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

Midnight Rides, Trees, and Abou

When I was a little girl, I memorized all kinds of things:  Catechism, addition tables, spelling words, times tables, all the State’s capitols, and poetry.  I loved poetry especially the kind that tells a story that made my heart happy:  Like The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow or Trees by Joyce Kilmer:

“I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree..”

Climbing HighThat said a lot for climbing a tree, hanging in a crook and just smelling all those green leaves and maybe finding a robin nest with little baby birds, just a cheep-cheeping away stretching their mouths up wide, waiting for a chewed up worm from their mama.  It made me want to forget all about memorizing or poetry, or anything except being right there.

Every week, I had a new poem to memorize.  Once my class had a choice, The Chambered Nautilus by Oliver Wendall Holmes, or Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  I chose the poem about Paul Revere ’cause it sounded like a song and it had an exciting story.  Most everyone else chose The Chambered Nautilus because 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.

 

Story-telling Dad

When I was a little girl, fathers were not as involved in raising children.  My dad worked a lot of overtime, and when he was home, he had work to do around the home.  Our family ran more like one of today’s small corporations:  Dad was the Director, and Mom was the Manager, with lots of independent decision-making authority.  Dad had an open door policy, but he was a little removed on a day-to-day basis, so sometimes it was more comfortable to go to Mom.

I loved it when Dad was home, still, I was a tinsy bit afraid of him.  He had a whole life that was somewhere I was not.    Most the time he was off at work for Bell Telephone Company, Dad called work ‘Ma Bell’.  I liked the way that sounded, work could take care of him, no matter what.  Dad always told stories to Mom about the people he met.  He fixed the telephone lines, by climbing up poles; sometimes the poles had metal rungs on them for climbing, but most of the time Dad hooked big giant spikes to his shoes and strapped them tight around his legs.  Then up the pole he climbed, keeping steady with a belt that hooked around his waist and the telephone pole.  I knew what that looked like ’cause lots of times he brought his climbing gear along on vacation, and when he got bored up a tree or pole he would go.  Maybe that’s how I got the idea climbing trees was so much fun.  Way up there, he could see all over the city, and into houses, because sometimes people forgot to close their drapes.  That made Dad embarrassed, so he climbed all the way back down, knocked on the door.

“Excuse me Ma’am, I just want you to know I’m working on your line right outside your house,” he said.

It was always ‘excuse me ma’am’, cause all the men were at work.

Once a pretty lady who was just wearing flimsy nightie opened the door.

“I was waiting for you,” she said leaning against the door jamb with one arm over her head, like she was trying to keep it from falling down, or something.   “I saw you out there from my bedroom.”

Dad told Mom he was at a loss for words, which I could hardly believe at all.  He said he just said what came into his head first.

“Well, then if you don’t mind me saying, you could use an extension in your bedroom.  Maybe you’d like one of these nice little pink princess phones,” he said to the lady, still leaning up against the door jamb.

Mom just sat there at the dinner table listening away with her elbows on the table and head resting in her palms.  That was okay, ’cause dinner was over, and the rule about no elbows on the table only counted when we were eating.  Mom always listened close to everything Dad said, and asked questions so she understood the story, but not too many questions, so Dad didn’t get off track, like I sometimes did.  She was the best listener in the whole wide world.  Dad told her that’s all you have to do to make friends:  just listen, ’cause most the time, people just want to talk.  He must have gotten tired of listening at work, ’cause when he got home, he talked up a blue streak, and when he was with his brothers, it was almost like nobody else was there, except somehow, it still felt like I could chime in if I wanted, only I didn’t want to because it was just a whole lot more interesting to listen to those guys talk.

“Sure, come on in,” the pretty lady said.  “It’d be great to talk on the phone while I’m in bed.”

Well, what do you know, there was a great big bare-naked man in her bed, and for some reason Dad knew that man was someone other than the pretty lady’s husband. I started thinking how much like Goldilocks and the Three Bears that story was, except Dad was Goldilocks telling Mama Bear, “Somebody’s been sleeping in your bed, and there he is.”  Now Mom was laughing with her head thrown back and all her silver fillings showing, and I started to laugh, too, which made them both stop and look at me, like they just noticed I was there.

Dad wiped up across his eyebrows and pulled down on his chin; no more smile, “Why don’t you go play, like the other kids?”

I ski-daddled right out of there, ’cause I could tell by the way Dad’s voice sounded, that he wasn’t really asking a question.  I never even told him how much I liked his stories.

Sometimes, when my uncles were over, I liked to just sit under the dining room table with a couple of cousins and listen to all my Aunts and Uncles.  They sure did have a great time, especially when they played Yahtzee: rolling the dice, talking and shouting out, ‘oh, I have to scratch my Yatzee’, and everybody laughing uproariously.

Once, I wrote Dad a note from down there under the table, I hardly went anywhere except to do chores without a book or a tablet and a pencil.  My note said:  ‘I love you.  Do you love me.  Yes ◊  No ◊.  Check one.’  I folded the note up tight and neat as I could, reached up and put the note on Dad’s knee.   Right away he opened it up and read my note to himself.

