Monday, January 17, 2011

Livestock Auction, a cultural event on MLK day

This morning on NPR (national public radio) there was a lot of talk about how people were going to be observing or not observing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Serge attends Mt. Pleasant High School and they had the day off.  One of the places I told him early on in his stay that he would need to visit is the livestock auction in St. Louis, Michigan.  I prepared him and Moses and Asa that we'd head down to the auction for a little culture today.
The first part of this culture on a day like today is knowing how to dress to survive in the cold.  They dressed in snow gear, I dressed in the requisite insulated carhart gear.  The first stage for the auction is the outside portion where the items for sale include hay and straw bales and firewood.  After about 15 minutes the tugs started on my arms - the boys wanted some shelter from the cold.
We acquired a tip that the hog and lamb barn might be a warmer venue.  We were off.  Opening several doors we found our way to an alley way where we could look at the hogs that had been brought to market.  Serge was surprised to see the flock of barn swallows that inhabited and ruled the air without any real regard to humans or hogs within the shelter.
After looking at hogs we made our way to a familiar scene in any good auction barn - the catwalk.  Like a catwalk in a theater that allows one to walk over the stage, a catwalk in an auction house is usually accessible from the auction ring and it extends out over the holding pens to allow all interested parties an opportunity to inspect the animals that have been brought in for sale.  We saw baby calves, young feeder calves, cows and fat steers.  I pointed to the cows and said to the boys, "Next time you'll see them is at McDonalds."  OK, maybe not at McDonald's, but they are the largest retailer of beef in America and a cow brought to the auction on Monday is headed for the hamburger line.
Looking at the cows Serge said, "You know what I want, I want a big steak."
"Hungry, eh," I said.  "Let's go to grab some lunch."
Just about every auction barn I've visited has a restaurant somewhere on the grounds.  We stopped into "The Cattleman's Cafe."  There were a few tables available.  We picked a 6 seater because we anticipated Roger Brookens, a guy from our church, and a friend of his were going to join us.  Before long the manager who was the only wait person came by.  She brought us water and welcomed us.  She was especially nice to the boys.  Before long the order was in.  The four of us had some kind of burger.  Serge has discovered a real appreciation for McDonald's Angus burgers.  After he finished his burger there I asked, "how does it compare?"  He indicated that they were both very good.
Serge had a slide of coleslaw, a first for him, and Asa had a side of onion rings, a first for him.  Both of them downed them.  Serge said after eating  the coleslaw that it reminded him of fare he would have had in Kazakhstan (the land of his birth).  He's observed that more of the food in America seems to have similarities with food in Kazakhstan than it does in his present home in Germany.  
Roger asked if we liked the sign that read "Welcome to the Roadkill Cafe. You kill it, we'll grill it."?   Of course we liked it.  That's part of the culture we were taking in and engaging in, a salt of the earth humor that deals with  reality. 
Before we left the cafe I encouraged the boys to have a piece of pie.  I noted that this might be the only time we'd be by this way while Serge is staying in America.  He responded by saying I could get him out of school anytime to bring him to St. Louis for lunch and a visit to the stockyards.
It was time to watch the beginning of the auction.
As we climbed our way to the top of the auction arena and looked for seats we discovered that other people had a similar idea.  The chairs that an hour earlier were empty were now all taken.  We found a wide ledge to take a seat upon.
After a few minutes the auctioneer welcomed us with a less than inspiring speech on MLK day.  He noted that those who were present didn't seem to be observing the day.  "Here at Producers, you'll find us open today and just about every other made up holiday like Memorial Day, Labor Day.  About the only day you'll find us closed is Christmas, and then it's hard." 
Every culture has its positive contribution and its less than commendable attributes.  The sentiment expressed, in my perspective, a continuing animosity in race relations that is saddening. On this day, when we're asked to remember a man who had a dream of all of God's children choosing to make judgments on character instead of skin color, it remains evident that there are plenty of pockets where the color of ones skin is the preferred course of commentary, assessment, and determining if we can live in community.
What is needed here and in every culture is the witness, call and life of Jesus and His church. Only He can save us from our prejudice and scapegoating of others so that we might be at and be at rest with ourselves and others.

With the introduction completed, the cattle began rolling into the sale ring.  We saw calves sell at $1.00 a pound down to 40 cents a pound.  Every time I'm in a setting like this I see cattle that my dad would do well with and I've always got a little temptation to raise my hand.  Thank the Lord for saner thoughts and the assurance of Anna that I had better not. 

After several head had come and gone it was time to address other events of the day.  As we were walking to the van I asked Serge what he thought.  He gave the sign of two thumbs up.  Another slice of life in America had been encountered.  It was beautiful, it was ugly, it is in need of redemption, it is being redeemed.        

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