February 12th…“HOW DID YOU GET VARIOUS MEATS FOR YOUR MEALS WHEN YOU LIVED ON THE FARM?”
When they want meat to eat, the grand majority of Americans today will go to a grocery store and pay the man behind the counter for fancily wrapped meats to take home and feed their families. It seems all rather stylish and fancy, in a way, yet it is a rather sterile experience to just have that pork chop magically appear and not realize the whole story of how it got there in the first place. Not so for those of us blessed to live in the country on farms. On our 120 acre farm, we raised our own meat, on the hoof (so to speak), and when it came time to fill our freezer with tasty steaks, hamburger, etc., we called our local butcher to bring his boom-crane truck to “put down” (kill) either a hog or cow to feed our family.
One thing that I will always be thankful for, growing up on our farm in southern Minnesota, is that I was granted the privilege to see the full spectrum and cycle of the life of our various animals, both big and small. I was able to witness the birth of little kitties as well as piglets and calves, and then, to see them grow to maturity and live among us there on that rich land. And yes, I was even there to witness the ending of our animal’s lives…..whether it was the sad incident of a dog run over by a neighbor’s tractor, or sickness/old age, or, in this case of the animal becoming food for our family table.
Our beloved mother, Clarice, always spoke so respectfully of the kindness and gentle nature of Axel Challgren and his family who ran “Challgren’s Lockers” in our hometown of Kiester, Minnesota. I remember Mr. Challgren as a quiet man with a shy smile as he would arrive with his boom-crane truck on our farmyard. Mom talked of Axel having a very tender heart towards children and how he wanted to spare little ones from the stark reality of what his job entailed. In light of that mindset, Mr. Challgren always asked that children be sent away from the immediate area, so as not to have to witness the death of the animal and the necessary gutting and cutting procedures of the butchering process.
I vividly recall, that day, how Dad put a halter over the head of the cow selected for butchering and led her out of the NE corner door of our big red barn. About 20 yards from the barn, Dad and the cow stopped near the butcher’s truck while Axel pulled his 22 caliber rifle from the front seat of his truck. Axel then inserted a bullet into the chamber of the rifle and “closed the action”; he was now ready to do what had to be done. Dad, wanting to honor Mr. Challgren’s wishes (regarding children being nearby during butchering), bade me to “go in to the house, Elliott”. Reluctantly, I obeyed, but there was a wrestling inside of me because I had really wanted to stay and see what butchering was all about.
Being the sly little guy that I was, I reasoned, in my scheming mini-mind that Dad had said to “go in to the house”, he did NOT say that I couldn’t look through the kitchen windows OF the house to see what was going on down there near the barn. So, as I watched from our kitchen window, that dear and quiet Mr. Challgren gently walked up to the front of the cow and placed the muzzle of that rifle right between her eyes and pulled the trigger……POW!!!! The cow’s end was quick as a merciful blink as all four legs simultaneously buckled and down she went to the ground. Now that the animal was dead, Axel went to the work of what a butcher does in creating various meats for our family, and extended family, to enjoy for months to come.
Having spent my first thirteen years of life on that farm, I came away with a deep respect for life, in general, and a gratefulness for God’s provision for us there on the farm. We all knew the monetary price in feeding, raising, cleaning, nurturing and enjoying the life of all of our animals. And, yes, we then had a solemn understanding of the “life” price of needing to take an animal’s life when it came to our family’s need for food. As Ecclesiastes 3:2 says…..”There’s a time to be born, and a time to die”. Thank you, Lord, for the farm life lessons learned by this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.