Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ode to Wellington


A bit of a departure for this blog entry.

When I was a kid, my parents bought a small 8 acre farm just outside of Brunswick, Maryland. In addition to being an electrician by trade, my dad thought he'd try his hand at raising some pigs and cattle. After all the pigs and cattle came and left, we got another single heifer to be raised for slaughter. We named him "Moo". Yes, we named him. I'd go out and help feed him and play with him.
When it came time for him to go away to be slaughtered, my parents worried that I wouldn't be able to eat something that was practically a pet to me when he came back in neat packaging. When he was served on my plate, and I took a bite, I recall my mom asking how he tasted. "He's delicious!" I said, excitedly, trying to ease their worries and make a joke of it. Everyone at the dinner table gave a laugh and a cheer, and continued to eat.

Fast-forward 30 years. My parents divorced, and my mom married a professional cattle farmer. I've become vegan. Accepting my new dietary needs, my mother manages to make almost every side dish vegan on our holiday visits. Of course there is always meat served, and my girlfriend and I always feel a bit odd about that when we can look outside to see cows wandering around the pasture.

Last Thanksgiving at her house she had to walk up to the barn to bottle-feed a calf who's mother died giving birth to him. She asked us if we'd like to see him being fed. My brother, his daughter, and my girlfriend Marya went to watch. I didn't think I wanted to - the thought of seeing a living, breathing creature that will someday grace some brat's Happy Meal was too much for me. My mother had, once again, given a name to the calf: Wellington. Great - she named him after a beef dish.

Months later in a phone conversation, she mentioned how Wellington, used to regular feedings, had broken out of the pen to come down to the house to ask for his food. This made me very sad. I thought - there won't be any chance of my mother making the connection on how this creature had intelligence enough to know where the person who provides his food lives. Once out of his pen, he could have escaped. But he had trust in his caretaker. He went down to ask for his food as a child would ask his parents for food. It saddened me because I knew this was a one-direction bond. She had cared for this calf for months without seeing him as more than something that will be killed for food. He, oblivious to this, probably loved her for having cared for him. I bet Moo felt that way about me.

This past weekend I went out to visit my mother in Loudoun County, Virginia, to help her with some computer issues. Among them, printing pictures and sending enclosures. I looked through her picture folders and picked one at random - a picture of a cow. "That's Wellington", my mom said of the picture. "He went on the truck last week."

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