“What’s your husband’s name?”
“Is he a Chicano?”
“Can he butcher a pig?”
“Oooo, then he’s a Gringo. Get rid of him.”
This exchange, occurring in my wife’s first week of teaching at Anton Chico Elementary School, floored Bonnie. The daughter of a rancher who married a city-slicker had never thought of equating abattoir-ish acumen with worth, or ethnicity. To her sixth-grade student, the height of worthlessness, and a reason to label me as an Anglo depended solely on my finesse around the farm yard.
My own family contains a city-country mixture. Dad, I suspect, thought of farming as a last resort, something to do when one lacked skills to work in the city. Mom, the oldest daughter in a farm family of 16 siblings, seemed proud of the skills she learned in the Levi-Nolan homestead, near Wagon Mound.
To Dad, horses were what “gentleman farmers” rode in parades; to Mom, horses helped plant, reap and transport.
With more and more paradises being paved to put up parking lots, rural life is becoming extinct. Because we Trujillos grew up in a city, we had trouble understanding the ways of people like my friend Chris, a product of a ranch, who had a wealth of agricultural experience. As a young child, he learned to milk cows; we got our milk at Safeway. Chris and his brothers rode horses around the ranch in Rociada; the closest most of us city-dudes got to a horse was watching a western at the Serf.
That’s why it was a big adjustment when I chose a farmer’s daughter for my bride. The courtship mandated an indoctrination into the pastoral world of farming and ranching. Short of daily novocaine-free root canals, there is nothing worse than chores that involve modifying the gender of livestock or providing identification of the mooing masses of cattle.
Branding cattle was more than placing a single hot piece of metal against the calf. Because of the complexity of the brand, we weren’t allowed to whip out a bottle of White-Out if we made a typo on the cowhide. The total ID process took at least three steps — no doubt extremely painful for the cattle, but eventually a status symbol to be paraded around the herd. As for de-horning of cattle, well, I’d like it if someone invented alternatives. If we can have seedless grapes, why not hornless, nubless cattle?
The Coppock Farm in Springer used to be a bucolic spread that included horses, cattle, geese, sheep, chickens and hogs. A ditch ran through it, and a nearby stocked pond provided ample numbers of fish — for those who enjoy it.
Our three sons and their four cousins loved to visit there often, to ride horses, swim in the pond, play with the dozen kittens and gather eggs in the chicken houses.
Age, a changing market, inflation and a shrinking Springer population have affected a number of farms in that area and elsewhere. Today, only a couple of horses are available for riding, and a dozen free-range chickens supply the needs of the family. Gone are the hogs, cattle and geese. Even a llama, bought to control the coyotes that run freely, is gone.
For the fourth generation, the Coppocks’ great-grandchildren, there are no geese to feed, lambs to chase or ditches to float in.
Looking back, I now wonder whether Bonnie’s student, more than 30 years ago, had a point. Maybe the ability to butcher a pig — or even a chicken — would have enriched my life, perhaps making me more employable, inasmuch as I played hooky the day we were scheduled to watch a film on dissecting frogs.
Last night, our youngest son, the last of the third generation to enjoy farm life, made a brief phone call from French Polynesia, to report on how the honeymoon is going.
Because toll charges from halfway around the world are steep, he stayed on the phone only long enough to tell about their activities. No time for feedback.
Ben said he and Heather enjoyed pheasant under glass.
No big deal, Benjamin. When your mother and I returned from our honeymoon to spend the summer at Grandpa’s ranch, we had an unpleasant case of gas.
Ben said they ate a fancy egg dish by candlelight.
Big whoopee, Ben. At the farm, we candled eggs to sell.
Ben said he and Heather took romantic strolls along the beaches to take a gander at nightlife in Tahiti.
Nothing to envy, Ben. Back in 1966, while I was on a stroll, a gander nipped me, and I was tempted to end his that night. The feelings it engendered were more murderous than romantic.
The young married couple put on scuba gear to observe seaweed in the South Pacific.
That’s nothing. We had to put on overalls to scrub out algae from the south stock tank.
Ben said that after they filled out and stamped forms and insured their wedding rings, they flew out to Bora Bora.
That’s not so great, Ben. In 1966, your mother and I drove to the farm, got some rings and clamped them to the snout of a huge boar.
These, then, are some of the riches amassed by an urbanite getting a taste of rusticana. I still can’t butcher a pig and won’t butcher anything but language.
Welcome back to the states, Ben and Heather, and as you return to your computer-type jobs in the city, you might consider improving your worth by signing up for a community college course in Hog Butchering 101.