate during the procedure.

I rode my pony bareback into the swimming hole, buried my face in his mane and felt safe as large water rats sluiced by. My friend and I on our ponies herded the cows back to the barn to be milked each evening. One cow was missing. We found her and had to watch her sink to her death in quick mud, the last bellow, the last reach of one nostril snatching at life as it disappeared—while we stood by helpless.

There were rats in the old farmhouse. We stuffed old newspapers into their large holes. Rats once chewed the flesh off a baby. The father a farmhand caught as many rats as he could and burned them alive nose down on a hot stove burner. He had to hear them scream like his baby had before she died.

Even sex. The bull mounted the cow and hopped around while she bellowed—then she resumed eating. My mother told me it was the way they made babies, that she and Daddy did that too, and that it was the most beautiful thing two people could do. There’s only so much a six year old’s imagination can bear.

I learned the freedom of wind in my hair, dirt on my face, and bare feet pounding and toughening on dirt roads. I learned that cornfields whisper and, like Godde, hold all secrets sacred.

Once I watched my father, along with Farmer Kurt and another hand, herd a raging bull onto the back of a truck using pitchforks. It wasn’t enough protection. What if the bull killed my Daddy? I knew what bulls could do. My father was city not country. This wasn’t something he knew about. I saw the fear creep into his eyes. But he stuck it out. He did his brave part. I was proud of him.

What I remember most though was how much I loved him for his answer to my question, “Daddy were you afraid?” He said, “Yes I was, my darling.” Then he hugged me and planted a kiss on my forehead. My Daddy, so brave and so scared all at once. A hero.

Isn’t that what Memorial Day is all about?