Peasant Life at Mam’Anica’s

The days spent at Mam’Anica’s, whether summertime or wintertime, seemed as though I had stepped into an ancient time with the day’s preoccupation being survival. “If you want to eat tonight, you better get out there and catch supper,” Mam’Anica would tell me about noon. I got the impression she gave me this task purely for her enjoyment, for she would watch me chase after the chickens and call out, “Grab one already!” I ran after mean ones that had pecked or scared me, and spared the friendly ones that squatted to play with the next day. When I asked who catches her dinner when I’m not around, she’d smile and ask, “Why do you think there are so many when you arrive?”

While I liked eating chicken, the in-between process bothered me. I wept over every one that flailed without a head. It lost its life so I could eat. I’d take my usual seat on a short-legged wood stool, an old towel strapped over my lap, and stare at the sad sight of the scalded creature. I’d pull out feathers one by one. “Oh, Dana, stop tickling it and pluck away. It doesn’t feel anything,” Mam’Anica would say. We wasted nothing, down to giblets and feet. The good feathers Mam’Anica saved for pillows.

At potato harvest time, she’d assign me the easy task of gathering¬† unearthed potatoes into burlap sacks. No, it shouldn’t have been hard to accomplish, except that I truly believed potato beetles were intent on eating me. I’d spend more time running mad and screaming than gather potatoes. They wouldn’t stop laughing until it became obvious that my paranoia won’t collect potatoes.

And paranoia wouldn’t use the outhouse against the fence behind the cornfield either. Some thirty yards away, it would remain forbidden territory. This dilapidated wood plank structure not once failed to make me recoil with repulsion. I’d swear it creaked and moaned with the sort of ghouls one would expect had stooped to inhabit such a place. I remained unconvinced to patronize it in the daylight, never mind in the dead of night. Despite repeated rebukes, ceaseless pleadings, and reassurances that there’s nothing to fear, I preferred my own arrangements along the strip of land between the back of the house and the wooden fence.

I suspected that Mam’Anica’s cow must have known I was a city girl, too. Every time I’d walk into its stall, it turned it humongous head practically as big as me, stopped its chewing momentarily, and gawked. The peasant kids’ tales about smart people turning into idiots after getting kicked with hooves in the head didn’t help when given the chore of removing the dung and refreshing the hay. Any doubts over its sentiments toward me dispelled after it stomped its leg and whipped me with its tail in protest of my manner of milking. I gave up on a relationship when this otherwise docile milk cow transformed into an unrecognizable beast at the sight of the neighbor’s feuding cow during one of our walks back from grazing.

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