Much of what we did as we were growing up in our country-like setting was centered around animals, domestic and others. Maybe "creatures" would be a better name for some of them.
Having had at least "a hearing knowledge" of the Bible and its stories, the Creation Story was one of the 'biggies' for us. Satan had indwelled the serpent in that account, and he eventually was instrumental in leading mankind to destruction via the forbidden fruit he encouraged Eve to eat. To us (especially to me) Satan was one worthy of everyone's hatred. And since it was the serpent or snake which became synonymous with Satan, I hated snakes! Whenever I'd see any of them, singularly or in multiples, I'd torture and kill them.
On one occasion I found a whole bunch of them in a snake pit, and I set the area on fire to burn them out. At other times I'd chop them with whatever was available, jump on them, throw rocks at them, snap them like whips, etc. I felt I was fighting the enemy, as did many other kids of that day. Guess I wasn't the only one who had an intense dislike for them. Far as I know, they were mostly garter snakes, though we did find some of the moccasin family around now and then, along with a few other varieties.
Actually, I was not that heartless with all creatures. I really dreaded the thought of any living thing being killed needlessly. Case in point would be the time I came upon a nest of newly born mice which were squealing and wiggling, looking for nourishment. I must have thought the parents had abandoned them and that they were in need of care. So I took them home to try feeding them. One of my siblings must have reported what I'd done, and Mom and Dad approached me to tell me they had to go. You can imagine how parents might feel about having mice around the house, especially mice aided to survive, and on their premises!
Somewhere along the way the verdict was reached that an execution had to be performed, this in spite of all my mediation and pleas and crying. I was told that drowning was the least painful method to carry out the verdict.>
Tears filled my eyes, heart and soul. I couldn't bear to watch or even think about what was to take place. Eventually the gory deed was done. Mercy and clemency had fallen on deaf ears!
The feline community also thrived in our community, so much so that when kittens were found, they often ended up going the way of the mice I brought home. It was just a matter of being unable to feed more mouths. It added to my thoughts that mankind didn't have much feeling for living things.
Many of the families in our area raised chickens. It was rural and suitable to such an undertaking. It also meant a way to get eggs and chicken dinners at a very low cost. Newly hatched chicks were delightful to watch as mother hens taught them to feed themselves, protected them and walked about with them in a family-like setting. I don't know if there's such a thing as "chicken language," but those mother hens taught those chicks everything they needed to know to surviveat least until the time of their demise, sometimes via the hated weasels which invaded chicken coops on occasion.
The other way most of their lives ended was via the chopping block. This was another of the unpleasant things in my life. Few chickens died of old age, and even fewer which lived in our chicken yard. Dad would always be the executioner when the time came. He grabbed the victim by the legs, holding it upside down as he headed for the block. And one swift blow found chicken and head separated. Did you ever wonder where the saying came from "...like a chicken with its head cut off"? They run around wildly as though they can see.
For some reason I did watch this many times, maybe out of sympathy. And I was certain those chickens could actually see somehow, for they always seemed to head toward people. This running about lasted for as long as a few minutes or more. It may be that my watching was in the hope I could somehow restore the heads to the chickens and bring them back to life.
One time a man came to our house who advised Dad there was a better way than chopping heads off to get the job done. Since this was one of those times when another chicken was to fall victim to the chicken pot, Dad watched the man perform his "more humane (supposedly) and less gruesome" task. He grabbed the chicken by the neck, whirled it around at high speed a few times and then gave a "yank" toward himself. The chicken flew through the air and performed much the same as those who lost their heads via the chopping block, and the man was left with the head in his hand. To me this was no better than the other method.
The idea of letting the headless chicken run about was supposed to be a way of draining the blood, it seems I was told. The violently flapping wings just about made it impossible to hold on to the chicken, anyway. Next came the removal of feathers. The chicken was placed in boiling water and allowed to soak for a time, as this aided in easier plucking. Admittedly, this did not produce a very good scent, and we kids rarely lasted through the entire plucking ordeal. Today I'm reminded of chicken-plucking when seeing certain skin areas of the human body where larger pores appear.
The butchering which followed produced a stench equal to or greater than the plucking. But as kids we often watched as Mom dissected the carcass, sometimes thinking about what organs were in our own bodies. Removal of the "innards" took an exceptionally good stomach to stay on to completion of the job. I've had a queasy stomach all my life. I wonder if it began way back then.
It seems this Animal Kingdom subject is progressing from bad to worse as I go along, for now comes the story of our pigs (or sows/hogs, if you prefer).
As far as I know we only raised two pigs all the while I was growing up. When I think about how they grew from little piglings to huge pigs, I recall that we watched them grow up, so to speak. So when one day it was said they were ready for butchering, I knew I'd soon be subjected to more anxious moments of agony as I'd experienced from the past.
Two men, evidently learned in slaughtering techniques, were hired to do the job. This was after Mom and Dad had discussed our hard times, the lack of funds to purchase much food, the trying times of the Depression, etc. And, as I've said before of our grandparents' pigs, they couldn't lay eggs or give milk. They were destined to this time from their birth!
Though I detested what must eventually take place, and now had arrived, I thought I'd watch the procedure. Maybe I had hoped it would be quick and easy and without a visible sign of pain or suffering. What transpired had me wishing I'd never seen what I did!
