Here’s something a little different. I wrote a memoir piece for class and it came out nicely. Based on a true story.
Movies and television don’t do the smell justice. I mean, no description can accurately depict the horridness that is death. Say goodbye to your lunch if you ever get a whiff because it’s what I did my first time.
My first experience with death’s rancidity happened two summers ago when I worked with my friend Sam on his father’s farm. It certainly wasn’t a life-style, I don’t have the fortitude to maintain that kind of schedule. We were just there on weekends doing whatever odd jobs his father could think of. This particular day he had us manhandling old worn-out tires that had been rolled off the silage pile. Almost every dairy farm has one, a white blob covered in tires. For hours up at that little Alburgh farm, Sam and I humped hundreds of tires out of tall grass and wet ditches—really mind numbing work.
The sun was dipping behind the tin roof of the barn when we decided to stop. I started to peel off my sweaty gloves when Sam stopped me.
“Almost forgot, my mom wants us to pick her up some compost,” he said.
I nodded and pulled my gloves back on. “Alright, let’s do it and get outta here,” I said.
We grabbed a few five-gallon buckets from inside the barn and threw them in the bed of Sam’s beaten-up Ford pickup. Feeling more than exhausted, I grabbed the overhead handle pulled myself up into the cab. Vermont Public Radio played softly in the background as we bumped along the dirt path to the farm’s compost patch.
“Can I have the last granola bar?” I asked, grabbing for the lunchbox at my feet.
“Sure,” he said.
We pulled up to the compost patch not long after. I almost fell getting out of the cab, my legs were so spent they had turned to jelly during the ride. We filled the five-gallons and loaded back up in a matter of minutes, but before leaving Sam asked if I wanted to see the real compost field.
“Yeah, sure.” I said. Sam led me maybe 50 yards past an idle skid steer until we came upon a small opening in a thicket of trees. Sam propped up a broken branch and we ducked into the opening.
“Welcome to the cow graveyard,” he said. Before me extended a landscape of black and brown mounds, ever so often stabbed by stiffened white and black posts. The smell, indescribable, turned my stomach inside out. My body took over and I spewed out bits of granola and berry.
“Oh shit,” I said wiping my mouth. “That’s disgusting.”
“Yeah, it smells pretty bad. But think about it, everything going on in there is incredible,” Sam said. “Our cows are turning into free soil.”
I covered my nose with my shirt and walked back to the pickup with Sam close behind. We double checked the buckets and drove home under a pink and orange pastel sky.
Back at Sam’s house, he relayed his dad’s plans. “Alright so I’ll see you tomorrow. It should be an easier day, we just have to mow and weed whack.”
“Alright,” I mumbled, nearly asleep.
The next morning, body-aching, I pulled up to Sam’s house, only to see his mom waving from the open garage. “Hi T.J., I already asked Sam, but could you and him just help me spread out this compost in the garden beds out back?”
“Of course,” I agreed.
It’s funny. For the rest of the summer, I never went back to that cow patch, even though Sam and I toiled away there every weekend. Every time I thought of the smell, a shudder crept up from the pit of my stomach.
Near the end of the summer, as a thank you for the work we did around the farm, Sam’s parents invited me over for a special dinner. The steak, sweetcorn, cucumbers, bell peppers, and carrots all tasted divine. As a canned veggies kind of guy up until then, I had no idea that flavor didn’t just mean salt. I gorged.
After cleaning up the kitchen Sam and I headed to his back porch with fresh Long Trail’s.
“You liked dinner?” He asked.
I nodded, “Yeah, it was great.”
“Everything we just ate either came from the Alburgh farm or right here from my mom’s garden.” He motioned to the beds we had helped fill months earlier. “I told you those cows make for some good compost.”
“Yeah,” I said looking back at him, “so farm tomorrow?”
He took a long swallow. “Bright and early,” he said, “we gotta get the tires on the new silage pile.”