A friend asked me to speak at her elementary school's career day. I was more than happy to do it. I may not be the model independent music professional, but I guess I'm pretty enthusiastic about it. I like showing children (and adults) that you can be whatever you want. Doing something that makes you happy is worth more than a big salary for something you dread daily.
My day started early - much earlier than most musicians, but duty called. I arrived in time to carry in a couple of banjos and stands, meet some folks, and get set up. I had a full slate. My day would be filled twenty minutes at a time with children from different grades (kindergarten through fifth grade). I braced myself for the first group.
They were bright-eyed, inquisitive, and seemed to really like the banjo. I talked some about how I work and earn money. They asked questions, and I played them a few songs. Before I knew it I was out of time, and those children marched out and more marched in. After a few classes I was getting the hang of it. Wash, rinse, repeat.
By the afternoon things couldn't be running smoother, until I had a class that was more interested in me playing than me talking. That's fine, and they were younger kids (maybe kindergarten or first grade). I asked them, "Do you know She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain?" They screamed, "YES!!!" I started the song.
She'll be coming around the mountain when she comes... Everyone sings
She'll be driving six white horses when she comes... Everyone sings
We will kill the old red rooster when she comes... Jaws hit the floor, eyes well up, and lips start to pout.
Wait just a minute! Here I am, singing a song from my childhood where we killed that dad-gummed rooster every time - and with a big CHOP CHOP with hand motions! These kids though? They'll have none of it. You just can't kill that rooster - not in 2015. I immediately saw the error of my horrible rooster killing lyric. How could I not, with the cute little pony-tailed blonde with the cute glasses and the big eyes welling up and her bottom lip stuck out? With the help of the teacher in the room we segued to a happier song - "The ABCs" - as best as I could recall there are no roosters killed in that one.
That's not all I learned. No, the next lesson came with the next group of kids. These were fifth graders - smart, with good questions.
"When you first started playing for money, how much did you get paid?" A boy asked.
"The first time I ever earned anything for playing was with the FFA Stringband in high school. We would play for different civic clubs (like the Lions Club, Kiwanis Club, etc) and in return they would give us a pig for our pig chain." I told them.
"You got paid a pig?!?!" They all laughed.
Once they were convinced I wasn't just being silly, they had another question.
They inquired, "What did you do with the pigs?"
For whatever reason, there's this bone in my head that often just makes me blurt out the truth. "We raised them and eventually ate them."
No sooner than I had said it the lesson of the rooster popped into my brain. Not to mention the exclamation from the kids, "You ate them?!?! You ate your piggies?"
Yes - yes we did. Being older kids I figured I would just go ahead and let them go on that remark as time was up. I started my last tune as they exited. As the kids were leaving one lagged behind to tell me that his dad raised pigs to eat, and even killed them. He didn't seem to mind. I was relieved.
Time have changed. I'm not sure it's for the better. I saw kids eating meat at lunch, but I'm not sure they have any idea where it comes from. Except maybe for some of the more rural kids, they seemed to get it. As I reflected on my rooster horror I tried to see the kids faces again and I recalled that almost none of the Hispanic children had a problem with killing the old red rooster. We have a large Hispanic population here and a lot of these kids' parents immigrated here in the past decade, so maybe they're still pretty close to their cultures - whatever that might be. Maybe it's cultural? I'm not sure, and I'm not qualified to even guess.
I just know that the old red rooster and pigs can roam free on the farm, and...
We'll all have kale and tofu when she comes...
Hopefully no one will need therapy.