A Girl and her Cow

One day in the early spring, our cow, Belle, gave birth to a perfect little heifer.  She was mine.  It was my job to train her, feed her, and clean her.  In August, I would show the world just what a capable 10-year-old I was.  This was no ordinary calf, she was a registered Holstein.  She needed a name that would befit her lineage.

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This is my niece. She’s growing up on the same farm that I did.

I named my first calf Tiny.  That was a good name for a calf, but not so good for a grown cow, besides there was only one Tiny, and this new little wobbly-legged calf was not her.  This new calf looked a lot like Belle: mostly black with just the perfect amount of white marking across her back, up her feet and legs and under her belly.  Belle never even saw my calf’s father.  That’s because Dr. Friese came over with his little frozen vial, and that’s how Belle got pregnant.  It didn’t take any love or marriage for cows, ’cause cows didn’t have souls.  They were still God’s creatures, that’s for sure, but they never ate apples from that tree in the Garden of Eden, so no rules, and no sins. ‘Course there weren’t any cows in heaven either, so that was the down side of all that freedom.

Dad was really good at picking out names; he picked out all the girls names at my house, except for Mom’s of course.  Any Dodo bird would know that.  Dad even helped me name my doll, Jonesy-Belle, so for sure he would be a good help with this new calf of mine, the only one, besides Belle who was a genuine, registered Holstein.  Me and Dad put our heads together for days, trying to come up with names.  Dad helped Bonita name her calf Black Eyes; that was easy, she was mostly white with a few giant black blotches, and big black circles around her eyes.  Besides that, Dad called Bonita his black-eyed Susan, so Bonita loved calling her calf, Black Eyes.  Bonita was too little for 4-H and Black Eyes was just a regular old Holstein calf, not a registered Holstein, like mine.

One evening, while Dad was milking Belle, he said, “I got an idea, let’s name her after someone in the Vice-President’s family.”  He rested his head against Belle’s belly, and turned just enough to look at me. Continue reading

Load ’em Up, Head ’em Out

Dad took two weeks of vacation every summer. One week was for getting ready to go, and one week was for the actual vacation. He always took us camping. Dad learned how to camp in the army, but he learned how much fun it could be from Mom. Mom camped when she was a little girl, and that’s before there were even campgrounds.

First off, we had to bake cookies for the trip. Mom had a big lard-tin that had to get filled up with home-baked cookies.

Deanna baked Cherry Winks, yucky, I hated those: marachino cherries and corn flakes. I hated Corn flakes ’cause of the six thousand boxes we ate saving Post Toasties box tops for all those free cereal bowls and juice glasses, and marachino cherries were so sweet they made my teeth hurt.

Vickie made no bake chocolate cookies, that’s the first thing I learned how to make in 4-H Cooking; except for learning how to make a root beer float,  that’s just scooping and pouring. Any do-do bird can do that.

Bonita made peanut butter cookies. Yum, those were best still warm with a glass of good, cold milk. I liked to hold a bite of cookie in my mouth and let the milk soak in. That’s almost the same as dunking, but no crumbs in the milk glass. Mom hated dunking, it was against the rules.

I made chocolate chip cookies, my very favorite kind, and the kind I got my first blue ribbon for in my first year of 4-H. Each of us Big Kids made about 10 dozen cookies each. I had to eat some right out of the oven, ’cause that caramel-good smell with melting chocolate made my mouth get slippery inside and it seemed like those cookies just begged to be eaten. That left a big greasy stain on the newspaper, so I put new cookies on those stains, so Mom wouldn’t know I snitched cookies.

Making cookies took a long time, ’cause I could only bake one sheet at a time, and each sheet took exactly 12 minutes. Let’s see, that’s 12X10 or 120 minutes. Okay that was only 2 hours of baking, but then there was the mixing and washing the dishes, and finally packing into the tin, with a perfect circle of waxed paper between every layer of cookies. Holy smokes, that was a project. Twelve minutes was too long to just sit around staring at the oven, so I liked to read in between. The only trouble was, if I got lost in my book and forgot to set the timer, pretty soon somebody was yelling,

“The cookies are burning,” which was usually Mom, ’cause nobody else paid attention to smoke like Mom did. Grandpa was a fireman, so she knew all about fires and she was scared to death of our house burning. She was always saying, “Are you trying to burn the house down?” That was another one of those questions I wasn’t supposed to answer.

