The vicissitudes of farm life are such that many stories could be written about starry-eyed and innocent city dwellers who go where angels fear to tread. Since retiring, hubby and I had indulged ourselves in the good life. We took up residence on a twelve acre block, and stocked it with one cow, a Jersey named Bluebell, and six hens.
Our herd of one eventually became four, and we decided that one of them would be much better off in our freezer. We were told about a butcher who would do "home kills" for the benefit of those people who were not willing to commit the slaughter themselves. He was duly summoned, and the deed done.
"What about the skin?" said hubby.
"Mmm," said I. "It would be a shame to waste it." It was indeed a handsome specimen, with long, glossy black hair. "Why don't we tan it?" I suggested.
"We?" said hubby. "Not me!"
"Well," I declared bravely, "I'll have a go."
Back issues of Grass Roots Magazine were unearthed, and ways and means of tanning animal skins were searched for. "Here's one," I said triumphantly. "This sounds easy enough. It calls for kerosene and carb soda."
"Oh yes?" says hubby. "But don't you first have to clean it? I mean, surely you will have to get rid of all those lumps of fat and meat, and stuff?"
"Yes, I suppose so."
Hubby cleverly managed to be very busy over the next couple of days, and my problems began when I realized that a fresh cow hide is too heavy for one woman to lift, so I ddragged it onto the verandah and spread it out. The sight of all that fat, and blood, and gore was a bit off-putting, I have to admit, but I valiantly stepped up to the challenge, fought off the blowflies and for the next two days I sliced about four kilos of fat from the hide. It was very hard work, but once having begun I felt duty bound to finish. (Besides, my pride was at stake!) Next came the salt and kerosene. But despite using all the salt I had in the house, including what was in the crock next to the stove, my available salt supply fell short of what was required, and instead of applying a thick layer to the skin, I was only able to sprinkle a thin layer. I folded it and rolled it up to "cure" for 24 hours amid moans from hubby that a man couldn't even have salt for his porridge!
"Stretch the skin out on a frame," said the directions. The closest thing we had to a frame was a couple of single bed springs. These were hauled up to the house and propped against the verandah at a forty-five degree angle. I slid the skin onto this "ramp" and fastened it. "Stretched", though, would have been an exaggeration, because the skin was wider than the two bed springs combined. But why worry about small details?
The kerosene and carb soda treatment was applied, and applied, and applied, effectually depleting our little grocer shop of its last box of carb soda. The look the storekeeper gave me was not complimentary, and he made some rather rude comments about city folks who think they know what they're doing. Despite all this, the job was finally done, and we stood back and admired our lovely cow hide rug. The sad part of this story is that now, two years later, we still can't put it in the house because the kerosene smell won't go away!