The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Saturday, January 31, 2004  

Pets, Dead Chickens, Eggs, Jimmy the Bull, and Icy Waters

Some thirty years ago my family moved from New Jersey to a dairy farm in upstate New York. It was, in retrospect, a disaster from the get go. And yet, there are memories.

Within a month, I think, if even that, we were greeted by a once-in-a-lifetime snowstorm that dropped six feet of that crap, snow, I mean, not chicken kaka, on the farm, snow that forged its way into drifts of something psychotic like twelve feet. And it was, at the same time, bitterly and viciously cold.

Then there were the painters. They were assigned an appropriate nickname that I will not publish. Suffice it to say they were among the stupidest people ever born.

We had English springer spaniels, Lady and Duchess, I think they were called, and of course, Tessa, the whippet. And a bunch of cats, but, in the long run, who remembers cats' names? It's just not the same.

I remember when the chickens arrived. They were transported to us in burlap bags in a journey that many didn't survive.

I was eight years old then, and I saw all those dead chickens, and it really hit hard. I still remember one particular chicken, because it was at that moment on the verge of death. I swear she was looking at me as I patted her feathers, telling her how sorry I was. "Stop that," I was told, and sent out of the barn. I was saying good-bye to a chicken. How will I ever say good-bye to Mildred?

We sold eggs for 50 cents a dozen. (Adjusting for inflation, at most $1.33 a dozen today. [Assumes a compound annual rate of inflation of three percent.])

I drank milk that came straight from the cow. A few times; not all the time.

A bull was named after me.

After a cow was slaughtered and cut up, my mother one day made us sandwiches. They were delicious. It wasn't until we finished that she told us the meat in the sandwiches was tongue. And as much as I liked that meal, I still, some thirty years later, have not yet eaten tongue again.

There were horses too, at least for a while. Two, I think. One of my sisters was going through that stage. I don't remember their names. Horses are like cats in that respect, I guess, at least for me.

A neighboring family was hired to help out. I remember Joy cleaning up after the cows in the barn, doing some of the nastiest of all possible work, and seemingly thinking nothing of it. I was amazed.

We caught tadpoles and frogs in the stream at the foot of "the back mountain."

My sister L. fell through the ice of that same stream while we were skating on it. I thought she was going to drown, to die. I really did. My brother P., I think, or maybe it was my brother J., pulled her up and out of the water. I've never been so scared in my life.

Boy Scouts from Scarsdale, N.Y., a troop led by my uncle and including my cousin, camped near the stream and planted trees back there. [Ed.: Obscure fact: I have three cousins, C., G., and T., who were Eagle scouts.]

Once, in the middle of the night, my mother awoke and saw a bat sitting upon her. How she endured that episode without experiencing a heart attack remains to me a great mystery.

We climbed "the front mountain" regularly and rolled down its mostly treeless surface.

We, or at least I, never climbed "the back mountain." Too many trees, too much forest. Too scary.

There's a picture, somewhere, of my sister C., then a toddler, wearing a pretty white dress, with a flower in her hands, standing in her playpen set up in the side yard. It's beautiful. She's beautiful.

[Post-publication addendum (February 5): I’ve been reminded that the primary, initial, and most important lifesaving endeavor related to my sister L. was at the hands of my brother P., though the save eventually was a collective effort on the part of P., my brother J., and even me. Hey, it was a long time ago, and when you are faced with the near death of your closest sister, or are called upon to remember the event, things get hazy, confused, and downright scary.]

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