My Father was in the Air Force when I was a kid and we spent a lot of time moving around from place to place. Even so, we almost always ended up living in a rural area. I remember I thought Anchorage was huge when we first arrived there in 1980. The population of Anchorage was only about 77,000 at the time and only serves to illustrate what kind of country boy I was. My dad has always been a big fisherman and started to become interested in hunting when we moved to Alaska. I had just turned ten, and my father had bought me a single shot .22 rifle for Christmas. I was elated, for it seemed my father trusted me and perhaps even considered me a man.
Well, I was young and foolish. It turns out my father, while being an excellent fisherman, was a fairly worthless hunter. He couldn't shoot straight, and was entirely too loud while stalking game. I on the other hand took to hunting quite well. I enjoyed the time outdoors and was a very good shot. We hardly ever brought anything home though, due largely to my father's bumbling.
What we did bring home was mysteriously cleaned and prepared by my mother, I never put much thought into it. It wasn't until we moved to Missouri that I learned how to clean game.
We often visited my grandfather who lived relatively close to the Air Base. He had several acres out in the very rural Missouri farmland. By this time I was 14 or 15 years old and my grandfather would allow my step-brother and I to go off rabbit hunting without supervision. Without my father along to warn the prey of our approach we caught considerably more game. All for the stew pot.
Upon our return from our first solo hunt, my mother met us before we had returned. She was out for a "nice walk" taking in some nostalgia. She queried us on our catch. I quite proudly displayed the three rabbits we had brought back, and was surprised when my mother seemed unhappy.
One of the rabbits had not received a fatal wound. My mother was upset that we were letting it suffer. To be honest I hadn't really given much thought to the creatures suffering. I placed the rabbit on the ground and prepared to shoot it in the head and end its misery.
My mother was aghast that I would waste a bullet in such a manner and even reminded me that close range shooting like that could be dangerous. My mother. The sweet old lady who gave me birth, held me when I cried and stood up for me when I was wronged. The weekly church goer and knitter, baker for our family, and caretaker of children shocked me to my core that day. She reached down and grabbed the suffering rabbit by its ears and with one quick flick of the wrist she snapped the rabbit's neck like she might snap a wet dish rag.
Before I could respond she launched into a lecture about how I should clean my game before it got too cold. Grabbing the fur of the dead rabbit between both thumbs and forefingers she strained momentarily and pulled the rabbits back apart like a bag of potato chips. She stripped the fur down to the ankles and the head, then grabbing my rifle she used the barrel as a fulcrum to break the legs. From a pocket she took her folding knife and removed the feet at the fracture points and lopped off the head. She turned the carcass over and slit it from neck to belly. Reaching in she made a surgically precise incision near the rabbits anus and scooped all the insides out with her hand.
She handed me the carcass and pulled up a handful of grass. As she wiped the blood from her hands with the grass she rose and asked if I had watched carefully, could I do it that way next time? I nodded my head affirmative, still unable to speak. "Good" she said as she leaned over and gave me a hug.
"Make sure you get back before it gets too late boys", she called over her shoulder as she walked off to continue her "Nice Walk". Total elapsed time couldn't have been more than a minute or two. In those two minutes she had shattered every illusion I held about maternal gentleness. Her capacity to swiftly shift from a warm nourishing mother to cold hearted butcher frightened me.
Never underestimate Old Ladies.