Another tale from my dubious youth. As usual, the names have been changed to protect the guilty.
Among the questionable movements of the hippy era was back-to-the-land romanticism, sustainable only if you had a paying job that left you enough time to muck about with gardening, a grant whose results didn’t fall due for a few years, or parents who thought you were studying to be an engineer. My friend, call him Ned, fell into the first category. He worked as a construction laborer, a job he described as being a human mule, and which scrubbed a good many romantic scales from his eyes. I remember someone telling him admiringly what a healthy life physical labor was. When he asked what she meant, she explained that you always see these old men on construction sites, obviously of advanced age, but still able to do the strenuous work required, as opposed to aging men with sedentary jobs. Ned patiently explained that those men were only in their thirties, they just looked old, worn down by lives of hard labor and dubious choices.
Nevertheless, Ned, an eagle scout, kept a romantic edge on the idea of self reliance, to the point that he rented a house in the country from a farmer who had moved into a subdivision, having tired of the “simple life.” He diverted water from a nearby stream for his use in the house, and heated it with a wood stove (albeit a state-of-the-art Swedish one). He also kept a kitchen garden, and raised a few goats; by and by he acquired a cow. Because he earned a reasonably nice paycheck from the construction industry, he was able to make a go of it without going bankrupt.
One of the goats was a young billy who was constant trouble. He was particularly adept at escaping the pen and eating up all the produce in the garden. Ned devised more and more complicated ways of keeping him in, which he always defeated. To make matters worse, he delighted in charging the legs of Ned’s friends when they were about, earning him the name Bucky. He was especially frightening for children, who had no height or weight advantage in these confrontations.
Eventually, Ned got tired of it, shot Bucky in the head with a handgun he kept for security, and announced there was to be a goat roast. A friend who had read somewhere how to do such things offered to clean and prepare the goat for cooking, and Ned got on to digging a pit for charcoal and rigging up a reasonable facsimile of a spit.
The actual gutting and cleaning, along with the subsequent hide tanning, is a whole other story, fraught with missteps and near disasters, that I won’t go into here, as it eventually was successful. Suffice it to say that I will never forget the taste of fresh goat liver omelet for breakfast as long as I live.
The day of the party arrived, and guests along with it. I have to say, it was as varied a group of individuals as you will see. There were hippies, academics, construction workers, and people from foreign countries, reflecting Ned’s multifarious interests and genuinely diverse community of friends. Among the merry-makers was his current girlfriend, with her five-year-old daughter, whom we shall call Robin.
Beer flowed like … beer, and the country air was hazy with cannabis. Everyone gathered around the pit, taking turns turning the spit and arguing about whether the goat was done yet. It didn’t take long for Robin to figure things out. In the midst of one of the discussions, she turned to Ned.
“Is that Bucky?” she asked, pointing to the sizzling roast.
Ned took a moment, no doubt turning over in his mind exactly how to approach the topic of death and the food chain to a five-year-old. Eventually, he cleared his throat.
“Yes, it is,'” he said.
“Good!” she replied.