My friend Sal Reyes sold me that cow. It was a small black Angus and it looked to be no problem as we unloaded it from his pickup and into my garden. My garden, you see, was fenced. It was my first venture into owning any kind of cattle. As I gazed at all that beef in the late afternoon sun I was mighty excited.
By the next morning, however, that beef was gone. A part of the fencing was torn down, the gate was askew, and the cow was gone. It took me 20 minutes to locate him in a pasture on the other side of the El Pueblo lateral, the ditch that formed the western boundary of our 5 acres. Somehow he had negotiated the ten inch wide plank that served as a bridge across the ditch. That was something of a miracle, because if the cow had fallen into the ditch he would probably still be there...it was that deep and steep. I say "cow" but the actual gender of the bovine was definitely male.
Anyway, the pasture was owned by the Garcia family. I stood there trying to figure out how to get the cow across the plank and back into my own property. I couldn't think of a plan that seemed workable. Just then Edmund, one of the Garcia brothers, came up and told me not to worry. He was just about to slaughter a Herefordof his own and would butcher my Angus at the same time. "I'll slaughter it, skin it, hang it and age it in my garage, then saw it up and package it. I'll do the whole thing. It'll be ready for your freezer. I'll only charge you 40 bucks."
I said, and lit a cigarette in satisfaction. "Boy, that worked out well,"
The Shooting Lesson
By the time I got back to the Garcia's pasture that afternoon, the hereford sides were already being loaded into the back of a pickup. They were on their way to a garage to hang for a few days. Now it was time for my Angus. The tripod was ready. The rifle was in Edmund's hands. "Jito!"
he called. His son came running over to him and he handed the 8-year-old the rifle. It was not a big one, only a .22 bolt action single shot.
The boy took the gun in both hands and stood ready while his father went up to the cow and pointed with his finger to a spot right in the middle of the cow's forehead. The cow stood there, quite still. The boy pointed the rifle at the skull from a distance of about 3 feet. He shot. He missed...not completely, but he didn't kill the cow either. That took another 5 rounds. Everybody was pretty sick by the time it was all over.
An hour later my brother-in-law and I were walking back across the ditch carrying the cowhide in a large bucket and the head in a gunny sack. We put both of them in the freezer until we could figure out what to do with them. The meat would be ready in a week.
A Couple Hundred Pounds
A week later the freezer was full of white packages labeled Brisket, Roast, T-Bone, and Hamburger. We took out four steaks and lit up the grill. They smelled great. They looked great. They tasted terrible. It is hard to describe what was wrong with them, but they certainly did taste bad. We left most of the meat on our plates. My brother-in-law was saying the same thing. We just couldn't eat it.
I'm sure most of you have figured out that the tortured death of that panicked cow released enough adrenaline or something to taint that meat beyond consumption by anything other than a wild animal. And we had a couple hundred pounds of it.
Sal took back the meat. I'm sure he thought it couldn't be as bad as we were saying. I never asked him what he did with it. We were just glad to get rid of it.
A Delicious Aroma
A month or so later I walked into the kitchen of my mother-in-law. Wow...something smelled good. "Roast beef tonight?"
I asked. I walked over to the oven and peeked in. There on a big cookie sheet was that cow head. It was skinned, but the eyeballs were still there. I shut the door.
my mother-in-law said. "I won't touch it. He wanted me to make tamales out of it, but I won't have anything to do with it."
I nodded and didn't blame her.
The following day the cooked skull showed up in our field. The field was about 900 feet long and 200 feet wide. It sat between our house and that of my brother-in-law. He had a dog. Our neighbor had a dog. I had a dog. The skull was the ultimate dog gift. The three of them played with it for months. One day the skull would be down by our house...the next day it would be at the other end. It was never in the same spot two days in a row. Those dogs rose every morning with one thing on their minds: let's dig into that baked cow skull one more time.
And so the winter passed. We didn't throw it away until spring.
And as far as I know, that skull was the only part of the poor beast that was actually eaten. And even then, not with a knife and fork.