One fall afternoon we heard a desperate squealing and grunting coming from a farm up the road. Siggi and I ran to the commotion at this Frisian country scene. Next to the obligatory manure pile in front of a thatched-roofed farmhouse were two men wrestling a pig. The pig was squealing, the men were grunting.
To calm down the pig, someone hammered a spike into its head.
“Ami, look. They’re washing a pig,” Siggi observed.
“We’d better be careful,” I responded.
We cautiously approached to watch this slaughter. Someone slit its throat, drained its blood into a big bowl and then wrestled it into a hot tub. It was made with steel-banded wood staves and was identical to the one we bathed in weekly in our kitchen. While the men scraped off its dirt and bristles, the farmwife stirred the pig’s blood with a bare hand while adding ingredients.
“Why are you stirring the blood?” I inquired shyly.
“I am making Blutwurst,” she replied.
I had eaten Blutwurst, blood sausage, before. It was black, contained chunks of lard, tasted delicious and had no government-mandated warning on its intestine skin.
A man proceeded to cut open the pig’s belly, removed its innards, some of which he threw onto the manure pile. Little Siggi and I stood side by side, holding hands, watching with earnest faces.
“You will be next!” the farmer exclaimed while looking directly at us. Instinctively we stepped back because we were not sure if he meant it.
He tossed something at us.
“Here’s the bladder,” he said. “Blow it up and you can play with it.”
We fought over our new toy and excitedly took it home, where I rinsed it, inflated it until I felt that my lungs would burst, and then tied it shut. It tasted bitter. I didn’t think that pig’s pee would taste bitter, I thought it would be salty. Maybe it was the little trichinas that I’d heard about, but I didn’t see any. We were anxious to cure our translucent pig bladder so we could play soccer with it.
Aunt Adele asked where we had found it. She commanded us to go back to retrieve the pig’s lungs and anything that looked edible. Siggi and I balked because we ignorantly assumed that anything from manure would not be edible but agreed to fetch it, always being aware of the ever-present whip. Enthusiastically we returned to the scene of slaughter. Slowly we approached the manure pile while looking around for witnesses. When we felt unobserved we climbed it.
Pigs root for truffles. Vultures rip cadavers.
Ooooooh, this is soft.
The viscera glistened on the soggy manure altar, our public trough, our pork barrel. We grabbed some entrails, quickly wrapped them in newspapers and dropped them into the shopping net that we had brought with us. Was this the same one I dripped from at Doebele’s?
We hurried home. I felt guilty for stealing and for not having washed my hands. Oma, instead of pasting reminders in our communal waterless privy, simply told us to always wash our hands before handling foodstuff, and we always obeyed. Now Siggi and I grabbed the food while ignoring the advice that was so often pounded into us. Maybe we could wash the food instead before eating it. After we placed our mouth-watering quarry on the kitchen table, we went back out to play.
* * *
“Eat this,” ordered Ma.
Siggi and I stirred around our potpourri, each waiting for the other one to take the first bite. I could not bring myself to try one, thinking about where these innards had been. What’s worse? Hunger pain, eating pain, whipping pain?
As we wavered, Ma helped in our decision when she reached for her waist ornament.
“I will eat it,” I mumbled courageously.
Under the threat of punishment, and with proper and formal table manners, Siggi and I slowly consumed most of this nutritious, if not delicious, meal of lungs. Chunks of rubbery air tubes provided good exercise for our jaws, more so than the gum that we received from America. It also nourished us and strengthened our characters so we could deal more effectively with future gourmet meals.
The moral then is, when times are tough, stay close to a manure pile.
After we finished, we washed the dishes, a chore we greatly disliked, Siggi and I. Since I was older, I had to fetch water from the pump in the barn. Adele heated it on the white enamel wood stove in the kitchen, and after doing dishes we discarded it into the gutter of the cow stalls, from where it ran into a cesspool outside.
Within hours the results of our haute cuisine hit us. Pain in the gut, which had spared us the pain in the butt, which would not have prevented our pain in the gut, since we would have had to eat this stuff anyway, properly, after the pain in our butts. After rolling around the floor for an hour or two, parts of the pig escaped again. We released it with competitive up-chucking, Siggi and I. Then Ma fed our chuckings to her chickens, and they seemed to like them.
We were often aware that we had guts because we induced intense feelings there by eating anything resembling food, wasting nothing. Often we did not know what strange morsels Aunt Adele disguised in soups and sauces, and I would not be surprised if there had been mice and maggots! But other people had not much to eat either because they ....