Forgive them, so that your father in heaven may forgive you. Mark 11:25
There are certain experiences in our lives that form us—perhaps even change us. These fantastic (and sometimes even traumatic) occurrences can “punch our card” for life—and leave lasting impressions. Such an event happened to me when I was just seven years old, at the behest of my rugged father—a man who thought his actions would be good for me.
Dad grew up in East Texas, and he had a Texas drawl that got thicker every time we visited our relatives in Shelby County. He grew up on a farm, and his family helped a lot of people during the Depression. He worked from the rising of the sun along with his dad and siblings. He had a powerful work ethic and believed in working with his hands.
I was seven when Dad took me to an animal slaughterhouse. He felt it would “toughen me up.” He forced me to sit on the bottom of a milk pail and watch as a bull was mercilessly shot, hoisted up, and its throat cut in order to bleed out. I was horrified as blood splattered everywhere. I cried so hard I couldn’t catch my breath, and my dad was embarrassed by my reaction. But why Daddy? Why is this happening?
The owner took me up to his house where his wife, who looked a lot like Mrs. Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver, gave me a cup of tepid tap water in a scratched-up blue metal cup. I waited on the side porch for my dad—trying to recover from the house of horrors. I called a cat over so I could pet him. He slowly came close, then to my shock, began to heave and convulse and then proceeded to vomit an entire dead mouse right in front of me. Backing up a few steps on the porch, I covered my face and cried again. I was horrified and felt so alone.
In the days following the gruesome incident I refused to eat meat at dinner time. All I could see on my plate was a replay from the slaughterhouse—it was awful. Dad would make me stay at the table and demanded I eat every bite on my plate. Oh, he meant well, after all he provided a nice roof over my head and nutritious food for his family to enjoy. I get it…now… children should not waste good food—but my ability to see meat as “good” had been forever compromised.
Through many tears and high-volume discussions, I learned tricks to make the meat on my plate disappear. When Dad would walk away from the table I began dropping chunks of steak in my plastic water cups, stuffing pieces of roast beef inside the elastic waist of my play shorts. I hid chicken in my napkin, venison under my plate and I even found a metal bar under the table to conveniently press my meatloaf on.
I often tried to express my torment and pain concerning my new disdain for meat but was met with intolerance and frustration from my parents and my grandfather who apparently had a more mature and educated mindset concerning “where tenderloin and ground chuck” came from. Confused, I began to internalize my psychological fears. These well-meaning people had no idea how radically traumatized I was as a result of what I had witnessed. It was a permanent imprint on my mind—something I would never forget.
A foundation was set and my mind was made up. I didn’t really know at the time what I had become, but eventually I realized there was a name for my eating preferences—and I’ve been a “vegetarian” ever since. And by the way, to this day, I have never owned a cat for fear of a repeat performance.
A child views their world through their limited understanding and often their flawed judgment. What I had seen that day terrified me, followed quickly by the cat and mouse scenario, together these disturbing experiences upset and altered my tiny worldview.