Wednesday, August 27, 2008

On Killing Turkeys

Andrea’s Turkeys
Copyright Ken Harris 2008

My wife Joanne’s sister, Andrea, lived on five acres outside of the metropolis of Rough and Ready, California. Andrea and her late husband, Phil Phillips, lived in a fine home with a fine barn and a fine flock of sheep to live in the fine barn. They also had a fine flock of turkeys to live with the fine sheep. But Andrea was never cut out to be a farmer, and she made pets out of her sheep and her turkeys. She fed her sheep by hand, going to the barn and calling, “Here, Sheepie, Sheepie, Sheepie.” And the sheep would dutifully trot up to be fed.

Her turkeys were not quite as tame as her sheep. The turkeys had the run of the place and hitchhiked rides on the backs of the sheep. They rode everywhere, digging their claws into wooly backs until the backs were raw and sore. Phil once expounded the theory that the fact that turkeys hitchhiked on sheep was compelling evidence that turkeys were smarter than sheep. But that’s not saying much. Everyone knows that doorknobs are smarter than sheep.

One Thanksgiving when the turkeys were grown and the sheep’s backs were raw from so much hitchhiking, Audrey decided that the poultry had to go. She offered Joanne and Fritz their choice of fowl. There was a condition. We would have to do the slaughtering and she would not help in any way. In fact, she wouldn’t even be there. She would be indoors, upstairs, meditating and reflecting on the uncertainty of life. After all, these turkeys were her personal friends.

Fritz was butcher-in-charge. He had read a magazine article about killing turkeys. According to this author’s advice, we should hang the turkey upside down by his feet over a bucket. Once the turkey had quieted down in this position, we were to cut the bird’s head off and it would quietly bleed into the bucket.

This didn’t sound quite right, but it sounded better than whacking the bird’s head off and watching its body bounce around the pasture like a big feathered basketball. So, what the heck, said we. Let’s give it a try, said we. And so Joanne, Ruth, Fritz and I stood in a ring around the suspended bird, and Fritz severed its head with a carving knife.

Can you say “pinwheel”?

That’s what the dead bird made of itself and in just a few short seconds we all looked like victims of a chain saw massacre. After that, we slew the other turkeys in a more conventional fashion and watched them bounce around the pasture like big feathered basketballs. Meanwhile we reflected, wondering whether Fritz had skipped a paragraph in that magazine article.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Halt and the Blind Saw Salmon

The Halt and the Blind Saw Salmon
Copyright 2007 Kenneth Harris

Our daughter Patricia phoned us one day from the Chapa-de Health Clinic in Auburn to tell us that in was Salmon Day. Periodically the Great White Father gives his Indian Children free salmon. These are dead females who have been “harvested” for eggs at the fish hatchery. In the normal course of events, the females lay their eggs and then die. The hatchery accelerates the process a little bit. It’s not very nice, but then it’s probably not a good idea to think about where any of your food comes from.

The hatchery uses the offices of Chapa-De Health Clinic to distribute the fish. It’s convenient since the clinic is tasked with seeing to the health needs of the Indian population in several Northern California counties. Truth to be told, the salmon are not as tasty as wild salmon caught off the Alaskan. Nor is the texture up to par. Nevertheless, it’s free fish and there’s nothing wrong with it. I’m Depression Baby enough to leap all over the offer.

We got our salmon in the form of two females frozen together in a solid block. They didn’t want to come apart with screw drivers or pry bars. We didn’t want to thaw them to get them apart and cut into steaks because we weren’t ready to eat both of the animals at one sitting. We offered to share our loot with Joanne’s brother Fritz and use his table saw to cut the fish into steaks. He agreed and we drove over. Meanwhile, he trundled the saw out onto his garage apron so that we could see what we were doing.

Good light was important because Fritz had wet macular degeneration of both eyes and wasn’t seeing anything very well. The nature of the disease is that you can see anything that is not directly in front of you. It’s like one of those television shows where they blot out the miscreant’s face.

I, on the other hand, had my right arm in a sling because I had just had a torn rotator cuff repaired and a stone removed from the elbow bursa, an aftermath of falling off a ladder and landing on a pile of gravel.

We plugged the saw in and turned it on. It was an old Craftsman saw, but the blade was new and unless we exercised some caution we could easily sacrifice fingers or a hand to this enterprise. The two fish were still frozen together, one solid mass. Joanne stood in front of the saw and pushed the fish through, first removing the tails and then the heads. Then she began to cut the fish into steaks. Fritz stood behind the saw to steady it and remove the pieces of fish as they came toward him. I stood to one side to help both steady the saw and handle fish pieces.

The process worked well except we were all soon covered with “fish dust.” Finely formed fish flesh, scales, and such other parts as had not yet been previously removed covered our hands and faces. And our shirts. And decorated our hair. We were earnest and energetic, but we looked like extras in a horror movie.

Fritz was essentially blind. I had one functioning arm. It’s too bad Joanne wasn’t lame. We could have been a threesome.

