Friday, September 4, 2015

The Dwire Family Labor Day

Monday is Labor Day. It's a day off from work and school, but what else is it? We think of it as the unofficial end of summer. Tons of Labor Day sales, almost as bad as black Friday. A chance for one final camping trip. NFL football season begins (finally!!)

I think we all have mixed feelings about the holiday. We love the three-day weekend, but it also marks the downhill trend towards winter. But does anyone even think about the “labor” part of the day? Its creation was encouraged by leaders of the some of the Labor Unions. After some unfortunate labor strikes during which the government sent in troops and a lot of people were killed, President Cleveland made the holiday officially the 1st Monday of September. Thanks, Wiki for the info. And that explains why (yawn!) we don't think about the “labor” part of the day.

My family didn't either. It was just another day, and on the farm that meant every day was a labor day. One Labor Day, about 25 years ago, however, changed all that. In one 24-hour period, a new story was added to the Dwire family mythology. It's a story that regularly comes up at family get-togethers. In fact, it's right up there with the story about my youngest niece sleeping in the doghouse - literally.

If you were looking for a devotional tonight, I should warn you that try as I might I just couldn't come up with a “moral of the story,” so you'll have to take it for its entertainment value only.

There was a cow. (Yes, it's another cow story. Sorry, it's part and parcel of my life. But I think you'll find there's more human interest here, than cow interest.) This particular cow was a long-legged black and white holstein steer. My brother was no longer operating a dairy farm, and the bulk tank in the milk house stood empty. He did have a couple of beef cattle, and this unnamed steer was among them. This steer was so tall he could just about step over the barbed wire fence. A fact which he discovered on the day in question. He also discovered that the grass is greener on the other side.

I'm not sure when the chase began. I do remember that a long-legged steer runs a lot faster than a human. He ran around the outside of the pasture. He stepped over the fence and continued to run inside the pasture. When we thought we had him back in captivity, he stepped over the fence and ran outside the pasture – again.

At this point my brother decided that since he couldn't keep the steer in the pasture he would try to get him in the barn and stable him there until the weather got cold. That probably requires an explanation. You see, we did our own butchering. So we needed to have cold weather so the carcass could be hung in the garage a day or two to get chilled. Here we were walking - or rather running - around on this Labor Day with no coats on. It didn't qualify as a cold day.

We proceeded with my brother's plan to herd this recalcitrant animal into the barn. Or at least we tried. Someone forgot to inform the steer about our plans. It would have been a cozy gig in the barn – no more nights in the rain. No sleeping on muddy ground. Plenty of food and water with very little effort. Unfortunately, he had not been briefed on these benefits and continued to elude capture.

Two members of Somerset County's Tractor Buddies
 - a group of intrepid tractor drivers who have figured
out how to make them square dance.
They do not, however, jump creeks.
It was a hopeless quest. In desperation we got out the tractors. My brother was on one, and I was on the other trying to keep pace with this racehorse. However, tractors don't spin on a dime, and they can't step over fences or jump creeks, although for a few minutes I was certain my brother was going to try.

It wasn't long after that near fiasco that my brother threw up his hands and said, “Go get the gun.”

Cold weather or no cold weather. We were about to butcher this steer. My apologies to any vegans out there. It's a fact of farm life. It's what you see in the meat department of the grocery store, we just did it for ourselves. Don't worry, I won't go into the gruesome details. In fact, after the chase was over, there are only a few details that I remember.

One had nothing to do with the cow. My brother told me to get Dad's truck. It was an old GMC. No power steering. Standard transmission. And while I had driven it many times in the past, this day I was under duress. I tried to drive between the barn and the corn crib, pushed in the clutch to change gears and found myself sliding on wet grass into the corner of said corn crib. It did only a little damage, but I didn't tell anyone about my mishap for several days.

The great dilemma we faced was what to do with two halves of beef in warm weather. How could we possibly chill them and keep them cold until we were able to process the meat? It occurred to me that there was a big, empty bulk tank in the milk house. It was meant to chill milk, but could it be used to chill meat? There followed a frantic few hours cutting the meat into pieces that would fit into five-gallon buckets. The buckets went into the bulk tank, partly full of very cold water. Problem solved.

The days following would be spent processing the meat. Cutting steaks, grinding hamburger, canning some of it, but the labor of those days are long since forgotten. What we remember is the adventure of coming together as a family to find a solution to a long-legged problem. And I guarantee, sometime during this Labor Day weekend, someone in the family will mention it!

You know what, I was wrong. There is a moral to this story. And it's about family. It's about valuing the time you spend with your family. Time spent NOT using some electronic device or updating your social status. It's about making a family memory. Even one as outlandish as our Dwire Family Labor Day.

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