Once I wondered what she would say if
Continue reading

You ain’t heavy….If I just keep lifting

When I was a little girl, I had a calf named Tiny.  She was a little Holstein heifer; she was not Belle’s calf, Dad bought her; she was such a runt, I have a sneaking suspicion that Tiny came cheap.  I loved Tiny.  I loved Tiny as much any kid loved their dog, as much as Bonita loved Nikki, our German Shepherd.

The grass was still frosty in the morning when Dad showed me how to teach Tiny how to drink from a bucket.  First I mixed up a powder milk formula for her; Belle had her own calf, plus we needed some of her milk for the house, so Tiny drank formula.  I used warm water so Tiny would think she was drinking from her mother, then I wet my fingers with the formula and put them in front of Tiny’s nose.  She gave a little sniff, licked my fingers, then slurped all my fingers into her mouth and started sucking them like there was no tomorrow.   It almost the same way as when I put the vacuum cleaner hose up to my cheek and I thought my whole face was a goner, only really wet.

I gotta admit, it was atinsy bit scary and at the same time it made my skin have those happy tingles like when somebody remembered  my birthday with no reminder at all.  Slowly I lowered my hand into the bucket as Tiny kept on sucking.  Then I pulled my fingers out.  Up came Tiny’s head all puzzled-looking thinking, where did my teats go? So we started all over again.  Eventually, Tiny didn’t need my fingers at all, but I still let her suck on them, ’cause by then it just felt like her way of saying she loved me, too.

Dad lifted Tiny up and moved her around, just like she was one of his own kids.  I lifted Tiny too, but it was hard for me to walk with her, ’cause her legs dangled down almost to the floor, probably because I was  a whole lot shorter than Dad.

“If you lift Tiny everyday, you’ll be able to lift a full-grown cow when she’s grown,”  Dad told me.  “But you gotta lift her every day.”  Dad’s eyes got damp looking and twinkling like they did when he was telling a story about a telephone extension he sold when he was fixing someone’s line  in the city.  Those stories always ended in laughter, but not so this day, he was all solemn looking in the face, like he was in church, except for his eyes didn’t look so dazzley in church.

I would be about the strongest girl in school, even stronger than Jeannie. She was super strong, ’cause she had four brothers and no sister.  She was tough as any boy.  I never saw Jeannie cry and she could hit a baseball harder than any boy in my school.  I had mostly sisters, I wasn’t all that tough, I cried easy, but I was stronger than most of the kids in my grade.  I knew because I could beat them at arm wrestling and pull-ups.  That’s because of the bales of hay and buckets of silage I lifted doing chores with Dad.

Twice a day and sometimes more, I went out to the barn to feed Tiny and lifted her up as far as I could, burying my nose in her soft hair that smelled like fresh straw and damp skin all at once.  If she was lying down, I snuggled right up beside her and told her all about my day, with a soft voice, so only she and I could hear.  There’s something about the way any baby smells, a kitten, a puppy,  piglet, Tiny or my baby sister, Julie, maybe it’s all the milk babies drink. The smell just opens up my heart and makes me want to breathe in deeper.

I liked being in the barn anyway, especially when Dad was there.  The cats gathered in back of Belle while Dad milked, and sometimes Dad squirted milk in the cats’ mouths.  If he missed his mark, the cat got all offended looking, as if Dad did something on purpose to disgrace her.  He always gave the cats a little shallow bowl full of milk.  As soon as he finished milking he gave a little “Haruph” and hoisted himself off the stool and limped his first step,  like he’d been sitting there for days and he was all stiff.  The cats all stood six inches back from the bowl, waiting all polite-like for the milk to be poured.

Once our old sow, Red Rose’s eight piglets got out of the pen and came a tripping over each other running like it’d been a month since they last ate, and didn’t already just nurse from Red Rose.  They slobbered and grunted in that cat dish, spilling milk and putting their front feet right in the dish.  The cats sat back on their hind quarters and put their noses in the air at each other.  I could just hear them thinking, Well! I never. All smug and prissy. If a cat could turn up their little finger, our cats would’ve.

