Jake Ford: The Sacrificial Llama
Southern Legitimacy Statement:
I’m a fifth generation East Tennessean. I’ve cleared fields, dug post holes, chopped wood, and hauled hay. Had a beagle named Clyde that wadn’t worth a damn. As a teen I worked at the local AM country radio station which was housed in a trailer where I hosted the Swap & Shop and Flea Market on the Air. I did live remote broadcasts from the county fair and interviewed the FFA Queen. Used to arm wrestle a fur trapper. Watched a possum crawling out of a dead dog and didn’t lose my lunch. One of my best friend’s most prized possessions was a 1969 Snapper with the original paint. Cartoons I drew of him and his Snapper were published in the Southern Lawnmowers Dealers Newsletter. I’ve been bribed many times with homemade chicken and dumplin’s – now ain’t that enough proof?
The Sacrificial Llama
It was autumn and I was headed to my Nan’s to help get her house ready for winter. I’d clean out the gutters, rake leaves and the like, and afterwards we would both set down to a feast of chicken and dumplings, fried okra, and cat head biscuits. Just the thought of it brought me a deep feeling of peace.
With my mom and dad both gone the place seemed to be almost tranquil. All year long my dad looked forward to his annual hunting trip in Kansas and so did the rest of us. It was like a family vacation all the way around. My mother was visiting her sister in Knoxville and it was no accident that her visit coincided with dad’s trip to Kansas. For years now my aunt had refused to visit mother because of what has only been referred to since as the garden tiller incident. “This will be my last time I set foot here!” she said while limping to her car and she was as good as her word. So mother had since waited till my father was gone to Kansas to visit her sister.
Several years back I had started calling ahead to let my Nan know I was on my way, even though each call was met with “Good Lord son, you don’t have to call before you visit! Surely you know better than that!” Ever since my Nan’s neighbor’s house had been robbed she had felt the need to take what she called precautions. “I ain’t waiting to have someone break in on me and knock me in the head, no sir!” she said defiantly. Now these precautions my Nan spoke of involved the purchase of two pistols that looked identical; one she loaded with bullets and the other with blanks. “If someone breaks in on me I’ll grab one of them guns and just start shootin’. That way God can decide the outcome.” So I thought it best to err on the side of caution and always call ahead.
As I turned in the driveway and got out of the car I made it a point to make as much noise as possible so as to announce my arrival. I walked up the steps to the back porch and was greeted by Nan even before I could reach the door. “Is that my boy?” she said, giving me a bear hug.
“How’s Nan doing?” I asked. My Nan had lived through the great depression. She was tough as nails and it took a lot shake her up, but this time there was look of uneasiness on her face. “Are you ok?” I asked.
“Sit,” she said. “I hate complaining, but with your daddy it’s the one thing after another that’s finally amounted to something.”
“What is it Nan?” I asked concerned.
“A llama,” she replied.
“What?” I asked in puzzlement.
“Yeah, he got him a llama from Howard Jennings for free. But like my mamma always said, if someone offers you a free fish it’s probably got a hook in it. Instead of a fish it was that trifling llama! Well let me tell you one thing, child, I’d rather take a boat ride with a mean Billy goat than suffer that llama one more day,” she said while twiddling her thumbs and looking at the ground. “This whole summer and I mean every durn day it’s crapped right smack dab in the middle of my flower bed and tore up my yard. And when I’d try to run it off it spit at me and charged me! In my own yard! Can you believe that?! I told your daddy and he said ‘well then you move it’. I told him ‘You know how bad my back is and you want me to clean up after that cussed animal?’ and you know what he told me? ‘No! Don’t move the crap, move the flower bed! Momma sometimes you act like you ain’t got no sense’ and he just laughed and walked away.”
“Now you know I try to love all God’s creatures,” she began.
“Sure,” I said.
“And I know there was only one perfect person and he was crucified.”
“Now tomorrow’s the first day of hunting season and there won’t be a man between sixteen and sixty around here. They’ll all be in the woods.” Then my Nan looked at me with an intensity that defies description. “So tomorrow son, I want you to kill that llama.”
“What” I asked, a bit stunned.
“You heard me,” she said sharply. “I’ve studied about it long and hard. Besides it ain’t just the llama, it’s everything.”
“He might just get another one,” I blurted out.
“True,” she replied with a slight nod of her head. “But not this one,” she said sternly “It’s not the llama really. I think you know what I mean.” She was right. I did know all too well. He had treated my mom and me no better than he had treated her. So yes, I understood.
“I’ve cleaned out the freezer and there’s plenty of room, and you’ve killed and cleaned many a deer.”
“I’ve got all the other stuff we’ll need in the shed. That llama usually grazes by that old pear tree in the morning” she said while motioning with her head. “Be here before sunup” she said as she pushed herself out the chair with a slight grunt. “Now let’s get in there and eat our supper before it gets cold! We’ll need our strength for tomorrow.”
Morning came quickly and when I arrived my Nan was waiting, her rocking chair squeaking out a rhythm that was almost hypnotic.
“You ready?” she asked as she stood up.
I hesitated only briefly, “Yes, yes I am,” I replied.
“Well, get to it! What are you waitin’ on? Christmas?” she snapped.
Looking back it all seemed to go so fast and smooth; the killing, the cleaning, the dressing, until finally it was done and the llama meat was neatly wrapped and stored in the freezer.
“I’m tuckered out, but I feel like a burden has been lifted off of me,” she said with a sigh.
“Me too,” I said, finally admitting it to myself. “What will you do with the meat?”
“Why, feed it to your daddy,” she said while looking at me as if I should have known better.
“Won’t he be able to tell?” I asked curiously.
“I’ll smoother it in gravy and he’ll lap it up like a hungry pup,” she said while shaking all over with laughter. “It’s been a good day.”