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

Knee High and the Fourth of July

Fourth of July is our Nation’s birthday.  I love the picnics and parades, and especially the fireworks.  Fourth of July is great, especially when family and friends are close at hand.  Still this time of year gets me thinking about corn.  Yes, corn.  This year, farmers are worried about the lack of rain around my home town.  Growth is stunted.  A record amount of corn went in the ground this year, and because of the drought, it is shorter than usual.

When I was a little girl, Fourth of July was picnic time, just like now.  That meant all the aunts and uncles from Dad’s family got together. Fireworks were a rare treat, and parades were for city folks.

As much as they liked farming, the uncles of my childhood loved to have competitions.  They had competitions about everything:  who had the most kids (Dad finally won that one,)  who could lose the most weight (I’ll tell you about that another time,) and who knew the most about farming. That’s where the corn came in.

Dad and Uncle Frank both did some part-time farming.  They and Uncle Merle, were farmers at heart, even though they did different work, regular kind of work that all dads did, so they could put bread on the table.  Farming is what put the rest of the food on the table, and a deep sense of satisfaction in their hearts.

Everybody knew that springtime was the time for planting.  Planting was super-fun, ’cause for sure Dad was home, instead of working tons of overtime, fixing phones and climbing telephone poles, so his kids could have new shoes for school or new Jet-Ball sneakers for summer.

Dad would NEVER let me drive a tractor before I lost my baby teeth.All us kids helped.  Little kids took water out to people in the field.  I got to drive tractor when I was nine.  That’s when I was big enough to step down on the clutch and the brake without standing up.  Some kids got to drive tractor when they were just five years old.  Dad said that was plain foolish, and that’s how kids got killed.  I never got killed, or even hurt, and I disced the fields all by myself.

Dad was the only one who plowed a field, ’cause plowing took an eagle eye.  I had a hard time cutting fabric for an apron straight, so Continue reading

Just Like Dad

When I was a little girl, I really, really wanted to be like dad.  Perhaps it was because dads went off to work.  Perhaps it was because dads, are, well dads are tougher than moms.   Anyways, my dad was a challenge to me.  I always did like a challenge.

Nobody at school ever asked, “What does your Mom do?”  Everybody knew.  Moms are moms; that’s what they do.  Moms do stuff that make home homey:  washing and folding laundry; sewing clothes; weeding gardens and canning vegetables; giving out jobs to kids; and making sure everybody minds their Ps and Qs and has good manners.  Moms are there for kids.

Dads were different.  Dads went off and did stuff nobody saw, only heard about.  My best-friend-blood-sister Connie’s dad was a principal at a High School.  My best-friend-from-the-bus, Betty’s dad worked in the Shop making Buicks.  My friend Eddie’s dad was a farmer.  My dad fixed people’s phones.  That was the best job in the whole wide world.  For one thing, everybody needs a phone, and for another thing, my dad got to meet all kinds of interesting people and see right inside their houses and their lives.  AND my dad was a farmer, too.  He got to spend a Continue reading

Change is Welling Up

When I got to be a grown up girl, but not quite ready to believe it, I got a job for the summer.  I was in charge of a water survey for the Huron County Health Department.  My job was to ask businesses, those businesses who served water to people, some questions:

  • Do you have a well?  (I knew what a well was, that one was easy.)
  • Where is your wells?  How deep?  Where is it?  Do you have a well log?
  • Is the welll casing grouted?  (Isn’t grout that stuff between the bathroom tiles that’s so darned hard to clean?)
  • Do you have a submersible pump?
  • Where is your pump?  Can I see it?
  • Do you have a pitless adapter?  (Huh?)

My  training was one day of riding around the county with an Sanitarian Tom, while he inspected sewage systems.   “Tomorrow you are on your own,”  Sanitarian Tom said.  What?  My heart skipped a beat.  It didn’t know a pitless adapter from a hole in the ground.

The next morning, Sanitarian Ed, a much more compassionate fellow advised me, “Start out at Coral Gables.  It’s close by, and the owner, Bill Baily, is a good guy.  If you get stuck, you can come back here, and ask questions.”   That was before cell-phones, lap-tops, e-mails, or text-messaging.  That was back when self-carbon paper was a great innovation.  I clamped official looking metal clipboard under my arm and headed for my Huron County Health Department car; a blue Ford sedan; no air-conditioning and no radio.  Tax-payers didn’t want government workers to be driving around the county in the lap of luxury.

Indeed, Bill Baily at Coral Gables was a good guy.  He offered me Continue reading

Old Red, Old Friends

When I was a young girl, I had a horse named Old Red.  Red was my reward for riding my bike three miles every day to Mr. R’s house, where Bonita and I learned to ride.  Bonita was the horse lover; I loved Bonita.  Bonita learned to ride on Peaches, and I learned to ride on Big Joe.  Bonita’s reward was Pokey, mine was Big Red.  I loved Big Red, but to tell the truth, that horse could be a pain in the neck:  he was lazy and willful and often disobedient.  In spite of all my perseverance and persistence, sometimes my will failed to triumph over a half-ton horse.

After all that riding back and forth to Mr. R’s house, Bonita proved she had gumption and really, really, really wanted a horse.  More important, she proved she could stick though the tough stuff, so she was a pretty good bet on taking care of her horse.  Still, Mom played it safe by getting a gelding with a name that suited his temperament.  ‘Cause Pokey, was, well, Pokey.  Bonita rode Pokey every single day.  Pokey knew all the same signals as Peaches and Big Joe.  Old Red came to us a bit later, so Bonita and I could ride together.  That was way more fun than Bonita riding all by herself.  Old Red had a name that fit him, too.

Sometimes, especially on a hot day, or a day when the grass was new and and the air was full of the green smell, or on a day when the oat fields bent their heads down heavy and golden, those two horses Continue reading