I did pretty well, lifting Tiny, all though the summer.  Then we went on vacation camping.  We were gone a week, and Dad said he wanted to stay another week.

I started crying, “I gotta get back to Tiny.”  So we went home and didn’t stay an extra week.

Mom said it had nothing to do with me, and I just let her think that, ’cause she and Deanna and Bonita, and Vickie, and the Little Kids, if they were big enough to think at all, would be mad at me if they thought we could have stayed an extra week if it weren’t for my blubbering.IMG_5528

When I got home, first I hugged the carpet in the frunch-room and rolled around on it for a bit. I was so happy to get home.

I had to see  Tiny.  There she was happy to see me, looking like she hadn’t changed a bit.  I scratched her neck and she pointed her nose right up toward the sky in delight; she sucked at my fingers just like always.  But I was unable to lift her. I pulled and tugged, but no luck. Just like Dad said, I had to lift her everyday, if I wanted to be able to lift a full-grown cow.

I have grandchildren now, I gave up on lifting calves.  When my  first grandson was still a toddler, I told him that if I lifted him everyday, when he got to be a full-grown man, I could carry him down the aisle on his wedding day.   By eleven I could still lift him, but his feet were starting to brush the ground because he’s almost as tall as me. He’s sixteen now and has a pretty busy schedule, so I don’t see him as often as I used to. That’s probably the reason I can’t lift him up anymore.

 

Corny Mittens

Winter always makes me think of growing up on our farm, and doing barn chores.  I was in charge, because Dad worked a lot of overtime.  That’s how he kept bread on the table and shoes on our feet.

Dad was an expert at thinking up work for kids.  It kept us so busy, we had little time to think of mischief.  One winter, a field of corn went unharvested.  Instead, we did it by hand, picking ears of corn like we lived in a third world country.

I liked the barn, because the animals kept things toasty warm.  Plus I throwing bales of hay and straw around keeps a body revved up; all except my fingers and toes.  I sure knew what “stings the toes, and bites the nose” was all about.  Or was that “Stings the nose, and bites the toes”?  Either way, my toes and fingers hurt from the cold.  Especially the year we got the corn in by hand.

Dad didn’t tell me why no combine came that year to get the corn in.  Maybe he was working Continue reading

A-Raking and A-Hiding and a-Hoping: My Dreams Will Come True

I loved fall wheFall folliagen I was a little girl. It was my almost-favorite time of the year. Of course I loved it because that’s when school started and I L-O_V_E, loved school.

I loved the colors in fall, I loved the sounds, and I loved the smells. My house sat far off the road, on top a hill. Trees grew all around.  We had lots and lots of leaves.  Tons of leaves. Our house was way cooler in summertime than the city, with all that asphalt and brick buildings.  Plus, way prettier in the fall.   In the fall, we had tons of leaves, which meant lots and lots of raking.

Everybody worked when I was a little girl. The most fun of all was what came after the work: playing in the leaves, and at long last burning them.  In my yard, we had apple trees and pear trees and a couple of dwarf plum trees. We had willow trees, elm trees, boxelder trees and Continue reading

D.A. Driving

My Aunt Annie was way too young to be an aunt.  She was just a kid on a tricycle when my sister, Deanna, was born.     I have no memories of the little girl Aunt Annie, but I do remember the teenager Aunt Annie.  She was fourteen years younger than Mom.  She was nothing at all like Mom.  Aunt Annie and Mom didn’t even look like sisters.

Mom was the most beautiful Mom in the whole wide world.  She had soft wavy brown hair and a laugh that made my heart bubble around in my chest until nothing but happiness could exist.

Aunt Annie had a turned up nose because she pinched it between her fingers when she sucked her thumb back when she was my age.  Least that’s what Grandma said.

Aunt Annie had a D.A. haircut and she giggled.

“See,”  she said, and turned around so I could see the back of her head.  “See how the hair comes together in the back.  It looks like a duck’s ass.”  She combed  back through her hair on both sides and started singing “Kookie Lend Me Your Comb,” using her rat-tail comb for a microphone.

“Maybe I see it,” I said, tipping my head to one side.  I studied the back of Aunt Annie’s head.  “We just have chickens.”

