Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
Butcher leading calf, 199?
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 36 in.?
"As far as meat was concerned, it is written, 'Do not remove the calf from its mother for seven days.' Every farmer had his favorite butcher. Periodically, the butcher would talk with the farmer when he came into town for the market or, the butcher himself or cattle dealers would go around the countryside by horse and wagon to solicit business. A farmer would have one or two cows. The butcher would inquire as to the welfare of the pregnant cow. How is the cow doing? When is it expecting? As soon as the cow dropped the calf, the farmer would notify the butcher, 'Gimpl, the calf is here.' The farmer wanted to get rid of the calf as soon as possible so as to be able to start milking the mother. The calf at seven days would not be too steady on its feet. It couldn't walk very fast. Besides, if the calf had to walk six or seven kilometers, it would lose weight. The solution was for the butcher to carry the calf, at least part of the way. The calf weighed about fifty or sixty pounds, so the butcher would carry him on his back. Sometimes the farmer would fill the calf with water to make it weigh more. Out of fear, the calf would urinate and wet the butcher.
Here is the farmhouse with a little barn. You rarely see such huts in Poland anymore. They were very cool inside during the hottest days in summer. The outside was clay, the roofs were made of a thick straw thatch, and the windows were small. The thick walls provided excellent insulation. You can see Gimpl taking the calf away. But rather than carrying it, this time he inserts his finger into the calf’s mouth. The calf thinks his finger is a tit and it follows Gimpl home. The poor cow. Look at how sad she is saying goodbye to the calf. In this picture, there is a well and storks. The storks would come back to the same nest year after year. The farmers considered them good luck. We did not have many storks in our neighborhood. They need wetlands, lakes, or rivers."
Mayer talks about the butcher and his activities in Apt (Opatów). Listen to it.