(Pigs in a Farmyard, Carl Henrich Bogh, 1864, Art Renewal.com)
Against my better judgment, I glance into the exterior mirror of the purple El Camino.
I can not believe what my eyes are seeing.
I'm looking straight at somebody's hoof.
I turn away as quickly as possible.
But then sheer curiosity gets the better of me.
I return for a second gawk.
I am horrified to see that the hoof is attached to a.........a.......... leg.
A wave of nausea spills over me as I turn my head away from the grizzly scene.
Thankfully, the leg is mostly covered in white butcher paper.
Gathering courage I never knew I had, I set my sights on the hoof which is attached to the partially covered leg and ask myself these questions:
1. "Why is a dead pig lying in the bed of my new husband's purple El Camino?"
Answer: Family members in Star Valley, Wyoming are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the dead pig. They want to cut the dead pig into smaller pieces, freeze the meat, retrieve the packages at a later date, cook them and eat them.
PLEASE DON'T ASK ME WHY.
2. "Why must newly wedded city girls be subjected to sights such as this?"
Answer: It comes with the territory. Most studly Wyoming Wranglers deal regularly with freshly dead animals. One hundred and seventy- six percent of them eat the meat from these animals. Let this be a warning to all you citified females out there who are thinking about falling in love with cowboys of any sort:
PREPARE TO INTERACT WITH FRESHLY DEAD ANIMALS IF YOU ROPE A COWBOY AND DECIDE TO TIE THE KNOT!
Hint: Desensitize yourselves - NOW! - by taking frequent field trips to meat-packing plants during the period of your premarital engagement. Forget the romantic walks leading you to the no-gore-allowed meat section in your local market. As far as you're concerned, beautiful displays of "filet mignon" do not now nor have they ever existed in any supermarket. By following this crucial plan, you will gradually buck up to the realities of your future life with Mr. Studly Wrangler.
3. Why is the dead pig sawed in half?
Answer: Civilized people would never find the need to ask such a ridiculous question. They understand that dead pigs are not really dead pigs at all. They are pieces of pork - also known as the other white meat.
Never refer to the meat master as a "butcher." A "butcher" carries out his duties in a crude, rude, violent manner. The meat master artfully slices - never brazenly "cuts"- his delicate meat.
The meat master always plies his craft inside a spiffy supermarket. THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS.
The pristine pork is then carefully placed on sanitized white Styrofoam trays. (Blue Styrofoam trays are permissible in a pinch but they are a poor second choice.)
Finally, the meat is hygienically shrink wrapped and labeled with lyrical words such as: "Butterflied pork chops."
ALL NORMAL PEOPLE ENCOUNTER THEIR MEAT IN THE ABOVE DESCRIBED MANNER.
Five hours later, we pull into the driveway at my mother-in-law's farm in Star Valley.
My Wyoming Wrangler has wisely prepared me for the inevitable on the drive up.
That's because he wants to live to see another day.
He tells me that the dead pig is about to undergo further bodily transformations.
A saw will be involved.
I tell him, "OK, cowboy, that's waaaaay too much information."
Twenty minutes after we arrive, I actually get out of the El Camino.
I stare at the shed from my personal vantage point.
Which is 657 miles from the shed itself.
Believe me when I tell you this, I am not moving one inch closer to that shed.
Not in this lifetime or the next.
The electric saw buzzes menacingly from inside the building.
As does the laughter of the people who are busily "transforming" the dead pig into smaller pieces.
A minuscule portion of my new marital family is present and accounted for out there.
My brother-in-law, Ted, shouts across the yard and asks me if I would like to help wrap the piggy pieces in paper.
I tell him with lightening speed: "Gee, no thanks, Ted. I am learning so much about how to cut up a dead pig by studying the entire procedure from right here."
Kindly, Ted replies, "Suit yourself."
Minutes pass as the whirring of the saw and the good-natured laughter continues unabated.
I squint into the darkened opening of the shed for what seems like hours.
Janeene, my saintly sister-in-law, takes pity on me.
She asks, "Merry, would you like to write the labels for us?"
I cautiously inquire, "Labels?"
"Yes," she says, "You can label the pieces of meat for us. That would be a great help."
I nearly blurt out, "Does this mean I won't have to stand within 657 miles of the sawed up deader than dead pig?"
Instead, I drag my feet across the yard as if each of my ankles is wearing 100 pound weights.
I stop cold on the slab of cement just outside the shed.
I peek inside the building and study the scene of the crime.
Then I carefully determine that the parts of the dead pig - which have significantly multiplied, by the way - have been safely enrobed in brown butcher paper.
It all looks innocent enough.
I step ever so slowly inside the shed as Janeene gives me a pencil and small slips of white paper.
She smiles brightly at me and says, "You can write "pork shoulder" on this one."
I immediately decide I love this woman more than life itself.
Never in the history of the world have the letters p-o-r-k s-h-o-u-l-d-e-r been written with such flourish!
Yes - I can write!
I adore pencils.
The sharper the better.
I can even spell a few simple words.
But dead pigs?
I don't do dead pigs.
And my studly Wyoming Wrangler?
He loves his family.
He adores beautiful Star Valley.
He is grateful for the lessons he learned growing up on the farm.
Most of them involved that nasty four letter word w-o-r-k.
But here's the news that always takes me to my happy place:
While I was strategically roping my cowboy many moons earlier, I learned that dead pigs aren't his thing either.
So four months later we packed up the purple El Camino and headed east for Vanderbilt University.
There wasn't a pig - dead or alive - anywhere in sight.