Carl Cauffman butchered pigs on Thanksgiving.
We shot a chosen, fattened few from the herd at Cauffman pigpens in Saltillo. Early in the morning on Thanksgiving, just as the sun mounted the hillsides of Central Pennsylvania, taking on the subtle trot of daytime, I watched as the pig killings went down.
While most across America watched the Macy’s parade on television, in Three Springs, we stared mesmerized as nearly one hundred oinking, curly-tailed, docile creatures with coarse, white hair and beer can-shaped snouts ran for their lives with nowhere to escape. Death was not sudden for the pigs that were slaughtered in late November– even after a rifle bullet entered the large pig brains and sharp knives pierced across fattened necks, below lipped mouths. Pigs who were not taken seemed to smile after the last shots were fired. They immediately went back to feeding as the men dragged the fallen swine from a muddy, blood-stained stye.
Art Cromwell had a hammer. He slammed the fading creatures across the head after shots from rifles were fired, to bring death on more suddenly, without such squealing– then came the knives and much blood. There was little sadness in the eyes of townsmen who stood, leaning on a wooden fence, dressed in tight blue jeans and pointy cowboy boots nodding their heads, covered in baseball caps that adverted local trucking companies. We all watching as the harvest of farm- raised swine was taken down on another chilly, Thanksgiving morn.
Nothing was wasted from the pigs. Even the guts were pulled from the animals, moments after the twitching of strong legs and arms with hoofed ends ended. This was not murder. It was a cycle. The pigs were to reincarnate– that’s what they told us, as children. The intestines were quickly tossed into buckets of cold water seasoned with salt. The parts still steamed of gestation as long, translucent, rope-like out-testines were rinsed in ice cold water. The seemingly endless, rope-like portions of pigs insides would be used as casing for sausages made later that day.
Carl Cauffman’s Thanksgiving pig-events were like pagan harvest festivals. It was a time to not only eat, but to gather more food for the long winter ahead.
Turkey was merely a side-dish at Cauffman feasts. Wild turkey are as common in Pennsylvania as pigeons in New York City parks in 2009, but in 1984, the wild game, the birds with giant black feathers and peculiar, liver-like lips that covered from where they pecked, were few and far between. Hunting laws brought the land-based avian species back to the rolling hills of the Appalachians and they flourish there now. But in the old days, there were very few turkey in PA. Pigs were far more plentiful.
Turkeys were nearly extinct there, in 1984. In Three Springs, pig was served as the main dish, at Thanksgiving anyway. Supermarket turkeys were much more tender than the wild ones, so very few hunted them. Spotting one was highly unlikely.
Linda Cauffman roasted a store-bought turkey in the Cauffman kitchen while the men slaughtered, but most guests to the celebrations were full from pig and had very little room to pick at a bird.
Linda, the quiet wife with a warm smile had a large, purple birthmark above her left-eye. When she looked at me, she reminded me of cranberry sauce. Linda was my mother’s best friend and the two stayed in the kitchen all afternoon while other women, with their husbands in trucking, baseball caps, watched as sections of swine were submersed in scalding water that was boiling in large, black kettles over flames flickering upon charred locust wood.
Although most of the meat that came from the hogs was carefully preserved in white freezer paper and stacked away in two deep- freezers located outside the Cauffman home on the porch, certain portions of the pig were eaten fresh, on Thanksgiving Day.
The white, coffin-shaped freezers were plugged into an outlet behind Linda’s wooden porch swing. The house, although made of wood, was covered in the most exquisite of white, sandstone brick, obviously purchased from the sandstone quarry in Mapleton, PA. There is so much sandstone in Central Pennsylvania. Lenses from the worlds largest telescope, prior to the launch of the Hubble spacecraft, came from the hills just a few miles from Three Springs. The white sandstone was rare. The Cauffman home reminded me of a mansion.
