By Jeff Hodges
In 1990, when my daughter was four, we started frequenting the Carmel Farm Supply on our weekends away from Greenwich Village. The proprietor, Red, was a tall, striking figure with red hair, red beard, cowboy hat, and a necklace made from raccoon penis bones. We soon discovered that he had an avuncular nature and a heart of gold.
There was a lot more to the Farm Supply than fertilizer. You could buy fishing gear, bait, guns, ammo, and live chickens, ducks, and rabbits. In season, Red would butcher and package your deer or wild turkey. And in the back, there was an extraordinary menagerie of stuffed mammals ranging from a Kodiak bear to a chipmunk.
Red was a taxidermist of great skill and widespread renown. If you asked why he had so many stuffed dogs in his collection, he’d explain it this way: “When your dog dies, the kiddies want him stuffed, so you bring him here. Then by the time the job is done, you’ve gotten a new dog. The kiddies don’t care about the dead dog anymore, so he stays here.”
One morning my daughter and I found a dead osprey floating in our pond. I said to her, “We’re not going to make the same mistake with this osprey that we made with that screech owl. We’re gonna get this one stuffed.”
So we headed to the Farm Supply. The minute we walked in, everybody rushed out. Red steered us out the door and explained that anyone caught with a dead osprey was liable for a $10,000 fine. We stood outside: father, daughter and bird, outcasts on the margins of society.
The Outdoor Sports columnist in the local newspaper came to our rescue. He called the Department of Environmental Conservation and was told to put the osprey in his freezer and that they would come get it. Five years later it was still in his freezer, and his wife threw it out.
Red often lent us chicks or ducklings to take home for the weekend. Sometimes we’d be late returning them and the Farm Supply would be closed and we’d have to bring them back to New York. There’s nothing like having a brood of noisy ducklings in your apartment for a week, escaping into the hallway and annoying the neighbors.
At one point, my daughter and her best friend fell in love with a couple of rabbits and started pestering us to buy them. I approached Red, who said, “You don’t want these rabbits—these are meat rabbits.” When I relayed this to the girls they became adamant—there was no way Bonnie and Bella were going into a stewpot.
Red shrugged and sold them to us as meat rabbits. We kept them in a hutch and were soon surprised to find that we had a newborn litter of six kits, blind and hairless. The next day we were even more surprised to find that Clyde—formally Bella—had eaten all six of them, proving my maxim that if you want children to become familiar with death at an early age, buy them small animals and fish.
When my daughter got a little older, she and her friend were put in charge of the worms in the live bait department. They had to extract night crawlers from a barrel, count and package them, and keep track of the inventory. They received a small commission and considered themselves specialists in a vital part of the Farm Supply operation.
I’ll always credit Red—along with the chickens, ducks, rabbits, worms, and the Kodiak bear at the Farm Supply—for putting some “country” into my street-wise New York City girl.