Excerpt of Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
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All three Marescas knew as much about an animal as anyone
could. They could judge how old an animal was when it was slaughtered
by touching the cartilage, how often and what it was fed by examining
the fat deposits and marbling in the meat. Pointing out a
thick streak of fat in a side of beef, Joe said, "Here you can see the
lightning bolt where the rancher started to feed him fast and furious
at the end to fatten him up, but what you really want is steady feeding
so the fat is marbled throughout."
Outside the shop were two huge forsythia bushes, bursting optimistic
and sunny yellow branches. Inside, the refrigerated enamel
cases were packed with bloody meat, ground meat, tied meat, and
birds, whole and in parts. On the long white tile wall behind the cases,
where the Marescas did their actual bloody work, was a giant mural in
friendly colors, depicting a roly-poly, mustachioed butcher in a clean
white apron, frolicking in a round, green curlicue fenced-in pasture,
with cottony white sheep with little soft pink ears and porky, bristleless
pink piggies, smiling while sniffing the yellow buttercups. The sky
overhead was robin's egg blue, the few clouds were pure white, and
the birds and the butterflies went about their song-filled business even
though the butcher was wielding a giant cleaver in one hand, headed
for one of them. To the right of the mural, hanging from pegs were all
manner of hacksaws, cleavers, and giant knives.
Besides meat, the Maresca's sold canned goods, and in the spring
and summer, a few of the vegetables that Mr. Maresca grew in his garden
behind the shop. They were always arranged casually, in a plain
carton or basket, on the floor by the refrigerated case, with a handwritten
sign on the back of a piece of brown paper bag advertising the
price: peas 20¢/lb.
I spied those fresh peas in a bushel basket at the end of the
counter. While my dad and the guys were talking and leisurely loading
the four whole dressed lambs onto newspaper in the back of the
truck, I snagged a handful of them and hid behind a display case.
I love how you can snap a pea's stem and pull the string and how
it leaves a perfect seam that opens easily under your thumbnail. And
then you find those sweet, starchy peas in their own canoe of crisp,
watery, and almost sugary pod.
When Mr. Maresca found me eating the pilfered peas, instead of
scolding me, he grabbed the hem of my dress and pulled it out to
make a kind of pouch into which he placed a big handful of them for
me to eat, not in hiding but openly, in the sawdust-floored shop.
Every time his son Joe opened the heavy wooden cooler door, I
caught a good eyeful of carcasses hanging upside down with their
tongues flopping out the sides of their bloody mouths and their eyes
filmed-over, milky, and bulging, along with disembodied parts - legs,
heads, haunches, sides, ribs, looking like something in a Jack London
story. I wanted to follow him in there. I wanted to be in with the meat
and the knives and to wear the long bloody coat.
That night we slept by the fire in an otherwise pitch-black meadow,
five kids vaguely chaperoned by my brother Jeffrey who was well on
his way to becoming a teenage anthropologist, hunter-gatherer, and
naturalist. He collected the deer and raccoons that had been hit and
killed out on the dark country roads and dragged them back to hang
from the trees bordering the meadow until they bled out. Then he
cleaned the hides, burned off the hair, saved the teeth, and scraped the
sinew from the bones and dried it to make thread with which he'd sew
his pants, made of deerskin and raccoon fur. I was enthralled by him
and his fastidious, artful, freakish habit. And in love with his boardingschool
good looks dressed down by the chin length of his hair and new
habit of wearing dashikis. I hadn't totally understood, with the eleven
years between our ages, that he may have also gotten into the habit of
"turning on, tuning in, and dropping out," and that there was likely a
psychotropic reason he could go so long without blinking. My parents
hadn't totally understood this either, probably, because on that night,
the night before the big party, Jeffrey was left in charge of the fire. He
worked the stumps and branches into a fierce, burning domed pyre.
Excerpted from Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton. Copyright © 2011 by Gabrielle Hamilton.
Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.