My Uncle Daryl built a fireplace in his basement made of the same stone used to cover the entire four- bedroom Cauffman home. The place sparkled. Ryan Cauffman was still my best friend. We had yet to enter into full-blown puberty and adolescence and break our childhood bond. We still played football and hadn’t yet grown apart. We were inseparable for a time– that was until Bill, my older brother became best friends with Ryan and the two cut me out of their lives because my interests went beyond plastic bats and balls. I enjoyed board games like Risk. Ryan was still close with me though– never choosing sides with Bill just because Bill insisted that I was really a girl and didn’t like to play football and that Ryan should just stay away from me.
It was Thanksgiving. Ryan still wanted to hang out with me. He suggested that after the pigs heads were cut off and the brains pulled out, that we run around in the junkyard up back, jumping from car to abandoned car, pretending that we were still the Dukes of Hazzard, the blonde one and the dark-haired one. He was Bo, I was Luke.
“Bill and Ronnie don’t want to play the Dukes,” I explained to Ryan. “We better play football with them.”
Pork and turkey go together in the stomach like two brothers, close in age, who originated from the same womb. The Cauffmans ran an automobile repair garage and a junk yard to supplement their pig farming. On Three Springs standards, the Cauffman’s were wealthy.
Carl Cauffman invited all his employees and close friends to the house, to eat of Linda’s turkey and the tons of fat pigs that were killed that day. The murder was sloppy, but they were pigs. It was nothing like hunting deer. Black Friday was the next day. Women went shopping and the men entered the woods to hunt Buck on the first day of deer season.
There was always much tension in town on Thanksgiving, with deer season and so many guns approaching. The Thanksgiving holiday was supposed to be a sacred time, celebrated with a meal fit for kings. The holiday marked the start of butchering time. The blood made us wild and our stomachs roared.
Soon, the next day, our most cherished meat– venison would be brought in too. 1984 was the first year that both Ryan and I were old enough to go hunting for deer.
For people of meat, it made more sense to get all the butchering out of the way at the same time. Thanksgiving was so close to buck season in Pennsylvania. We butchered the pigs to prepare the knives and grinders for the red meat that was sure to come, sharply at 7 a.m. on Friday, when buck season kicked in.
We butchered truckloads of deer at the Cauffman’s where the large attic of the car garage afforded the ambiance of a chilly butcher shop where at least fifty men could work, in assembly line fashion, putting away enough food to feed their families for a year– all within a three week period.
There was blood everywhere, over everything on Thanksgiving.
Grown male guests, to include boys over the age of twelve ,stinking of Thanksgiving pig slaughters, participated in Cauffman deer-drives, the following morning. We all drank from large kegs of beer and bragged about the big ones we were sure to bag the next day. Men in bright orange would line up in a row and walk through the thickest parts of the forest, frightening the animals out to hunters on opposite ends of the forest. We lined-up in flanks with powerful rifles armed and ready to fire. We looked for horns through finely-tuned scopes and pulled the trigger when the moment was right. We picked white- tails off with more precision than the pinned pigs that never seemed willing to die, not matter the method of slaughter.
Every bang fed a family of eight for a month.
As men dreamed of the deer they would cross the next day, pigs were shaved of coarse hair and the skin was cut into quilt-sized pieces and was tossed with splashes into rapidly boiling kettles of water. After several hours of cooking and stirring with a wooden, oar-like device, it was time for cracklings. After hours of boiling, the skin was pressed in old, hand-cranked sieves – the juice caught in buckets, later to turn white, solidifying in the form of lard. The left-over, dry pig skin was eaten like fresh potato chips, lightly-salted with perhaps just a dab of hot sauce.
The kids played football when the men butchered the pigs. My brother Bill got into a terrible argument with Ronnie Cauffman. The two started fighting like pigs over slop, arguing over a pigskin as if it were edible.
