Towards the end of my six year enlistment in the military I experienced a slow grinding conversion, or perhaps an enlightenment, centered on the Christian Faith. I quit smoking, quit cursing, and unbelievably, became quite the zealot.
The turning point came, the turning away from the plow point, ironically enough, when we moved to the ultimate training ground for all things cursing. The farm.
The following is an example of how I went from the reasonably sanguine, never even cursing under my breath, steady, peaceful person I became during my conversion to Christianity, to the masterful parlayer of creatively blue, vituperative idiom...
We bought the farm in June of 2001. The garden, such as it was, planted and producing sweet corn, tomatoes, and cucumbers. But by this time, the winter and summer squash were overrun by those little armored tanks that release a foul odor upon squeezing them between one's fingers, the squash bug. The soil was compacted clay and had been supported by regular doses of synthetic fertilizer and pesticides. We were new to the small scale farming scene but somehow figured this wasn't right.
Along with the farm came two BeefMaster cows, one an experienced mother, the other a small and slightly, retarded looking heifer pregnant with her first calf. Oh what a blessing we thought that would be.
Within a month the first calf was born. The experienced mother did it on her own as we watched and worried. It was birthed in the southeast corner of our pasture and was a large healthy bull calf. In another month or so, the heifer gave birth to her calf. Well, we actually had to yank and pull the calf out of her, with assistance from the old farmer we bought the place from. Something didn't look right with it. The farmer congratulated us on a heifer calf. We were to find out that this little one - we named Dot - was mentally retarded and was actually a bull. It never got over 3 ft tall and was only about 4 feet long and 350 pounds by the time he was put in the freezer.
His half brother, Spot, was a much larger calf and grew to a reasonable size, not huge, around 500 pounds by the time he made the trip to the processor in Pottsville. Spot, the first animal I actually took a great deal of satisfaction in putting the freezer, turned out to be the slippery slope that turned me to the dark side - he made me lose my religion, taught me how to curse, and determined my children not to stay anywhere near a farm for the rest of their natural born lives, if ever they live that long...
It was a summer day, a weekend, and the fence that ran along our nothern boundary was in poor shape after at least 30 years of neglect. Three measly strands of sagging barbed wire strung along rebar posts and overgrown with honeysuckle, blackberry, and shrubs. The bordering property was a rental house, small, yellow, and noisy. No less than 38 young people stayed in the house at any given time and as a result, the dogs, cows, and cats all became intently interested in the strange noises emanating from the home late nights and weekends.
Cows get a bum rap. Sure they sometimes are beautiful creatures and even in their beauty they have an air of stupidity. I mean, honestly, they look stupid. But I assure you, cows are intelligent, and sinister. A Scottish Highland ranch owner in Birdtown clued us in on this little known fact about the bovine species when she said, "A horse can do tricks, but you have to keep training them for the rest of their lives. Cow, however, never forget. That's why that cow is going in the freezer..."she pointed to a huge, hairy, white Highland, "she figured out how to tip-toe across the cattle guard, now I can't keep her in the fence." To illustrate, Spot's mother, I have expunged her name from my memory banks due to the trauma I experienced, loved corn. Sweet corn, field corn, any corn. I am sure she would be an alcoholic cow if she had acces to corn liquor. She knew that the gate to the garden, which sits in the middle of the farm and is accessible from the main pasture area, was tied closed at two locations with baling twine. The knots were tied with double bow knots because surely cows can't untie baling twine. Oh, the naivety of the young farmer! Spot's mother, I forget her name now, but for the purposes of this story, I will call her Satan, stood at the gate for hours and days on end, ostensibly staring at a mother lode of corn on the other side. One day, by vigorously licking the twine in both locations over and again with her thick raspy tongue she, indeed, succeeded in untying the knots. The corn was decimated by the time we realized it and got her back out of the garden. Of course, not being the sharpest bowling ball in the shed, I retied the gate closed in the same manner. It was a mere few days before she had, once again, untied the twine and finished off the rest of the garden. This was a behavior, learned, and remembered that eventually led us to selling her off. Once she learned how to untie the knot, she did it over and over again.
* FBLP - Full Bore Linear Panic is a term coined by one of my favorite authors, Pat McManus in one of his hilarious short stories "Modified Stationary Panic" included in his collection "A Fine And Pleasant Misery".