Tag Archives: Brothers

Ali: My Iraqui Brother

by Patrick Slattery

Last week while packing cabbage in the root cellar, I entertained two visitors. The first was Jaris, a very polite, well-dressed, 24-year-old Jehovah’s Witness. After pleasant conversation and giving him a bag of free squash, I took Jaris upstairs to share his message with Peter Drake and Terese’s mother, Grandma Cummings. They both received copies of “The Watchtower”, and after my coaching, were supposed to have shown “The Watchtower” to Terese after she came home from school and tell her they had converted (they failed to execute my plan).

But the fellow I wanted to tell you about was the next visitor, Ariat. He is a bald little fellow, aged 53, a member of the very small Arab community that resides nearby in LaCrosse. They all know one another, and hang out at a gas station owned by a Pakistani. Ariat was  looking for onions and garlic, which I gave him along with a package of frozen venison.

“Where’s Ali?”, I asked of him, “haven’t seen him in a long time.”

Ariat replyed: “He’s gone from LaCrosse. Living in Rockford, has a new wife.”

“That’s too bad”, I said, “because I’ll miss seeing him.”

But before he fades from memory, I’d like to tell you about Ali, as a fellow farmer and occasional visitor here at Sweet Ridge Farm. Ali grew up on a farm in Iraq. He was one of twenty-three children (his father had four wives). He didn’t like Sudam, and had spent some time in jail in Iraq. Somehow he got to this country, and after living in Chicago and a number of other big cities, ended up in LaCrosse. Ali is a Halal butcher, meaning that he kills and processes livestock according to Islamic law. He worked in a number of Halal slaughter houses. “Despicable work”, he told me. And although he wasn’t employed in that capacity while in LaCrosse. He none the less continued butchering Arab style, and thus was always on the lookout for sheep to “do in”. I don’t remember how we connected several years ago-Ali just showed up in our driveway one day and asked if I knew of any sheep or goats that were for sale. As a city-dweller, he was always in need of a place to butcher on the farm, which is illegal of course, but that makes it only more fun to say yes when he suggested that he might do so at our place. We didn’t do it often, maybe a half-dozen times, but I do remember his excellence and skill with a knife. I believe his ritual was to face the animal  east, shout “Allah is great!” and then proceed to slit its throat. He could entirely process a sheep in 10 or 15 minutes. I well remember the time he pulled into our driveway, honking the horn of his old Cadillac with three lambs and various fowl in the trunk, yelling out the window, “Hello brother!”.

Ali had the most gravelly voice that I’ve ever heard. A most impressive fact about Ali is that he never spent one day of his life in school, yet somehow he passed a driver’s test in the U.S. and was able to find his way all over the interstate highway system. Ali had lived in some pretty rough neighborhoods in Chicago and elsewhere, and was grateful for how safe LaCrosse, WI was in comparison. He especially liked being around farmers, as he considered himself a kindred spirit. He like the “Ameesh” (Amish) but they used to haggle ferociously over price. He could tell how old a sheep was by looking a the number of teeth in its mouth. He prepared us a lamb and rice dinner one Sunday, and my son Raphael well recalls it as one of the most delicious meals he ever ate. I also remember him once eating here with his cousin, and they twittered in Arabic and pointed to my wife Terese, who was barefoot at the time and sweeping the floors and had also poured them coffee. “She is just like the women in my country”, Ali pointed out with marvel in his voice. Ali’s wife in LaCrosse was American, and this proved to be his undoing. She was a nurse who worked odd hours and didn’t share his rural interests. I had never met her, and Ali seldom talked about her, but I can only presume that she wasn’t very satisfied with her husbands way of life. He did however bring out his daughter, Alia, a pretty, well behaved little girl. We were all struck by what a fine father he was.

So we can only presume their marriage bond had dissolved and Ali went elsewhere to find a new bride. Ariat said Ali had come back to Lacrosse several times to look for his daughter, but mother and child had disappeared, and there was no tracking them down. Ariat promised to come back next spring and help with the garlic. If the need arises he is welcome to slit a lamb’s throat now and then. I am sure he is good, but no one I suspect will do it with as much grace and style as Ali-my lost Iraqi brother.

This article is part of an occasional series written by Patrick J. Slattery, patriarch of the Slattery clan. Pat was a journalist for over 30 years, writing about faith, farming, and family. For the past few years he has stepped away from the keyboard and into the fields as a full time farmer. The first articles in his series are available here:

Gary Elsen: Son of Middle Ridge Soil

Christopher

Cute Tractor


A Run to Remember

My editor Kate called me yesterday morning, and what did she want? I’m sure what she really wanted to do was the catch up with her little sister that she only sees about twice a year, but somehow the conversation ended up being centered around this blog (big surprise!) and how my “authorship has waned this summer”. I was told to write a blog post ASAP and even told what to write it about. How nice.