Mom and Linda came onto the porch and screamed at the boys to stop fighting. Our dads and the men put down their knives and saws. Moments later, fists were tossed and blood flew. Bill pounded the crap out of Ronnie Cauffman. Suddenly, my best friend, Jimmy Cauffman turned on me and wanted to slam me in the face hard because our older brothers had gotten into a squabble. I held Jimmy in a head-lock and shoved his freckled face into the cold, November ground. His hair– grabbed that too– shoved him up and down until he screamed to tell me that he was still my best friend.
Our stepfather, Bob, sent Bill and me home from the butchering to cool down. Our place was just down the road.
“Why not take a walk up into the mountain behind the house?” Dad suggested. “I don’t think we will be driving deer with the Cauffmans tomorrow. Go see if you notice where the deer have been sleeping at night. Look for fresh droppings and places where they may have bedded. Figure it out because you will not be driving deer with the Cauffman crew tomorrow– just for that little stunt on Thanksgiving Day! Take the 16-gage shotgun with you– the Winston.”
Bill and I walked up the quarry road. Large stones, shaky beneath our feet, almost caused Bill to drop the gun on several occasions. It was the first time we were ever alone, without supervision, with a gun. Bill was glad to get out of the pig roast and couldn’t wait for the next morning– the start of deer season. He wasn’t hungry anyway. At least we wouldn’t have to help shove ground pig meat into stinky casings with the Cauffmans again.
We passed the massive thicket of birch near the abandoned powder house at the top of Quarry Road. A few of the spotted birch trees had grown taller than the small, stone building with a metal door. Some of the older perennials had trunks nearly as round as the oak that dominated most of the mountainous terrain upon which we were strolling and cooling down as brothers who always had each other’s backs. I broke off a small branch of birch and rolled the twig under my front teeth, peeling the tasty, pungent wooding from the stick, creating a candy-cane effect with the gap between my two front teeth.
“Holy Cow!” Bill cried. “Did you see that turkey?”
“That black thing?” I asked, thinking until then, that turkeys were white, like shown on television in the Macy’s parade.
“I’m going up Swope Road to head it off. I need you to drive it up to me.”
I was enjoying the flavor of my birch and knew that turkey season was out. It was Thanksgiving. Hunting was forbidden by Pennsylvania Game Commission laws. Bill didn’t care. He ran, unsafely with the gun in his right hand. I hoped that the safe was still on.
Just as I entered the woods to begin the task of driving out a turkey from the underbrush, I stumbled upon the turkey that had crossed the road. The bird was motionless and didn’t move despite the fact that I was standing withing petting distance.
“Bill,” I tried to whisper. My brother was nearly 300 yards away– waiting for me to start my drive. He couldn’t hear my whisper. Bill stood in a clearing, his white eyebrow shining in the warming afternoon sun, just watching me and wondering why I wouldn’t walk through the woods towards him.
I slowly lifted my left hand and motioned to him to return to me.
“What happened?” Bill asked. “Where did it go?”
“Look. It’s just sitting there.”
Bill shot the turkey before I could protest. The giant pterodactyl-like bird attempted an immediate take off– flapping finger-like wings like a quarterback in a tackle, tumbling hard upon the onset of a pounding blow of hundreds of tiny pellets shot nearly at the speed of sound.
Bill hugged me. He handed me the gun and flapped his skinny arms like wings to mimic the bird.
We walked the turkey to our house by its feet. Blood dripped from the pointy, black beak that bounced upon the rocks we sometimes tumbled upon. We rushed down the rocky mountain road, wanting to get home and show off the prize. Would our stef-father be mad?
“He didn’t tell us to take the gun along for nothing,” Bill reminded me in my nervousness.
Bob left the butchering ceremonies to return to our house to see if we had returned from our hunting walk and investigation of deer trails. Dad said the turkey was a nice one. We took it to the Cauffmans and boiled it in the same water the pig skin had simmered.
The wild turkey was the tenderest bird the town ever tasted. The Cauffman boys dropped their jealousy and asked how we managed to shoot such a rare bird on a day that was not a legal hunting day. Bill said it was flying and he shot it out of the sky just for practice.
I looked at my friend, Bo Duke and winked.