Allen and I took my bull Georgie to the butcher on Monday. It all went like clockwork but I had to keep a tight grip on my emotions.
The first emotional piece, believe it or not, was picking up the trailer. I don’t even know the names of the kind people who lent me their fancy horse trailer for the day. Allen’s son Damon knows them.
It was snowing on Sunday afternoon when Allen and Damon and I converged in our trucks at an 1850 barn on a back road. A stocky man with a merry smile was waiting. He was wearing so many layers of winter clothing, I could only see his eyes and his grin. I put out my hand. “We’ve met,” he said. I am notoriously bad at names and faces and I finally realized he was the cheerful young man at the fire department who gave me my burn permit last spring. However it turned out the trailer did not belong to him, but to another man who soon pulled up. This older man jumped out of his truck carrying a bag of tools. He was brisk and matter-of-fact, nodding briefly at me. Then he proceeded to remove the hinges of the big 8-foot barn doors which could not open due to the snow. Once the hinges were off, the heavy doors were lifted to the side.
I was knocked out that four men would be out in a stinging snowstorm going to so much trouble for a person two of them didn’t know at all. And there were no complaints, no sighs or eye rolls. It was clearly nothing extraordinary to them. The entire attitude was: the woman needs a trailer, how will we work together to get this one out of the barn? Very old-school male, very small-town. Damon got in my truck and backed it expertly between the trees to hitch it up. The trailer was for show horses, white and spotless, the fanciest trailer I’ve ever used. I gulped my thanks, and the owner smiled. “You break it, you own it,” he said pleasantly. We all shook hands, and I drove off in the blowing snow, towing a stranger’s property worth thousands of dollars.
The next morning I fed the animals at 6:00 and turned the sheep out. I started the truck’s engine to clear the thick ice off the windshield. Allen pulled in at 6:30. It was still pitch dark.
“I hope I put the truck and trailer in the right place for you,” I said anxiously. The plowed snowbanks made the turn-around area very small.
“How come you didn’t just back it up to the door?” Allen asked, twinkling. He knows I can’t back any machinery even in a wide-open space.
In only a minute he had backed the trailer tight to the barn. We turned on the trailer’s interior lights. I put hay and grain on the floor, and went to get Georgie.
Loading animals for slaughter is always a trauma for me. My bulls are not really tame but they do know me. I have fed and watered them twice a day, every day of their lives. They trust me as a source of food, shelter, ear-rubs, comfort. It is a terrible thing to use that trust. Georgie, a potentially dangerous bull, followed me onto the unfamiliar trailer after only a moment’s hesitation. Allen swung the doors shut. Of course it is a relief when loading goes smoothly but I had a lump in my throat.
The two-hour drive was slow due to the icy roads. I was behind the wheel. Once again I was struck by the difference between Allen’s brain and mine. I had carefully printed out detailed directions from Google maps. Allen tossed them aside. He also didn’t read road signs. “Go this way. Turn there.” I was alarmed because we were diverging dramatically from the directions I’d read over my early morning coffee. However after a token squeak of concern I didn’t argue. We drove through miles of forest, only flashing past the occasional hamlet of small houses. Allen just whistled and looked out the window, pointing out the sights.
“I think Mike lives there.” “Mike?” He told me and I worked it out. “Oh, your daughter-in-law’s brother-in-law?” Allen is related to half the North Country.
I needn’t have worried about our directions. Allen was a trucker for a lumber company for many years and the back roads and their shortcuts (though not their names) are imprinted in his mind. We emerged from the woods just short of our destination.
At the slaughterhouse Allen took over driving to back the trailer to the unloading chute while I hopped out to deal with officialdom and Georgie.
“This beef’s a bull?” asked the young man in the chute. (At slaughterhouses all cattle are referred to as beeves.) “Is he mean?”
“No, he’s not mean,” I said. I could hear Georgie bellowing and my heart smote me. He was bellowing with fright.
Despite my reassurances, the moment I opened the trailer and Georgie jumped out, the young man disappeared into the building where he would be safe behind a fence. Obviously I would be the one bringing my bull up through the narrow chute into a waiting pen inside.
Georgie was snorting and digging in his toes, trying to double back.
My mind was operating on two levels. On one level I was thinking fast and problem-solving. This is dangerous, I have to move him forward into the building. (I heard Allen come up behind me, offering to help. I pictured the bull pushing past me and accidentally trampling this dear fragile old man and I cried, “Allen, get out of here, I can’t have you hurt!”)
On the other level my heart was breaking because Georgie was listening to me as the one familiar landmark in a scary place. I put my arm around his rear end and leaned against his flank, pushing. “Go on, Georgie. I’m here. You’re OK.” The ground was slippery with snow. Step, step. He walked forward and then thought again about turning around. “No, Georgie.” When he was straightened out again, I did not hurry him. We were jammed together in the narrow passage. I rubbed his back, speaking softly. “Whoa, buddy. You’re all right. You’re OK. I’m here. Good boy. You’re OK. That’s it, Georgie. Good boy.” It took five minutes but in the end he walked obediently into the holding pen.
“Wow, great job!” said the slaughterhouse worker as he ran forward to lock the gate. I was too emotional to answer. Of course it is far better to have Georgie accompanied by me and my calm crooning rather than pushed along with sticks or cattle prods by impatient strangers. But sadness and a sense of betrayal choked my throat.
At that moment I wasn’t remembering the oppressive weight of danger I’ve felt at chores the last two and half months. I wasn’t thinking of the hassle of a bull’s destructiveness in my barn or the expense of feeding for all those extra weeks. I was remembering little George Clooney, my bumptious calf who loved the kelp mineral mix and even as a grown bull would bury his face in the stuff and then sniff at me, his muzzle frosted white and smelling of the ocean.
I tell myself that one day of fear in a happy lifetime is not a bad average, but it is still too much for me. I must redouble my efforts to find a butcher who will come to the farm.
It is a relief not to have a bull. Chores are simpler and much less fraught. The prickling need to be aware of where he was at every minute has been draining. But I continue to feel low. I suppose that is only appropriate, and is Georgie’s due.