Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Butchering Day

E and I drove over to the Palouse to visit my sister and her family and get our hands on the first member of the next generation in my family, little JR. And can I just say, "Great Aunt" sounds about a thousand years older than "Grandma"? The little guy thrilled us all last night by simply rolling over.   And this guy--who won't hit the 2 month mark until January 10th-- has been doing this acrobatic feat for a couple of weeks. There were three generations of people, cheering him on and practically giving him an Olympic Gold Medal, when he got it done. I know, I was part of the middle of those generations.

Can you remember the last time a whole room full of people cheered because you managed to turn your body from front to back?...Didn't think so. But that's the thing about babies. Every single thing they do is new and first and spectacular.

That's the way it should be, after all. Even the old farmers among the family get kind of gooey-eyed over this little tyke.

It didn't take any convincing for us to take the drive halfway across the Palouse Country (or this county) today, to where my niece lives with her husband and that adorable son. L is beginning her life as a mother much the way her mother, my sister, did--living just down the road from her in-laws, because her husband farms with his father. It like a long ways out there but the sight was well worth it.

Today, you see, out at the farm where L's husband P and his father work (where his father was raised as the  male caboose in a long train of children), the whole large, unwieldy, crazy bunch of them were gathered--brothers, sisters, in-laws and children whooping it up outside, older women inside--for the main event of the winter.  Down at the shop, dozens (? were there really that many? It seemed so!) of men in dirty, sloppy, coveralls were doing the work of the day.  Today, you see, was "Butchering Day."

Last year, I asked L to take some pictures of it for me, because I'd written about such a day for my aborted novel, but hadn't seen it, nor smelled, not really had a visual except in my head.  Today, it was all that and more for that short time E, RE and I spent down with the boys in the shop, trying to stay out of their way, while getting something of a guided tour from P and his dad. When we arrived they only had about three hogs left to cut and hang. Only one still had its clothes skin still on. As P's dad gave us a bit of history about why they started doing this butchering day, I watched a man with an electric knife separate the hide from the fat.  Another man walked right past us and dumped a shovel full of entrails--all kinds of stuff that might turn your stomach if you were from the city and unused to such things (say, from Bellingham!)--dumped it right into the shovel of a front loader which will take it up into the hills above the shop to give to the coyotes.

Then, walking gingerly, we entered the back of the shop, where 26 pig carcasses, cut in half, will hang all night.  As we stood there talking, P's dad talked about how gratifying it is to him that the next generation is so interested in getting involved in "Butchering Day."  Even though the space will only accomodate a finite number of hanging hogs, they decided the communal aspect of this two day event was more important than how much bacon or ham they actually come away with.  Butchering Day--this very bloody, grimy, dirty, traditional, stinky, back-breaking job is a tradition that helps give their family definition.

This is something I've been  thinking a whole lot about recently, for a variety of reasons. It's always been clear to me that the glue in my family has been a place. Not an event (or a couple of events) but a place.  The family cabin on Whidbey Island has functioned as the tradition in our family. It's what we have in common when we have little else in common.  My sister and her daughter both married into families who have not traveled far from where they had roots.  But our family--the Crains--have roots here (in Pullman), Seattle, and New Mexico. So what joined us? What made us more than just names on the end of our parents Christmas Cards? It's that 11 acre (now) plot of land with the ridiculously small indoor space for all of us.  And the expansive outside.  It's our one place in all this wonderful creation God made.

As P's dad was speaking of the importance of this day, of their tradition of Butchering Day and of passing it on to the next generation, I thought of how we train our children to share our values of those traditions.  How will P and L train little JR that Butchering Day is something worth setting all other things aside for?  By living it out. By showing him that what we hold true on the big days--the butchering days--is no less imprtant on the days when we're just home doing laundry.  It's about being intentional, being relational, and not letting the tyranny of the urgent get in the way, not letting our calendars dictate our values.

Sometimes there's blood on butchering day. No...there is ALWAYS blood on butchering day. Blood and guts and gas and some plain old bovine odors I didn't have a hope in hell of identifying.

But God reminds me that I often pull back too soon, pull out of the room at the least little scratch.
Yes--for you and for me--for anyone who gets in the way of what God is doing, we're liable to get bruised--at least! God's sheering-- so that we bear His fruit. All in His times. That's why He's God.

I'll say this: if God has to do some deep sheering for me to bear fruit, I could do worse than say, "Your will, Lord.' After all, God and bearing fruit? That's a no brainer.

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