When I was a kid, I lived near a mexican family who owned a couple acres of land. There were three children, all within one year of eachother and I was in class with the middle son. We were good friends. They had pigs, chickens, goats and grew their own vegetables but the place was hardly a ranch. I spent a lot of time there after school and in the summer. I always felt welcome and I was treated very kindly by the parents, even though we kids would bicker and fight sometimes.
The father didn’t speak English and he didn’t take any shit from any of us and I was always kinda scared of him, but looking back he may have been the most positive male influence I ever had. I even started understanding Spanish, but mainly when one of the kids was getting yelled at. There was always delicious smelling food simmering on the stove and I was obligated to eat something wether I was hungry or not, otherwise it was a severe insult. Since I usually came home from school to an empty house and an empty refrigerator, I was usually hungry and I always obliged.
One Saturday they were going to butcher a hog and they asked if I wanted to come over and help out. I wasn’t sure what kind of help I was going to be. I can’t remember if I had ever seen an animal slaughtered at that point, but I do remember having a pretty good idea on how it was supposed to work. You tie the animal by the hind legs and either shoot it or hoist it up and slit the neck artery, either way the animal bleeds out over a receptacle and everything stays relatively nice and clean. Then the stomach can be laid open and the guts come out nice and easy. That’s not how it happened.
The two brothers and I were trying corral the hog, I thought, over to a large chain and pulley hanging near the clothesline where they dried chili peppers. Just as I was realizing how difficult this was going to be, out came the father with a 30 30 and shot the pig right between the eyes. It fell over and the brothers and I had to get the massive carcass into a wheelbarrow. Once we got it in and balanced we had to take turns pushing it because we could only go about six feet at a time. Still, we never made it to the chain and pulley, instead the father has us unload it on a large butcher’s table, which took another round of considerable effort. I couldn’t help think that something was strange.
Once the hog was legs up on the table, the father came over with a machete and sliced its belly open, from the abdomen to the throat. I was throughly confused, which was a pretty standard state of mind for me then and still is. What the hell were we supposed to do with all the blood that was now resting in the hog’s carcass like a giant bowl of soup?
I quickly had my answer when the father put the knife away and came back with a handful of coffee mugs. Slowly, each of us took turns scooping the blood out of the chest cavity and putting it it into a bucket. It took all afternoon to get this finished. By nightfall, all the blood was drained and the entrails were gotten rid of and the father took the pork away to finish butchering.
I felt ill. I wasn’t nauseous, but was in some strange state of delirium after everything was over. I didn’t participate in the blood scooping for very long, because even at that young age I felt that there was something unusual about it. I didn’t know why, but I just didn’t want to help anymore.
Several years ago, I was talking with a group of mexican guys in a class I was taking and I told this story to them.
“Were they real Mexican, Mexicans?” one of them asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Like, from Mexico? It sounds like they were from the country. That’s how they do it, there,” he explained. “They save the blood.”
“I know you use the blood to cook, but why not string the animal up and let it drain out?” I asked.
“Because it’s a ritual. That’s the way they do it, there.”
Strangely, that made sense.