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Wednesday, January 4, 2023

It's been a while ...

... but something kind of related reminded me of this op-ed I wrote years ago for the former Dutchess Beat newspaper, which closed as a result of the 2008 Great Recession. It's not on the Hudson Valley One website anymore as far as I can tell, so I feel I can ethically share it here. Enjoy. 

Woolly and grisly 

While it is inarguably rare for the literal public butchery of an animal to occur in a town like Hyde Park, it is not unprecedented. 

The gruesome tale told last month at a town board meeting of a sheep being chased, stabbed to death and hung from a basketball hoop in the yard of a house on Water Tower Road — besides making for a good, umm, yarn to tell gobsmacked co-workers and out-of-towners — reminded me of a story my friend and fellow Hyde Park product Kiki Pritchard told me once about something which happened at her house when she was 4. 

I got in touch with her up in Vermont to fill her in on the latest and ask her if she wouldn’t mind retelling her tale for the newspaper. As Kiki is an awesome human being, she did not, and here it is. Our setting: 1975, in one of Hyde Park’s premier residential subdivisions, Greentree Park. Kiki’s mom, some of you might remember, is a native of Germany, and her parents are in town for a visit. Plans were laid for a good old-fashioned schlachtfest. As “schlacht” is German for “slaughter,” you can kind of see where this is going. 

“I will never forget the sights, sounds and smells of that day,” said Kiki, who recalled being “dressed in my little lederhosen” for the event and her sister Ilka being just a baby. Her family, joined by a Dutch neighbor who was also a butcher, took a ride out to Karl Ehmer’s to pick up the fest’s main attraction, a real live pig. “I remember it oinking really loud, and I was scared.” 

Kiki said she was spared seeing the actual demise. “It was alive at some point, then it was dead.” But she wasn’t spared what happened next. “They took a kiddie pool and put the pig in it and used a can to scrape off the bristles. Everybody seemed to know what they were doing.” The dead and denuded pig was then trussed up on a ladder, its front and rear legs tied. Its blood was drained into a bucket, to make blood sausage. 

Then, this. (Spoiler alert: This could spoil your appetite. For a long time.) “I’ll never forget the sight of this older man reaching into the cavity, into the gut, of the pig, elbow deep, and sort of rolling out the intestines. I was very, very mesmerized by the sight, even though I was very young and I was kind of disgusted.” 

The pig was then cut up into its parts and everybody hurried to their food preparation tasks. The ensuing fest was very festive. “It was a very celebratory atmosphere; everybody was into it,” said Kiki. 

“Did this draw a lot of attention from the neighbors?” I asked. (Anyone who has ever lived in a residential subdivision knows that something like the en plein air slaughtering of a pig gets neighbors off the couch and out into their yard in full gawk mode. Hell, a dryer fire at 3 in the morning at my neighbor’s one time got everybody out of bed and out into the yard in full gawk mode. You’d have thought the Beatles got back together in Golden Meadows the way people gawked at that burning dryer.) 

Kiki remembers some people coming out to take a look, but she does not recall her family getting any static. “I don’t remember much neighborhood activity, maybe the next-door neighbors noticed, but I don’t think anybody complained. It was not like we had a screeching pig in our backyard. It’s not like anything illegal happened, and we ate the whole pig.” 

One of the concerns expressed about last month’s sheep was that the sight of its mortal remains inelegantly strung from sporting equipment would traumatize young kids, maybe putting them off both eating meat and playing basketball forever. Four is pretty young, so I asked Kiki how she was affected by what she saw. The answer? Unharmed. 

“I have very fond memories of it — it was sort of an embracing of the Old World and the New World. Having had that cultural experience, I feel all the richer.” 

One of the things that’s always fascinated me about Hyde Park, the town in which I have lived for as long as I can remember, is how many separate realities co-exist here, how many different Hyde Parks there really are. There’s the Hyde Park of the old-timers descended from the farmers and estate workers of the pre-war town. 

There’s the Hyde Park I am from, made up of raised ranch upon raised ranch inhabited by IBMers and other professionals who were brought here starting in the ’60s. And there are dual emerging Hyde Parks being created right now by the influx of “city people” on one end of the economic scale and immigrant workers on the other end of the scale. (I am probably missing one or two Hyde Parks somewhere; apologies if yours is not included.) 

What the Lambchop Incident of 2008 and the Schlachtfest of 1975 remind us of, aside from the fact that meat comes from actual living things, is that even in a small, placid burg like ours, you never can predict what’s going to happen in the back yard, and that’s not necessarily something to fear. Unless, of course, you are a sheep or a pig.

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