Tuesday, April 12, 2011

One hot April day

While it always feels like an anomaly, it’s not that unusual for Pennsylvania to experience a “heat snap” in April that shoots temperatures into the 80s. Since April weather is more likely in the mid-50s, the spike creates an event remarkable enough that we can tie a memory to it. One of mine has to do with the death of Jeremiah in 1989.

Jeremiah (above, background) was an Alpine goat, and quite smart. When we went to meet him, the breeder looked up into his herd and called “Jeremiah!” The goats were spread across a wooded hillside—Alicia, Bettina, Carlotta…all of their names ended in an “ah” sound—but only one perked up his head and trotted down the hill. This farmer sold milk, yogurt and cheese products, so kept only a few intact males for breeding purposes; other young neutered males he sold to butchers. But when a special goat like Jeremiah came along, the farmer would try to find a good home.

We already owned one goat, a baby Nubian named Clementine (above, foreground) that I’d bought Ron as a Valentine (yes, the card I wrote rhymed). When she went off her feed and wouldn’t even accept the bottle of mother’s milk we’d retrieved, we quickly learned that goats are herd animals and need socialization to thrive. That led us to bring home “Uncle” Jeremiah—in the back seat of my Chevy Nova.

Clementine’s interest in food revived. They were so cute together. At first Jeremiah was twice her height, and she would run back and forth underneath his belly.

Lives come to an end, though, and years later Jeremiah died one morning of what we believed to be bone cancer. One April morning, with that day’s temperatures suddenly expected to climb past 80.

My participation was off the table—I was six months pregnant with Marty, and had toddler Jackson to care for. Burying the goat would fall to Ron and my brother Scott.

I’d already buried enough cats in that rocky soil to know what they faced; it would take hours to make a small hole three feet deep. They had to go six feet deep and a whole lot wider. It was a Sunday, so hiring someone with machinery wasn’t possible. With the heat climbing, they had no choice but to get started.

They left Jeremiah in the relative cool of the barn as they dug. I brought water out to them by the gallon as their bodies, unused to laboring in such temperatures, struggled to adapt. Scott was young, and a fitness nut to boot, but I wasn’t sure how 46-year-old Ron would hold up. As home renovators we were used to some manual labor, but nothing this heavy. He engaged in no regular exercise, and he smoked.

More importantly, he was emotionally under-equipped: Ron showed his love for his animals by fawning over them with hugs and kisses. He didn't do the tough stuff. I typically handled their medical care and end-of-life determinations. I’m sure the water running down his face was as much tears as sweat.

By mid-afternoon they’d had it. Ron and Scott deemed the hole ready and went to retrieve the body. Removing it from the stall, which required a few tight turns, was a trick in itself because by that time rigor mortis had set in. There was no way Ron could hold his breath and avert his eyes and pretend this wasn’t happening.

At long last they got the body out to the hole and laid Jeremiah within it.

At least, they tried.

Jeremiah’s rigid legs wouldn’t fit down into the hole. Scott was quick and decisive. “I’m not digging any more.”


“Turn around if you can’t watch.”

Seeing no other choice, Ron turned away while one at a time Scott dropkicked his work boots through the goat’s legs, breaking each until the goat dropped into the hole. Once Scott had covered the body with enough soil to cover the evidence of his act, Ron joined in and completed the burial.

Life on the farm offered up many opportunities to stretch ourselves in unexpected ways—more about that in the next post. Now that I live in Doylestown, though, when the temps hit the 80s yesterday, Dave and I had a bit more fun.

We walked up into town, as may others did, and got an ice cream cone.

Last night though, I watched 127 Hours through On Demand while Dave was at a meeting (if you've seen the movie you'll know the parallel to Jeremiah's burial right away). I may have moved on, but I will not forget.

Do you have any memories tied to a hot day in April?


Donna Galanti said...

Kathryb, this was a beautiful story. I see the farm and the love of Jeremiah the goat and the sweat and work to bury him - all connected to a long ago April hot day. Makes me want to take out those old photos and daydream a bit. Most importantly, I think you have shown us here how we can tell a story from a picture, bring it to life so we can see all around the edges and beyond of that picture. Thank you for that!

Donna Galanti said...

p.s. sorry I typed so fast and misspelled your name - KATHRYN!