The fish, by the way, was…well, it was…free.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

An Ending
Copyright Kenneth F. Harris

While Tequila and Norman were not successful, Joanne and I were. As Patricia’s birth neared, we faced some unpleasant truths about a dog we had come to value greatly. He was our friend. But we just couldn’t trust him with a new baby in the house. He was jealous of us, and it is doubtful that he would accept the baby with equanimity. And so Joanne took him to the vet, but this time not for adoption. Norman was intelligent, and he knew that he had failed again. He died quickly in Joanne’s arms. One shot from the vet and he was gone instantly.
That night we cried.
I still choke up every now and then. Fifty years later. And what really bothers me most is that all that time Norman was with us he was just being the best dog he knew how to be. Damn it, damn it, damn it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Norman and Tequila

The important thing is that Norman was sensitive and intelligent. He was so shattered by the loss of his first home that he never adjusted to subsequent homes. He soon adjusted to us once he adjusted to the horses in the stable and our back yard.
Nothing in Norman’s previous apartment-style life had prepared him for people who just sat right down on a horse and rode it around. The first time he saw me on a horse he tried to drag me off by my boot heel. However, once Norman had decided that there was nothing obscene or degrading in the relationship between a man and a horse, he loved to come along with us. He had learned that horses occasionally got out of the yard and went interesting places, did interesting things.
Norman was the most intelligent dog I have ever met. He understood hundreds of words. It was our custom to go grocery shopping once a week. And every other week we bought Norman a bone. This bone held tremendous significance for him. He would bury his bone as soon as he received it. Then, in the evenings, when we came out to sit on the glider in back of the house and drink our coffee, Norman would appear with his bone. It was a pack thing, something we all did together, he and his family.
But one grey day Joanne forgot Norman’s bone. He understood time enough to know it was bone week. He stood at the door looking through the glass into the kitchen while Joanne unpacked our goodies. Suddenly, she looked at the dog and said, “Oh, my God, I forgot Norman’s bone!” Norman put his head and tail down and left the kitchen door.
Joanne ran to the phone in the living room and called her friend, Zoe Ann.
“Hello, Zoe? Have you been shopping yet?...Well, I forgot Norman’s bone. Could you pick one up for him?...You’ll bring it here in a half an hour? Wonderful!”
A living room window was open and Norman, sitting outside, heard this one side of a telephone conversation, but he understood. When Zoe arrived within half hour, Norman met her at the gate. He fawned, groveled, crawled on his belly like a reptile. He knew who Zoe was, knew she had his bone and he wanted it! Zoe had never before walked into our yard unchallenged, and she never did again, but that afternoon she was visiting royalty.
About the time that Norman came to live with us, Joanne’s brother, Fritz, and his wife Ruth acquired a German Shepherd bitch whom they named Tequila. And so, as must inevitably happen in the face of profound, collective ignorance, we decided to breed the two dogs to each other. Now dog breeding is one of the Greater Arcana, right up there with transmutation of substances and balancing the checkbook. People spend their lives breeding and raising dogs and still spend restless nights wondering about the myriad things that could go wrong. But we, we knew nothing of these things. Dogs have bred without human help for tens of thousands of years. How difficult could it be?
And so we got the two dogs together and poured ourselves some wine. Unfortunately for us, we had two virgin dogs. Norman smelled the air, he smelled Tequila, and then the two of them stood around looking expectantly. Surely something should be happening. But it wasn’t.
We had some more wine. Even that didn’t help. We picked up Norman and placed him on Tequila. Still nothing. We were getting rather desperate when Norman accidentally made the proper penetration. Then the two dogs were permanently stuck. They stuck together even when they tried to walk off in opposite directions. Finally, they got too near the bluff and fell ten feet into some brush where they fortunately separated. For some strange reason, we could no longer interest them in coupling. Perhaps they felt that sex was just too painful. Forget pups if that’s what you had to do.
We had come to that conclusion ourselves. And so Tequila and Norman never added to the gene pool.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Norman (Continued)
©Ken Harris, 2008
Norman had the unfortunate habit of biting people. Joanne and I were as safe as gold at Fort Knox but anyone else who came into the yard stood a serious chance of leaving a part of his gluteus maximus in Norman’s mouth. Whenever Joanne came home from work she always shoved Norman into the house first. Anybody lurking there was going to get fanged to a fare thee well.
It didn’t help that the drive-in parking lot joined our property line. Several amateur dog trainers had to be told to stop leaning over the fence and calling to the dog. I especially remember asking one man several times loudly, and profanely, to leave the dog alone. Norman had already taken some tentative steps towards him, trying to decide which hand to remove first. “But dogs like me,” the gentleman said.
“Yes,” I replied, “and this dog will like you so much he will remove your arm and bury it in the back yard.”
The gas man was another near miss. He screeched up to the driveway, stopped diagonally and vaulted the front fence. Norman was waiting for him on the other side of the fence with his mouth open. It was the first time I had ever seen anyone defy the laws of physics, because somehow he reversed direction in mid air and came back down on his own side of the fence. In this case, I was cheering for the dog because the man was showing no respect.
Another meter reader did not escape intact, though. He came into the yard and Norman followed him all around. He was about to leave when Joanne saw him and expressed surprise. “Well,” the gas man said, “dogs like me.” Joanne went back into the house and heard a cry of pain. Norman had sunk his canines right up to the gum line into the man’s leg. And the dog had been following the man around for twenty minutes. Oh, well, another round of quarantine.
The people who gave Norman to us lied about him. He was not a two-year-old dog. He was actually six year old, or even older. Joanne found this out when she had to take him to the vet. Norman had lived with one family in an apartment for five years and then been placed for adoption because, who knows why. The family had taken him to the vet and asked that he be placed in another home. But when Joanne walked in with the dog, the receptionist said, “Oh, no, not poor Norman again.” We were his fifth family since his original abandonment.