Wonder in a cold room

After we process chickens, we often pick up the frozen meat and drive it to a meat locker about half an hour to the west of us. This is an intense job and not my favorite. It has interesting moments though.

When we first rented the lockers about a year ago, I unloaded a truckload of chicken into the frozen room with my 3-year-old. Because we had not done this before, we were not dressed for the job and had to borrow coats to walk into the below-zero room that holds dozens of drawers of meat. My little guy wore an oversized red wool coat and looked kind of like an elf.

We were both impressed by the deer head that sat in the corner of that cold room on top of some boxes, looking stately and strange with a full rack of antlers. We passed it dozens of times as we negotiated the narrow aisles of the frigid room and unpacked our meat. Then we came home cold and tired. Unlike the 3-year-old, I also came home crabby.

On the same day, our friend had been talking to us about the camping trip she had taken with her family. In my cranky state of mind, I was unusually frustrated that I could not share a similar vacation story with her because I am always so focused on the farm. I said to my husband, “We are not getting out and taking our children places!”

“What are you saying?” he answered. “Weren’t you telling me that just today you took our son to a cold place with a deer head in it? How many parents can say that?”

I almost doubled over laughing. Who can argue with that?

Last week, my husband and I were back at that cold room with our same son who is now 4 years old. I did not see the deer head, but my husband saw an antler peeking out of a bag in the corner. So the tradition was maintained. We were not without the company of our little mascot.

It rained as we were moving boxes out of the truck, and the rain was serious. It pelted down and turned the streets into rivers. Even after the worst had passed, water rushed down the sides of the street and into storm drains. Our little guy was fascinated by this and wanted me to stop loading boxes to watch as the torrent hit a cluster of leaves and splashed up before diving into a drain. He wanted me to stand next to the metal grate of the storm sewer so I could stare down at the water falling into a dim tunnel of concrete below. It was impressive.

While we are unloading our boxes in the cold room, our son stands on the warm side of the big insulated door. There, he can stay comfortable and watch people cut meat at the other end of the long room. Last week a woman wrapped cuts of meat in white butcher paper, and an older gentleman used a machine to fill plastic bags with hamburger.

Again, I was asked to stand and watch this.

“Just watch him fill one bag,” my son begged.

I stood beside my boy, grateful for a chance to warm my hands, and we watched the gentleman working in a steady, unhurried way that reminded me of something from another era. He had a cunning machine with a spigot, and when he slipped a bag over the spigot, the little white bag filled with just the perfect amount of meat. Then he slowly ran the loose edges of the bag through another machine, which slipped a band around the plastic and tied it shut. We were fascinated. There was something absolutely satisfying about watching those plastic bags fill.

Finally our meat was all unloaded. Driving away, I was so grateful for my boy. When I felt tense and focused, he made me appreciate that water runs in the streets and surreal deer heads sit in cold rooms and old men work steadily with fascinating machines.

Wonder courses around us and splashes and dives down into the past. If we make just a little bit of time for it, we can stand on the sidewalk and watch it happen.


Elizabeth O’Sullivan raises chicken and a few hogs at her farm, Auntie Annie’s Fields, in rural Dundas. Find Elizabeth or her family members selling their goods at the Fulton Farmers Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. More of her writing appears on the farm website: auntieanniesfields.com