The Family Farm
Growing up on a farm, there wasn’t a lot of spare sentimentality to go around; as kids, my siblings and I were never protected from the harsh realities of life, mostly because there was just too much work to be done.
But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of love in my family. I’ll never forget the day I had to take my dog out behind the barn and shoot him. I was just 9 years old, and it sure started out as one of the saddest days of my life. Ol’ Charlie, he had distemper, and putting him out of his misery was the only humane thing to do. At first, try as I might, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. But my dad came and stood next to me and, with his voice quavering, he squeezed my shoulder and said, “C’mon, son. I don’t like it any more than you do, but it’s got to be done. Here, I’ll get you started,” and then picked up his rifle and winged Ol’ Charlie in the hind leg.
Well, that made me feel a heck of a lot better, and pretty soon I was blasting away at Ol’ Charlie like it was going out of style. I remember me and my dad, covered in Ol’ Charlie’s blood, just laughing and laughing and laughing. I really felt like I got a whole lot closer to my old man that day.
That’s just the way it was on the farm. We may have been a bit more reserved about our feelings than some families, but it was still clear that we really cared for one another. It didn’t matter if my brothers and I were plugging a litter of heartworm-infected puppies with .38 revolvers behind the barn before Mom called us in for supper, or if Mom herself was back there, putting a slug into her old, arthritic cocker spaniel Duke’s skull, there was always something there that was sweet and unspoken, but palpable and very real.
They say you remember the little things the most, and I guess that’s true, but there are those big moments, too, that let you know you’re really part of a family. Like the terrible day my grandpa passed away, and my grandma and all of my cousins and aunts and uncles got together behind the barn to put down Gramps’ beloved mutt Rosco in an unbroken 40-minute hail of gunfire, because poor Rosco was just too heartbroken to live, we speculated.
Or that cool summer evening when my sister, looking beautiful in in her prom dress, went out behind the barn and blasted our three coon hounds to Kingdom Come. I actually can’t remember what, if anything, was wrong with those particular dogs, but no one can tell me it didn’t make perfect sense that day.
Sometimes, when I go back to visit the farm, I like to head out behind the barn by myself and kick around the old collars and dog bones, and just sort of think for a while. I live in the big city now so mostly I wonder what it’ll be like to have my own son someday, and how I might go about teaching him all those important lessons I learned from my family. We wouldn’t have a barn, or any guns bigger than a 9 mm, probably, but I suppose we could strangle his cat in the basement of our apartment building when it got too old or drop a big rock on a sick pigeon. The point is, the world’s a whole lot more complicated than it was when I was growing up; it’s a lot harder these days to find the right time and place for you and your kid to look into an animal’s big trusting eyes and then snuff out its life.
But it’s a feeling I wouldn’t rob a child of for all the tea in China.