One of the men got a firm grip on the pig while the other took his long, sharp knife (it looked more like a machete) and wielded a quick, slashing stroke from one ear to the other. If you've heard or used the expression "cut throat," this had to be one of the ways it came about. Horrible!
Whether a slit throat allows sounds to be emitted, I don't know. But in my mind I have the feeling the pig squealed vehemently while running about after being released. He seemed to be trying to keep his head raised in such a way as to bring the wind passage together again. If I'd ever felt helpless at any other time in my life, it was only small time stuff compared with this! I'm sure I cried while I agonized. This had to be the cruelest thing I'd ever seen!
At first I thought I'd be telling about the two pigs being slaughtered in like manner; but as I thought more and more about it, I came to a conclusion. Either I didn't stay to witness the second slaughter, or that pig was sold or perhaps given to the men for the job they did. I don't think the latter conclusion was the way it went, but I'm not sure. I do know that for some time I reflected on how my folks could have been so heartless to allow such a thing.
From that day forward (to a degree, even to this day) I despised those who killed anything, whether for food or not. I know we couldn't very well survive without all the slaughtered animals that fill our meat markets, but at least I'm separated from the dastardly deed. Were it not for this, I'd have a good chance of being a vegetarian.
As it went with chickens, I in time learned that Mom's supply of meats would last for some time. And I learned to eat what was prepared without having to think back about what I'd witnessed, though I'd just as soon have never seen it.
Back a bit I wrote about our chickens, but actually we also had ducks, geese and rabbits at times. If you've lived where ducks and geese have the run of the place, you know you can't just walk around without watching where you're stepping. They were just plain "messy." And other than that, geese can be very aggressive, especially as they honk and hiss while taking nips at whatever they can reach. It seems I handled their demise a little easier. Their feathers were also useful for pillows and comforters which in Slovak were called something like "perinahs." They were soft, warm, comfortable and everything pleasant. The coldest of winters presented no problem over night with one of those. It's been a long, long time since I've last been under a perinah.
Rabbits, at least the domestic variety, are cuddly, soft and fun to watch. We had some of them but not too many (at least to begin with). It didn't take very long to learn they don't lay Easter eggs, and as is the case with other domestic animals, they eventually end up as someone's dinner. Many have said eating rabbit is as close to eating chicken as one can get; but I've tried it, and I have to disagree. When the fur is removed, there really isn't that much left under there to eat. But even the larger rabbits never tasted like chicken to me. And this was one of the more difficult executions to see or know of, since they were so cute and cuddly.
Now turning to the inedibles (unless you live in the Philippines or some other area of the world), we had dogs through the years. Fritzie was a little "curb setter" of some sort, but he was lovable and mild-mannered. He had a couple shades of brown or gold color in his coat mixed with white. He resembled the golden retriever, though he wasn't very large. As to the date we took him into our family, I don't know. Nor do I know where he came from. But it seems I can remember having him around in 1930 or 1931 after we were back [on the land owned by] the Sanitary District of Chicago for the second time (after the Crash of '29). Our folks never allowed any animals into the house, so I don't think it was any different for Fritzexcept that in real cold weather I think they allowed him on the back porch so he wouldn't freeze to death. (Fritz was in the family at the new houselate Revelation.)
Mom and Dad never wanted to let us kids think they were overly fond of our pets, but with Fritz I feel they showed their care and concern for him. We kids had many, many happy hours playing with that dog!
It's possible we already had Fritz when [we moved into] the new house in Stickney, but I can't be sure. He was around for many years, though what his age was when he began getting arthritis, I don't recall. He also was blind on one eye, the result of chasing a rat under the house and cornering it, receiving a swipe across the eye from the rat. This later turned to a grayish film over the eyeball. In those days one couldn't afford to take pets to the Veterinarian as they do today, so Fritz just made the best of it. It was pitiful to see him limping about from the arthritis, too. (Again, Fritz was in the family in the late '20's.)
God must have worked out a plan for Fritz, and for us; for after he was somewhere around 13 to 15 years of age (or so); Grandma and Grandpa Vagasky said they'd take care of him. Though that trip to drop Fritz off in Streator was sad in a way, it also was a time of joy to know he'd be taken care of for the rest of his daystaken care of better than anyone else could do!
Grandma fed Fritz on milk and eggs and other foods supposedly inappropriate for dogs, even unhealthy. Yet he lived on to a very old age, surely due to the care he got. He became deaf and just about completely blind toward the end, though he was still maneuvering about on his own. Somehow on this particular day he got out in the alley and didn't hear a car coming and was killed. This is the way I remember the story going, but I could be wrong. His age was something like an unheard of 21 or 23 (I know it was into the 20's). Thus ended the life of one sweet dog!
After that there were a couple other dogs in the family, the first I believe was Buster. He was an OK dog, but no other could take the place of Fritz! Buster was around for quite some time, too, and my memory won't allow me to tell just exactly what happened to him.
I was a sucker for any stray, mangy animal I'd come across in my ventures. But presenting my case to the judge and jury (Mom and Dad) seldom resulted in keeping many of them. I think there may have been one other (maybe two) after Buster. I, as you can guess by now, was soft-hearted then and still am today (and maybe soft-headed, too).