Aunt Annie giggled behind her hand,  mischief danced around in her eyes.  Dad had dancing eyes, and mischief, but Dad’s mischief was the kind that made everybody laugh loud.  Aunt Annie’s mischief was the kind that made Grandma say, “You little stinker.”  Everybody knows being a stinker is a bad thing.  Being a stinker won’t send you  to hell or anything, but it will make people stay away from you.  Well, maybe not all people.  Aunt Annie had lots of teenage friends.

I got to be in backseat when Aunt Annie learned to drive.  That’s because in summer I  got to stay one whole week at Grandma’s all by myself, with no brothers or sisters soaking up the limelight.  Of course I had to help pick raspberries, and help Grandpa out in his shop making inventions like rototillers that could work on both sides of the beans, and putting together movie credits for his home movies, and building secret things like boomerangs.  Helping Grandma and Grandpa was more like fun than work.  Anyways, Drivers’ Training happened in summertime, and that’s how I got to see Aunt Annie learning to drive.

“Put both hands on the steering wheel,”  Grandma said.

Aunt Annie, cocked one of her eyebrows at Grandma.  Aunt Annie’s plucked her eyebrows into thin arches, so she always looked surprised.

“Mr. Mann said to keep the left hand at nine o’clock and the right hand relaxed on my lap.” She smoothed her fluffy skirts.  Her can can slip rustled underneath.

“I don’t care what Mr. Mann says,”  Grandma squinched her bottom lids up.  Everybody knows that’s the signal for I’m getting mad.

“He’s the teacher,”  Aunt Annie said.  “He knows what he’s talking about.”

“I’m your mother,”  Grandma said.  The skin on her jaws rippled and her lips just about disappear. Aunt Annie kept on driving with one hand on the wheel and  the other in her lap.

Aunt Annie looked over at Grandma and arched the right eyebrow up, and pulled her mouth into a crooked smile.

“See,” she said.  “Nobody’s dying here.”

The little curl at the base of her neck wagged at me as Aunt Annie shook her head back and forth and clicked her tongue in the back of her mouth.

“I see it,”  I clapped my hands down on the front seat.  “I see it.”

“What do you see?”  Grandma said.  Her eyes darted all around and her hands flew over in front of nobody in the middle seat.  Mom always did that when she had to stop fast, so baby Frankie wouldn’t fly into the dashboard or onto the floor.  Aunt Annie grabbed the steering wheel with both hands.

“The D.A,” I said pointing to the back of Aunt Annie’s head.  “It looks just like a duck waddling.”

Grandma and Aunt Annie sucked in their breath.  Grandma threw her head back and laughed that same kind of laugh Mom did.  The kind that made the whole world seem happy.

“That’s a Duck’s Ass, alright,”  Grandma said.

Aunt Annie gave me the one-eye-brow-up look through the rear-view mirror.

“You little stinker,” she said.  Her eyes danced.

Being a little sticker is sorta fun.

Wheee!

Ladybird, A Blue Ribbon Heifer

Emblem of the 4H organisation.

Emblem of the 4H organisation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

August is 4-H fair month.  I ran into some new friends who have daughters in 4-H and of course that got me ruminating about my experience.

The year I turned ten, in early spring, our cow, Old Belle, gave birth to a perfect little heifer.  She was mine.  It was my job to train her, feed her, and clean her.  In August, I would show the world just what a capable 10 year-old I was.  This was no ordinary calf, she was a registered Holstein.  She needed a name that would befit her lineage.

I named my first calf Tiny.  That was a good name for a calf, but not so good for a grown cow, besides there was only one Tiny, and this new little wobbly legged calf was not her.

My new calf looked a lot like Old Belle: mostly black with the perfect amount of white marking across her back, up her feet and legs and under her belly. There really is such a thing as a perfect look when it comes to Holsteins.  Too much white is bad, no white is bad too.

Old Belle never even saw my calf’s father.  That’s because Dr. Friese came over with his little frozen vial, and that’s how Belle got pregnant.  Dr. Friese came to the door and asked for a tea-cup of hot water.  That’s how I knew a cow was gonna be pregnant pretty soon.  I had to stay in the house, I never got to watch, just like when the pigs got castrated. Continue reading