“Come on up here,” he said, looking under the table.  He put me up on his knee, took my pencil and wrote a whole bunch of stuff below my name, folded the paper back up, just as tight and neat as before, and handed it back to me.  “This should answer your question,” he said, those blue eyes just smiled stars right down into mine. “I hope you never have to ask that question again.”

I tried so hard to read what Dad wrote, but the letters were all looped together; I only knew how to read printing, and he wrote in cursive.  I stuffed that note right into my pocket, so later on I could ask Mom what it said; she would, for sure, tell me. I could talk to Mom about anything.

Only problem is, I forgot all about Dad’s note and threw my pants in the clothes hamper. The note got all shredded up and spread over the whole load of laundry.  I always forgot to empty my pocket, and I always left Kleenex or paper in there, which always, always, made Mom mad.

I never did find out what Dad wrote on that note.  For a lot of my childhood and young adult life, I stayed a little bit in awe of Dad.  Still, as I grew older, I came to know exactly what he meant when his smiling eyes looked down into mine:  I will love you to the stars and back, until the day I die.  He did, and then some.

Here’s a picture of the two of us.  We’re not smiling, I think we both had a headache, driving in sunshine did that to us.  I like these pictures, because you can see just how much we’re alike, even our body language.

That’s me in the back seat of the car.

That’s Dad in the front seat, same day, same trip

What kind of Numbskull Puts Carpet in a Car?

This is an example of custom-made floor liners from Huskie

Every year around this time, my local television station advertises custom floor liners for cars and trucks.  Maybe it’s the muddy weather.  Maybe it’s because people begin to think about buying new cars.  Maybe they say, “never again” as they try to clean the salt and residue from car carpets.

I always think of Dad.

When I was a little girl, our car never had carpet.

“Who wants carpet in a car?” Dad said when Continue reading

Jumping off the Dock

Back Camera

When I was a little girl, I loved to swim, almost as much as I liked to dance.  Every summer, Mom signed me up for swimming lessons at Myers Lake.  All through grade-school I took swimming lessons.  I learned to swim the first year, still, it was loads of fun to go back each year. I’ll never been to Myers Lake.  I’ll never forget swimming lessons.

Nobody swam at a pool around my house:  there were no public pools around me, and for sure nobody had a pool big enough to swim in at their house.  For Pete’s sake, everybody knew that kind of stuff was just for movie stars and millionaires.  Around me, pools were just for the Little Kids.  Mom bought one of those, but it was a pain in the neck:  grass got kicked into it, the our dog Nikki, drank out of it, Frankie went #1  in it, I think our lamb, Jack, went #2 in it, and finally it sprang a leak and failed to hold any water at all.  Like I said, Mom bought one.  Once.

To get to swimming lessons, Mom drove me to school, where I got on a school bus with a whole bunch of kids.  My friends Daylene and Connie walked to school, so swimming lessons was the only time they rode a bus.  It was different from school.  For one thing, everybody had on shorts and jeans over our swimsuits.  No dresses, not one.  Nobody knew where to sit, cuz of lots of different kids and no high-schoolers, so everybody just got mixed up and in different seats than on the way to school.  On the way to school, it was like assigned seats with nobody telling us which seat to take; we just knew.  I liked to sit on the bump; the wheel was under there, so if the bus driver went over a bump, Continue reading

Valentine Memories

My whole class got ready for Valentine’s Day for weeks.  Everyone brought a shoebox to school, and we decorated it with crêpe paper flowers and hearts. I had lots of shoe-boxes to pick from on account of everyone getting new hard sole shoes at Baldy’s shoe store way back in September, special for school starting.

Art stuff was hard for me.  I got paste all stuck in my hair and all over my clothes.  I liked to taste paste, too.  The smell got all up in my nose and begged my fingers to put some in my mouth. Yummy.  Teacher said it was no good and would make me sick, but it never did.  Not even a little bit.

Mom brought home little store-bought cards in big bags from the grocery store, and I printed MY name on the back.  Then I got to choose which card went to each student in my class.  I had two Bettys in my class and two Lindas.  I’ve heard about kids being sore or sad that they didn’t receive a card on Valentine’s Day.   I gave a card to everyone, and I got one from everyone, too. That’s just mean to leave someone out.  Who  got which card was the tricky part.  I wanted to make sure I express my love for that certain someone in just the right way.  Should Frankie’s say “Be Mine” or “Forever Yours”?  And what if Frankie’s to me just said, “Friends”?  What if he gave me the ‘teacher’ card that came in every box?  That would be the worst ’cause that meant he never even thought about which card he gave me.

I almost flunked out of Kindergarten ’cause I went haywire on my writing.  Valentine’s Day saved me.  All year, up until I had to get my cards ready for the party, I wrote my name  wrong.   Mom talked about my printing to everyone who would listen:   all my aunts, Grandma Z, and even Betty’s and Nancy’s moms.

Mom said, “Why do you write your name like you’re looking in a mirror?”IMG_2812

I looked at my name, clear as day, just the way it was supposed to be.  What in the world was she talking about?  I wrote just like everybody else.

Mom said I had to get my name right or I might not go to First Grade.  She never said that to me; I just heard

Continue reading