You might think that animals instinctively know how to grow from babies into adults. Not so. Sometimes a calf is almost as big as his mother and refuses to be weaned. We had such a calf, when I was a little girl, and it was my job, to get that year old calf to separate pasture, away from his mother, to break him from the teat. All of our animals had names, but I forgot this forever-baby’s name, so I’ll call him Bruno.
At night Bruno stayed in the barn in a pen. That’s where all the calves stayed until they got weaned. Bruno towered up over those little calves like an eleven-year old child would in a kindergarten class. Calves got to nurse from their mother only at night-time ’cause the morning milking was for the family. Bruno wasn’t allowed out to nurse, but he must have smelled that cow’s milk on his little friends’ breath ’cause he never got the idea that it was time to move on. Bruno was Lightfoot’s calf.
Lightfoot got her name because she kicked. For some reason, which remained a mystery to me, Dad trained Lightfoot to go into a stanchion right at the end of a narrow passageway that opened into a wide, room. Once a cow gets trained to go into a stanchion it’s pretty near impossible to re-train her to go in a different one. New cows sometimes made a mistake and got in somebody else’s place. The rightful owner-cow squeezed right in beside mistake-maker-heifer and just stood there until the new gal got the hint she was in the wrong place. If it took too long, the old cow butted the trainee right on out of there.
I never worried about walking behind cows, until I got to the back-end of Lightfoot, then I had to get my nerve up. I stood there behind her, studying her head and hind, trying to get a feel for whether she was paying attention to me, then I made a mad dash past her. As fast as lightning, her back left foot shot out at me. She only got me once, but I can tell you, even now, exactly where she hit me: right below the ribs on my left side. Sometimes, I made a quick soccer kick in the empty air to get out of her way. I tell you, that Lightfoot was one swift kicker. Dad showed me how to put the kicking chains on her to keep her legs still when I had to milk her. Dad didn’t need the kicking chains, he just patted Lightfoot’s belly, then smoothed his palm down her side and over to her udder, all the while making soft cooing and kissing sounds way down low and quiet. If I did that, Lightfoot turned her head back and looked at me with those big brown eyes as if to say, “Who you trying to trick?” and fffttt-clack, she kicked the pail right out from under her, spilling milk all over the floor so it ran down into the gutter.
Most calves, lost interest in nursing by the time they are a year old, then they got to go out in the pasture with all the other cows and steers. Not Bruno. Whenever, we tried that, he just went right over to Lightfoot and started nursing. Bruno was almost as tall as Lightfoot, and she never even kicked at him one bit. She just stood there chewing her cud and looking all sad-eyed and resigned like she was thinking, “He’s my baby. What else can I do?” So every morning after Barn Chores, I tied a slip knot around Bruno’s neck and led him out to a separate fenced-off pasture that was only for him. I felt kinda sorry for him, ’cause all the yearling-friends were out there in the big pasture eating grass and making that low conversational sounds to each other, and sometimes taking a nap together in the shade of the hickory nut tree. All Bruno had to keep him company was a manure pile, and a few hens that happened to come looking for grubs and bugs.
Bruno got bigger and bigger, and no matter how long he stayed separated from Lightfoot, he went right back to nursing every time he got the chance. Before long, Bonita and I had to work together to keep Bruno under control; a year old steer can weigh more than 500 pounds, which was about five times as much as me and Bonita weighed together. Still, cows and horses can get bossed around pretty easy if I gave them a stern look, a strong voice, and a steady hand on the rope. Together Bonita and I managed to keep Bruno under control. Well, almost.
One day, I slipped that rope around Bruno’s neck and led him to the barn door; that’s when Bonita always grabbed the rope, a couple of feet in back of me, so together we could show Bruno we were in charge. I opened the door, got Bruno out the door and heading toward his own private pasture when he started to run. Bonita and I dug in our heels, and Bruno pulled and pulled; pretty soon, Bonita and I were running along behind, trying to show Bruno who was boss, but Bruno just wasn’t buying it anymore. Bonita’s legs were too short and slow to keep up, so she let go of the rope. That rope went a-flying in a big loop that wrapped right around my waist and just got tighter and tighter. Now Bruno was showing me who was boss. My arms and legs went flailing through the air, like Wiley Coyote going off a cliff, until I hit the ground and bounced along on the ground, thinking I was about to get pulled in half by that rope getting tighter and tighter. When Bruno did stop, I just laid there wondering if I was still alive.
I heard Bonita’s voice over me; I thought she was crying hysterically, ’cause she’s kind of a cry-baby and a little bit of a scaredy-cat. I opened my eyes to let her know I was still alive, so she would feel better about how her letting go of the rope just about got me killed. “You looked so funny,” Bonita was laughing her guts out. “You bounced up so high in the air.” Tears ran down Bonita’s cheeks. There I was with my hands all stingy-hot and bloody from holding on to the rope so tight and a big rope burn all around my belly, and my best-friend-sister was telling me how hilarious just about being killed looked to her. I guessed some people just get scared silly; that’s the only way I could make any sense of her.
After that, we left Bruno in his private pasture and took his food and water out to hm. Bruno never did get weaned, he got sold instead. Lightfoot never stopped kicking, but eventually, I learned to watch her leg for just the slightest twitch and put my hand over her leg in the middle of milking and whisper ‘sue-boss’ to her, so most of the time she calmed down, and no milk was lost. Lightfoot had more calves, none that she loved the way she loved Bruno.
I bet almost everyone that reads this has a friend or loved-one who refused to grow up. Maybe you felt sorry for them. Maybe you wanted to let go, but hung in there and got kicked or dragged through some manure. If you’re lucky, you had a good friend like Bonita who can remind you just how hilarious your own mistakes can make you look, even when it hurts so bad you think you’ll never recover.