My mama didn't want to keep farm animals and she was a steady stream of disapproval to my dad's way of life. Daddy was 35 when they married and his whole entire world was about farming and being a country boy. He didn't consider having a milk cow, a pig and a few chickens as "keeping animals". That was more of a hobby to his way of thinking. His daddy had run a small dairy operation at one time. There were even horse and goat pictures mixed in with the old family photographs. Keeping livestock was in his blood.
Mama won inch by inch. First the milk cow went and Daddy stopped buying baby chicks every year to replenish his supply of laying hens.
The last time we had a hog was when I was in the 5th grade. This one was black and white and we named the pig Sparky. He lived in the pigpen near the barn. Daddy took the house scraps and mixed ground up corn meal and water to make the slop which was poured down into the trough. Sparky ate with gusto at every meal and then spent his time on top of the manure pile rolling around.
Winter rolled around and Daddy arranged for someone to come in a truck and pick up Sparky. Sparky wasn't much of a pet but when you give something a name, then it has a psychological impact. We knew Sparky was there to make pork chops and bacon but it still didn't make it easy when his purpose came to fruition.
I went with Daddy to the butcher shop where we brought Sparky back home wrapped in white meat paper. It was rather traumatic for a fifth grade girl with an overly emotional soft spot. I refused to eat any of the sausage but as the year rolled by my attachment to Sparky was lessened when I smelled country ham frying on top of the stove.
Daddy built a fire under the big black cast iron kettle and kept a smoldering fire burning most of the day as he put the chunks of white fat into the kettle so the lard could be rendered out. The lard was stored under the counter in the kitchen in big five gallon buckets. This became Mama's shortening for baking or frying. Lard fell out of favor with an industry that wanted to sell us corn oil and canola oil, but here we are coming full circle and realizing those five gallon containers of lard were really awesome for our health. The leftover skin became cracklings that Mama kept in the freezer to go into the crackling cornbread. The sausage was frozen as well as some other choice parts of the hog.
The hams were laid out on the kitchen table and Daddy made a concoction of sugar and spices that we rubbed and beat into the skin of the hams until they were well coated. The hams were wrapped in brown paper and then in a gunny sack and hung out in the smoke shed. It wasn't truly a smoke shed as we never ever smoked anything in it as far as I remember. It was a cold place for the hams to cure. Daddy made a heavy wooden box with an equally heavy lid and stored the bacon in it out in the same shed. This kept rodents out of the bacon. After the hams cured, Daddy would go out and unwrap the ham and cut off the amount that Mama wanted in the kitchen. It sounds crazy to me now but he would cut little pieces of raw ham off for us to eat.
Daddy, Mama, and Grandma ate the hog brains with eggs. I still find this disgusting. None of us girls would touch them. All of the other edible organ meats were cooked on top of the stove in a big pot. It produced a really horrible smell. The organ meat was ground up, they added corn meal and lots of spices to make liver pudding. Liver pudding was sliced and fried to prepare it. It had a spicy flavor like nothing else I have ever eaten. I still see liver pudding in the grocery store and I remember the taste as being delicious but I am not sure anything but extreme hunger would propel me to eat it again.
After Sparky, the only life stock we had were a few aging hens who seemed a little lost as they scratched and pecked around the yard and barn until one day they were all gone too. Daddy still continued to garden but it never really seemed the same.
Daddy relied on chemical fertilizers more and no longer had the organic fertilizer from the chickens, the cow and the pig. We no longer ate lard but converted to corn oil consumption. We bought our meats in the grocery store like good civilized people. Mama wanted a modern way of life. She had been seduced by the scientific world. She also wanted to be like everyone else. Many people were turning from their country roots and living a more compartmentalized life.
I think in many ways we have paid dearly. We lost control of our meat supply. We lost control of how our foods were grown. We learned to sit in front of a television screen instead of living an active life that was in tune with the seasons. We have a whole culture that falls apart if there is not complete climate control. The one who works his land knows cold and heat.
It has taken years but my husband and I both are inch by inch moving back to the land. We keep chickens and we have a small garden. My husband cuts wood from our property that we burn in an open fireplace. It seems to be a healthier and more balanced existence as though maybe we have an inner calling to be keepers of the land.
The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.
Animal husbandry, gardening, canning, baking, cooking, food preservation, tree felling, carpentry and thousands of other things were passed down from generation to generation. It was in my generation that the chain was broken. I am thankful that so many other people are feeling the call to live a more simple existence and that they are willing to share the knowledge that they are learning.
I think most of us would be happier people with less stuff and more substance in our lives. There is something strong and fragile about going out in the morning to care for your livestock, seeing the frost, breathing in the cold morning air, seeing the first glimmer of the sun rising over the trees. There is something deeply satisfying in growing your own food, preparing it and then serving it to your family. At days end there is something healing for our souls to rock in front of an open fire without any noise other than the crackling of the fire and the ticking of a clock.