by Lori Dann
She must be scared. Terrified, actually. Why is she here, standing in front of these strangers in cowboy hats? Where is her grass, her wide-open spaces?
She must long for the monotony of her everyday life. The silence and comfort of her massive pasture. It’s loud here. Too loud.
Without warning, she was taken from her home and deposited into a crowded holding pen packed with other confused, frightened cattle. She found herself thrust into a sort of bovine assembly line, where animals are sorted into smaller groups and led through narrow alleys and chutes before finally reaching the auction ring.
Now, she is confused again. She has never seen lights this bright, and for a moment she stands frozen. The ring man breaks her trance, tapping her lightly with a rattle paddle so she will show herself to her bidders like a model on a catwalk. She prances left, then right, making her way closer to the railing. She stops in front of me and dips her head, her wide eyes locking into mine.
I am sitting in the third row. It is my first cattle auction, and I’m still trying to make sense of it all. I’ve been watching hopeful sellers and shrewd buyers for the past half hour, and I’m struck by the casualness of it all. An older woman reads the newspaper in the back row. A cowboy in front of me sends a text message to a recipient labeled “My Darling Wife.” A waitress delivers hot-off-the-grill hamburgers to a pair of hungry bidders who seem prepared to stay here for the long haul.
Behind me, a farmer is answering the persistent questions of his two young granddaughters. It’s their first auction too. The youngest girl is 4. She thinks the cows are cute. I smile, remembering the summers I spent on my Mamaw’s farm in Moulton, Alabama, when l was content with picking tomatoes, shelling peas and tagging along with Harve, my grandmother’s second husband. Harve was the only grandfather I ever really knew. More than that, he was my buddy. He played ball with me under a large shady elm tree, and I curled up on the couch with him to watch wrestling on television while he smoked an old corn cob pipe. But my favorite part of the day was walking out into the pasture with him to visit the cows. There were just a few, so I named them. Blackie was my favorite. I asked to see her every day. We talked. We bonded. I loved Blackie.
These memories are clear. The rest is fuzzy. My parents have filled in the details. One night as we sat around Mamaw’s kitchen table eating steaks and fresh vegetables from the garden, someone commented on the quality of the cow we were consuming. Someone else asked which cow it was, and Harve said it was the black one. He thought I wasn’t listening. I heard everything. “We ate Blackie?” I cried. The adults looked at one another, unsure what to say. Then my grandfather lied. “Of course not,” he assured me.
The rattle of the auctioneer stops for a moment and I am staring at the cow again. I contemplate the conflict inside me. I’ve never been a vegetarian. Probably never will be. I understand the importance of the beef industry in this state, what it means to the people in this arena and their families. But I also know what it feels like to bond with an animal like the one before me now.
As the cow is led back out of the chute, I wonder where she is headed next. She was sold for $780.
Lori Dann (AC 2013) is a journalism faculty member, program coordinator and faculty adviser for the student newspaper at Eastfield College in Mesquite, Texas. She has spent 20 years working for newspapers in South Carolina, Alabama and Texas, most recently as a sports writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Prior to that, she was the assistant sports editor at the Montgomery Advertiser.