December 2011

No more Elly May

By Suzanne Strazza

Remember Elly May Clampett? She was the zoo-keeping, animal-loving, never-hurta- fly daughter in “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Well, that’s who I’ve been compared to all my life. Suzanne of the soft heart. Suzanne, lover of strays. Suzanne, protector of all creatures great and small.

Suzanne apparently now has a thirst for blood.

Having been a vegetarian for a considerable amount of my adult life and a huge and very outspoken opponent of hunting due to “cruelty towards animals,” I am quite surprised to find myself in the position of having participated in the killing, skinning, eviscerating and butchering of not one, but two sheep last week.

What the hell happened?

Honestly, I have no idea.

Admittedly, over the post-veggie years, I have come to re-relish the taste of flesh: pig, cow, chicken. My tastes are quite bland and mainstream. Elk, deer, lamb, duck, bunny, goat – hmmmm. No.

And, having lived in the West for long enough, I realize that people actually do feed their families on the meat of the animals that they kill; it’s not hunting for sport. And on an intellectual level, I believe that killing an individual animal with your own hands and having a relationship with that animal and the death process is how we should get our meat.

But I love a nice juicy steak all wrapped in plastic, sitting on the shelf at the City Market with a label telling me how much fat it contains.

And then one day my friends R and J bought two lambs and were having them delivered here to Mancos. As they prepared for the big day, I realized that this was something I didn’t want to miss, so I invited myself.

R seemed relieved to have company in his novice-ness. J, who has hunted all his life, didn’t understand why it was a big deal. But Saturday morning rolled around and I picked out an outfit I found appropriate for getting covered in blood and guts (fashion first – even for a murder) and went to join the men in the killing fields.

I was also fully prepared to be “coffee girl” in case I actually couldn’t handle it.

The lambs arrived. They were a few hours late, but really, who’s rushing to their death? They came with a family of sheep-killers, for lack of a better term: grandpa, grandson, and lots in between, including a very pregnant momma.

These were not Little Bo Peep lambs; these were huge churros, a few short days of adulthood.

I stood watching while the first was taken out of the truck, his friends curiously watching. His legs were tied together and he lay on the ground, head on a bed of branches.

“Who’s going to hold its neck?” J did. I was jealous.

And…off with the head.

It was so cool. Cool enough that when it came time for the second one – I almost knocked everyone down to get my hands on that throat. J did the cutting, but I got to hold its head back and feel the life go out of it.

Also got to manage the never-ceasing twitching of the legs and listen to the air bubble in the esophagus.

We skinned. I assumed I would hurl – instead I was fascinated by how smoothly the entire pelt peeled away.

We hung it from the tree – would have been head down, if there was a head. Johnny, the sheep guy, slit the body down the middle and told me to stick my hands in there and hold in the intestines.

It was warm. I’d never held an organ before.

While I cradled the stomach in my arms, I wondered why I wasn’t distraught about the death of an innocent animal. I thought I’d at least be grossed out.

These were not my sheep; I could have walked away at any point, yet I was involved in something that I had to see through to the end.

So, while the 18-month-old played with a section of intestines, I held the sheet of fat to let it air-dry.

I was the keeper of the cellulite.

After the process was complete, we threw both lambs into the back of my truck and off to Cox’s. I drove. While I pumped gas, I felt so “Mancos” to have carcasses in my truck bed. I wanted everyone to see.

After 15 years here, I finally belonged.

We took the lambs to R’s house and proceeded to butcher: fillets, tenderloins, back straps, ribs and roasts. It was a lesson in basic anatomy and made this non-lamb-eater want to fire up the grill.

My kids came over – their jaws hung slack. They couldn’t believe that their peace-loving hippie-dippy mother was up to her elbows in flesh and blood and wielding an extremely sharp knife.

With that knife, I managed to nearly cut off the ends of two fingers. I actually only nicked them, but the amount of blood made it look like a near-amputation.

Again, I kept waiting for Elly May to return, to run, fraught with emotion, back home to wash the blood off of her hands.

She was clearly not around.

At the end of the day, exhausted and smelling like a butcher shop, I was a bit sore and a lot invigorated. I wanted to do it again.

I want to hunt.

I realize that, contrary to what I used to think, this is the way to get meat. Killing and all that goes with it gives a person a relationship to their food that doesn’t come when you get the Styrofoam tray with the tidy, fattrimmed chunk of flesh.

And I know I am a little behind the times – that most of Montezuma County figured this out long ago. I also understand that a lot of Montezuma couldn’t serve up an abundance of meat for their families if they didn’t go out and get it.

I feel as if I was a part of a rite of passage and it was a matter-of-fact process.

Now that it’s all over, was I grossed out?


Am I going to make a return to vegetarianism? Not a chance.

Is Elly May rolling over in her grave? Probably.

Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos, Colo.