I crankily acquisced. Crankily, because I had not been out for a run yet and it was already 10 or 11 o’clock. I’m a morning runner, and I’ve found that if I don’t get out on the road then, my whole day is off until I do. So, although I had a fairly productive day yesterday, swimming, baking little French bready things, continuing my quest to make the perfect brownie, reading some of my book for college this fall, and attending mass, my day felt incomplete until I headed out the door for a very late run at 6:35 pm.

(Check out my sweet running shirt.  Yes, that’s right-it’s an old Pep Band T-shirt from Cashton high school.  I ripped off the sleeves.  I’m cool like that.)

I’d decided on a whim to run to my brother Gabriel’s former farm, St. Brigid’s Meadows, where my little brother, James, was working that night. The run was beautiful, the weather finally cool enough after the hot spell we had all week. The crankiness I’d been tinged with all day lifted, and I arrived at the farm just in time to see James on the 4-wheeler, taking the cows out to pasture.

(This is Gabe at St. Brigid’s when he lived there a few years ago.  See the cows in the background?  Most of those are the same ones I saw yesterday and have lots of names ending in the same vowel sound: Jolly, Andy, Melancholy-okay, I made up that last one, but you get the picture.)

My welcome was warm: “What time is it? Why are you here so early?”

“Well, I thought I’d be slower getting here, okay. Can I have a ride?” I replied. We have never had a 4-wheeler at Sweet Ridge Farm, and I’ve always jumped at the chance to ride one.

“Sure, hop on.”

A problem presented itself as soon as I climbed on. I just bought new running shoes last week. And let’s just say that they aren’t exactly barnyard, taking cows out to pasture on a manure covered 4-wheeler.

(Yes, white is a dumb color for shoes.  But hey, I’m going down to Texas and running cross country there this fall.  I’ve gotta keep my feet cool.  White reflects the light!  Okay, yes, I did kind of decide to get them just because they are pretty.)

“Those are not going to work,” James stated bluntly as he vainly tried to wipe off a speck of manure on the toe of one shoe with an already dirty hand.

I promptly shucked my shoes and socks.

The cows were slow, and the fact they they only would walk in single file out to the pasture made the whole operation even slower. I didn’t mind. Watching a long row of cows, tails swishing flies away in unison was a sight that I don’t think I’ll see very much in the next four years at college.

James, on the other hand was not as captivated by a sight that he sees twice a week every week. He was so bored in fact that he let me drive the 4-wheeler. Having never driven one before, I was a little bit hesitant.

“Ummm, so how does this work?” I asked.

“You’ll figure it out,” came the helpful reply.

I fiddled around, pressing handles. “Well, you found the brake, ” he noted. Eventually though I found the gas, and drove us all the way out to the pasture. James of course drove us back, with me holding on for dear life and holding in screams of fear and euphoria as he took insane turns and flew over straight stretches of bumpy ground at crazy 16-year-old -boy speeds.

It was the perfect end to an imperfect day. I’m going to miss you, little brother. Thanks for letting your boring big sister tag along.

Flying Tin Foil

(Kate’s Note- Pictures of the whirlwind of preparation and barn dance festivities coming soon.)

by Mary

To prepare for the barn dance, I have been mixing large quantities of sugar and butter, along with whatever else specific recipes call for. Generally, baking doesn’t bother me. It is something that I can do for others. With a bit of organization in advance, it’s not a big deal to bake and freeze large quantities of food. (This month I have baked for four events.)

Anyhow, Patrick caught me in a sour mood the other day as he advanced towards fresh loaves of banana bread with a butcher knife in his hand. Despite me body blocking him, he helped himself to a generous slice of the warm banana bread. I handled this situation by hurling a roll of tin foil at his head and hissing ” you really think that I can multiply loaves?”

In part, my frustration was from last weeks episode with Raphael and James taking frozen baking out of the freezer. They felt that it was fine to help themselves and “share” with the rest of the family. Poor Peter Drake almost broke a tooth after he innocently discovered a bucket of frozen cookies on the counter. I hear the stream of cuss words that he emitted after taking a bit of the rock hard desert, outdid my venom towards Patrick.

Now that I am done with baking and hurling tin foil, I am starting to look forward to Saturday. I actually will be spending all day out at the Devil’s Hole Ranch, where I will be helping flip calves and maybe give shots at their annual Round Up. When I get home though, I will likely enjoy some food and drink, and make sure Patrick gets as much banana bread as he pleases.