The child stood in front of the bookcase, fascinated, aching to open the books and see if they had any pictures. She ran her fingers gingerly over the leather binders and gold embossed printing.
“Sandra, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, you’re not to touch those books.”
“But, why,” whined the little girl.
“Because they belong to your brother and sister. And you do not know how to read yet.”
“Why can’t you read them to me, Mommy?”
“I will when I have time. Now stop bothering me so I can make dinner.”
When Sandra turned six years old, a proud first-grader, she was able to read many of the titles, but she still was not permitted to open any of the books because her parents thought they were not suitable for small children.
“You have your own books,” they had said. But Sandra was bored with the Mother Goose Rhymes and Fairy Tales, and had even gone through her first-grade primer twice. There were two books she really wanted to open and read. One of them was called Sex is Coming of Age. She opened it one day, but her older sister caught her before she’d read any of it. When Sandra looked for the book later, it was no longer on the shelf.
The other title that caught Sandra’s interest was All the Skeletons in All the Closets. She thought it was a ghost story or had something to do with Halloween, but didn’t dare open it because it might disappear like the other book.
By the following year she had other interests and forgot about the books on the shelf. It was probably 10 years later before she understood the metaphor and realized that All the Skeletons in All the Closets was not a scary ghost story and had nothing to do with Halloween. However, she never did learn what skeletons were hiding in whose closets. The entire case of books was gone. Probably her siblings had taken them when they moved out, and she did not bother to investigate further.
The title came to Sandra’s mind last spring when she was going through her closets in preparation for moving. She sorted through clothing, linens and other household items, making piles of what to keep, what to put in storage, what to give away and what to discard. Lots of folks go through this process every year, sometimes even twice a year.
It dawned on her that one’s psychological and emotional closets need to be gone through from time to time as well. We tend to accumulate much too much and need to clear out the clutter. What to keep, what to put in storage, what to give away, what to discard.
Fond memories are definite keepers. They should always be kept in a handy place where we can get to them often. We might even want to share them with others. Some of the more painful memories we might be able to learn from. These we should store on a back shelf. We must get rid of those old grudges. They are no longer useful, even though we’ve been holding on to them for years. And those agonizing guilt feeling! Not only are they of no use to us, but they are destructive and have a bad effect on everything else in our closets. And we should not try to pass them on to anyone else either. Straight to the garbage heap. Good riddance!
So, if we have any skeletons hiding in the backs of our closets, get them out. Look them over. Maybe if we come to grips with them, we will find that they are not as bad (scary) as we once thought.
On the Back Roads of Florida
We were driving in the back reaches of Dixie County, Florida, on that blistering summer day some fifty years ago when Dr. Don McKee, my boss, casually stated: “Bob, you’re in for a surprise today. It may not be what you had in mind but when I said we were going to be testing livestock I didn’t mean cows, I meant pigs.”
“Pigs, you gotta be kidding, Don? This is all new to me, I’ve never tested a pig in my life,” I said.
“When you see how efficient this process is it’ll make you roll on the floor laughing. If we’re lucky we might get two pigs tested today, but ordinarily we’ll settle for one.”
“I can’t wait,” I said with a strange and quizzical look on my face.
Dr. McKee, a Department of Agriculture veterinarian, had made arrangements to go to Arlan Jenkins’ farm a week earlier knowing full well that we might be in for a surprise, just as he had told me. When we arrived, eight miles later, with half those miles on dirt roads, I was not prepared for what we were about to experience.
Arlan came out from the house, tobacco stains on his lower lip and chin, and started with: “Knowin’ you’d be comin’ by today, Doc, I had Silas, my field hand, go out about seven last night to put out the traps, load them with corn and a little mash and go back again early this mornin’ to check them out. I sure hope he didn’t let me down.”
Pig traps were “the thing” in those days, in the back country of Dixie and Taylor Counties of Florida. These odd-looking contraptions were made of wire and would entice a pig to go in and scarf down the corn and mash placed inside. Once inside, escape was not possible because a gate would come down, trapping the animal inside until someone released it. The pig would then be identified by any number of things: ear notches, tattoos, ear clamps or tags of one sort or another. In those Florida counties there were actually free-roaming animals, usually pigs, often seen napping on the side of, and occasionally even in the middle, of the road. I asked Arlan how many pigs he owned.
“I don’t rightly know, Doc, we just keep on haulin’ ‘em in until we run outta corn, or pigs, providin’ the ear tags are OK.” He referred to me as “Doc,” not knowing I was a USDA summer employee, a vet student going into my fourth year of schooling, trying to scrape together a year of college expenses and receive my veterinary medical degree.
Dr. McKee and I put on our coveralls and government-issue boots and headed out with Arlan to a wooded area, with a small pond, cattails and scrub Oak nearby. “Rattlesnake country, for sure,” I thought. We no sooner got to the area where Silas had set one trap, and who jumped up in an instant but Silas. He had evidently been sleeping. When he arose he tried hard to conceal his small jug of corn whiskey. The trap was still set and the mash inside still untouched. A smell of corn liquor wafted our way!
“What’s happening, Silas?” asked Dr. McKee.
“Nothin’ really. Why?
I heard a little noise over an hour ago, a little grunt, maybe, but he likely sniffed me out and just left for a better day.”
We made arrangements to get back there again the next week or so and we went on to another farm nearby to test some sheep for Scrapie, a mysterious itching disease that was at the time just starting to be seen in Florida.
Then, for a two-week stretch, we blood tested cattle for Brucellosis, a disease of dairy cattle. There were two herds, each with close to 3,000 head. Brucellosis, a disease rampant in the 1800s and early 1900s, is the cause of abortion in cattle and of undulant fever in humans. In one herd, close to 30% of the animals were condemned for milk production but were still salvageable for beef. That disease, with rare exception, is almost totally unheard of these days in the United States, thanks to vigilant observation and regular vaccination and testing.
Interesting at the time were the farm workers themselves who were taking care of, feeding and milking the cows. They walked barefoot around the barns and feedlots, seemingly oblivious to the one or two-inches of fresh cow manure that squished up between their toes with every step. It didn’t seem to bother them a bit. Who knows, perhaps these farmhands were the carriers of the Brucellosis germ.
It was a conversation piece as we drove to the hotel that evening. We ate heartily and put down for the night, having seen how other folks lived and even thrived.
I never did see another pig trap that summer and that was alright, too. It was a most enlightening summer job and a learning experience.