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.

IMG_5528

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

Itching For a New Nose

This is the time year when I close the windows and turn on the air filter.  I begin days when Jack Frost paints the fields with a layer of white icing.  Years before I knew Ragweed was my enemy, I wished for the sweet relief a killing frost would bring.  A world of itching filled late summer and early fall, when I was a little girl.  The real kind, not the figurative kind that’s good for us all.

My skin itched like crazy.  Sometimes, Mom taped popsicle sticks to the inside of my arms, so I had to keep my arms straight.  She thought that would keep me from scratching.  I scratched the back of my knees, and my ankles.  My skin itched from the inside out.  I needed to scratch down to the bone; not like the picky itch that a wooly sweater gives, or the sweaty itch that humid heat gives, or even the itch of a dozen mosquito bites.  It was an itch from the inside out.

“Stop that scratching,”  Mom said.  I looked down, and sure enough, there were my fingers right under the hem of my dress or wrinkling up my pant leg,just a-scratching away, without my permission.  I knew what it meant to have an itch that couldn’t be scratched.  Mom put a thick, white cream on my skin to help the itch go away.  Maybe it helped; maybe the itch would have been worse without that metallic smelling cream smeared all over me.

I knew the worst was on its way when my throat started itching.  I could get at the top of my throat with the back of my tongue, but that was just the beginning.  My eyes itched, the inside of my ears itched, and my nose itched. I pushed my nose up with the palm of my hand and rubbed it around and around in circles just to get some relief. That traitor nose Continue reading

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

Queen of the May

In May, the smell of lilacs, Viburnum and dandelions filled the air, just in time for Mother’s Day and the May Crowning.   Bonita and I kept an eye on the lilac bushes, two at the side of the house, and one on the way to the barn.  We prayed they’d be ready to pick by Mother’s Day.  Mom loved flowers.

Every year St. Joseph’s had a May Crowning; the whole month of May was for Mary, but only one day was for everybody else’s mother.  I guessed that’s what happens when you’re the mother of God, but that didn’t seem so fair to me, ’cause Mary only had one son and he was perfect, so Continue reading

Absent a Miracle Worker

img037

Vickie, Loren, and Bonnie-Jo

I started babysitting for other people’s kids when I was ten years old.  I suppose parents thought I was a pretty good bet, being I had the Little Kids around me all day long.

I got my first job babysitting for Bonnie-Jo, Marian, and Wade.  I told you before about babysitting them while Mrs. D drove around in her Corvair  because Wade opened the door and fell out in the gravel when she took a big dog-leg turn.  Deanna or I stayed with the kids at the Little House, where they lived.  Bonnie-Jo had straight chestnut hair, and big brown eyes and a little body heaped full of energy, just like my Bonita.  Marian had super-curly hair the color of carrots and was just a tinsy bit chubby.   I don’t remember the color of her eyes, ’cause all  that hair curling off like that snake-haired lady, Medusa, kinda distracted me from looking at her face.  Wade had blonde hair and blue eyes.   Bonnie-Jo and Marian were pretty nice kids.  Not Wade.  He was  the awfullest kid I ever knew.  Mrs. D let him get away with anything ’cause he was deaf.  She was just like the mother in The Miracle Worker.

Continue reading