Blood, Guts and Glory Pt2....
There was a family just up the street from us that had at least a hundred chickens one year. We would spend hours there watching those dumb chickens. There is nothing more stupid than a chicken. There is also nothing more smelly than 100 of them.
One the sons about my age and I were out in the back yard and one of their yard dogs came over. That dog was losing most of her hair because of the mange. I mentioned to my friend that my dad had used coal oil to remove a glob of tar that got in his hair and it cured his dandruff. My friend reckoned that if coal oil would kill dandruff, gasoline should cure the mange. I stood there like an idiot when he poured about a cup of gasoline on that poor old dog’s back. I had never seen such a transformation. One minute she didn’t seem to have an ounce of energy and the next she was a leaping, barking, yelping imitation of the hound of the Baskerville’s. She charged at us and we climbed up on top of a pile of boxes to escape being bitten. She commenced to bark and chase around the boxes for about 15 minutes. She just stopped and fell down on the ground. I asked my friend if it had killed her? Nah, she just ran out of gas!
About the middle of September, the parents decided that it was time to kill and clean all the chickens. In a stupid way, I volunteered to help. If you don’t like chickens, don’t watch 100 of them get killed and cleaned. It was miserable work and we started early and worked late into the night. We established an assembly line and one person killed a few, dunked them into a boiling tank of water and then we would pull off feathers until there was a pile of dead chickens. We took knives and cleaned out the entrails. We were as careful as we could be at the start but by the end it was cut and gut. The older boy would cut out the gizzards, hearts and livers from the mess. The carcasses went in to the house for a final cleaning by the mother. Mrs. Lawrence would wash them and wrap them in butcher paper. They had a big chest freezer and a couple of coolers. The birds would be put in the freezer and after it got full they put some of the birds in the coolers. The whole darn mess was taken down to a locker plant and frozen for later use. After about 14 or 16 hours of killing chickens I had had enough. They gave me a couple of the chickens and I went home. Mom thought it was nice that I brought home some food but I was just too tired to eat or care. I took a shower and went to sleep. It just might be possible that I did not eat what I saw killed that day. I had seen enough blood and guts to last for a few days.
About the 9th grade, I had a paper route and traveled the streets of the neighborhood twice a day. Somewhere in early spring I saw an old dog get hit and killed by a car. He fell in a ditch and died very quickly. The next day I saw the dead dog lying there in the ditch and saw that it was frozen solid. Over the next two or three months it warmed up and I checked on that dog each day as I went by. From time to time I would turn the dog over with a stick to see what insects or maggots were eating the remains. I observed this process until finally in mid summer there was nothing left but skin and bones. I didn’t hurt the dog or do anything cruel, I just observed the natural process of decomposition.
One fall we went to Arkansas and Grandpa decided it was time to butcher a hog. Man was that a spectacle and a lot of work. Gramps shot that old hog and lifted him with the front scoop on his ford 900N tractor. Right there they dipped the whole hog into a barrel of boiling water. We scraped the hog with sharp knives to remove the hair. When he was a clean as we could get him, Dad gutted that hog. Man did I get a lesson on how many guts an animal can have. Dad then sawed the carcass up into two pieces and we helped as each half was cut into smaller pieces for the women to wrap. As the hog just got smaller and smaller, Grandma began the process of rendering the fat and made cracklings. There had been a time I would eat fried pork rinds by the bags full. Once I spent a day smelling them and seeing where they came from I am not as enthusiastic as I was. Most of the odds and ends of that hog got taken to the processing plant and made into sausage. I’m not sure why grandma and mom didn’t grind up those hog parts, but they didn’t. I also didn’t watch the sausage being made so I can still eat sausage today.
When I was a little kid, our mother would make the most wonderful meat salad sandwiches for us. They had a lot of onion, mayonnaise and pickles cut up in with the ground meat. I had no idea or little care what kind of meat went into that wonderful stuff. That is until I was home sick one day and mom made a batch. She started with a cow’s tongue and two hearts. They were cut up, cleaned and put in to the pressure-cooker that make that stupid hissing sound for an hour or so. She took the cooked stuff out and ground it with a big meat grinder that fastened on the kitchen cabinets. I’m sure that mostly because I was sick, I really lost my appetite for that treat again. Did you ever see a cow’s tongue outside of their mouths? They can use that thing to pick and lick their noses for Pete’s sake. Oh gross!
In the service, we were first exposed to blood and guts through the movies on driving safety. One of the first was a film about two soldiers that were on leave from Ft. Leonard Wood and en route to Saint Louis. They had a faulty muffler and fell asleep behind an 18-wheeler. They hit that truck at about 70 and ran clear under the truck until the front end hit the wheels. That caused the car to kind of flip back out. The film showed the two people completely decapitated and in full color. I remember that one of the trainees was so upset that he was discharged from the service. He could not have handled the gore and blood in combat. At the time most of us thought that guy was an idiot but now I wonder just who were the idiots?
For the sake of the dead, I will not go into the details of the horrible deaths I witnessed. Many young men died in my company and none by my hand or fault. I felt like I was one of the best Forward Observers ever in combat. I knew how to read a map and how to locate myself on the ground. It only took once or twice for me to shoot a marking round and be accurate as to the direction and distance to convince new commanders that I knew what I was doing. Every night I shot a few rounds around our night position to have a defensive concentration available if we got attacked.
The thing I want to say here is that my life prepared me for the blood and guts I saw. The glory came from my safe return from combat and the next 40 years.