What can I say? I'm a carnivore. It started early on. I was raised by meat-eaters. They started me early on strained beef and gravy-filled baby bottles. As an infant, I teethed upon ham bones. By the time my cuspids came in, I was set in my carnivorous ways.
When I was seven or so, my brothers and I were given baby mallard ducks as pets. I named mine Quincy, after a Muppet duck appearing briefly on a Sesame Street episode. This was long before Jack Klugman started his coroner/crime-fighter show.
I met Quincy shortly after he'd hatched, and he imprinted on me. I was his friend and protector. He would waddle up to me when I called his name, climbing right into my arms. He grew up on a diet of bugs, Ralston Purina feed and regular treats of bread crumbs. He was a swell duck.
When slaughtering time came, my brothers had fits. I wasn't happy about the whole thing, but I wasn't traumatized, either. They refused to eat their ducks, but I dug right in. All the more for me, I figured. There's no finer meat on earth than yard-raised duck. Wild duck is too tough. Factory duck is too limp. Yard-raised duck is just right.
I couldn't see the sense of wasting perfectly good duck. I liked Quincy when he as alive, and I liked him when he was dead.
My brothers didn't see it that way. One turned semi-vegetarian, eating only meat that could no longer be recognized as having once been part of a living creature. The other grew to eat little else but meat, but only from animals he'd never had the chance to meet.
None of us would've fit into young people's farm fiction. None of us learned a teary lesson. We weren't given new baby ducks. No rainbows or majestic sunsets showed up to inspire us. We didn't grow up to be veterinarians.
Ol' Quincy would've been a terrible Disney film.
That same summer, I found a branch on the ground with a cocoon stuck to it. The caterpillar wouldn't stand a chance on the ground, I figured, so I propped up the stick in cardboard packing, the kind shaped like a tic-tac-toe board. Inside the cardboard framework, the cocoon would be a little safer from the elements. I put a piece of taffy in the framework to make sure the bug'd hang around for a while in case I missed its emergence.
I was lucky enough to see a small, white moth crawl out of the cocoon. It walked along the cardboard, dried its wings, and fed on the taffy. Then it flew to my hand.
Whenever I'd go into the yard, the white moth could flutter around me. Sometimes it would land on my hand or shoulder, but most of the time it would fly around me. When I'd go back into the hose, I always had to carefully brush it away so it wouldn't follow me inside. That summer, the moth was my friend. I never gave it a name. It wasn't a pet, just a caterpillar I helped become a moth.
No, I didn't eat the moth. Not every critter that trusted me me a horrible death. I don't know what happened to the moth. One day it didn't come around anymore. But I had plenty of guinea pigs and goldfish that lived long, full lives before expiring from natural causes. Not even Dr. Quincy would've suspected foul play. Of course, our two hermit crabs killed each other trying to get into each other's shells, but me only blame in that was in not getting them new shells in time. It was a really medieval scene, those two vanquished crab torn out of their armor.
We had sheep, too. We raised them from lambs, nursing them on sheep formula. You pour the stuff into a 7-Up bottle and pit a black rubber nipple on the end. It wasn't my idea to keep the lambs in the basement (the shed was too cold), but I'd come running anyway whenever they'd jump out of their pens and start knocking around the old furniture.
I never sheared the sheep myself, though I slept peacefully enough under quilts made from their wool. Anyone who thinks shearing is "exploitative'' (and, believe you me, I've heard that word used by more than one animal-rightist) has never seen a sheep on a hot day. They look much more comfortable after a good shearing.
I'll admit, my days of bird pogroms weren't exactly in their interest. But they had it coming. A onetime neighbor lady used to keep a birdbath in the adjoining yard, drawing every rude and early bird in the neighborhood. On many a summer morning, I'd wake, tired and cranky, get out my wrist-rocket (an industrial-strength slingshot made by the good people over at Wham-O) and knock the more obnoxious birds into the birdbath.
I always fired a couple of warning shots, but they never learned.
Nope, that wasn't in their interest at all. But then, I was tired, cranky, and, of course, a carnivore.
© 1990 Randel Shard
First published in The Minnesota Daily on February 6, 1990