Written by Jerry Engler Tuesday, 04 October 2011 16:36
Long ago, but not so far away, I was a kid once. Seeing other kids taking their turn to grow up makes me think of it.
I remember when I see kids riding their bikes, or walking around town. They probably don’t think a man with a white beard is a little boy, but I can assure all of you, the little boy that is me still lives inside.
I don’t know what chores the boys now have to do, but a little more than a half-century ago on a farm southwest of Topeka, my brother and I had to get the cows every night for milking.
I know I was doing this by age 8 because I did that before I drove the old John Deere “B” at 9 in the hay fields for the men to pick up bales to load the wagon.
We were always accompanied by our friend and guardian, our white, brown-spotted English Shepherd, the best dog I’ve ever known—although I’ve known some good ones. His name wasn’t Anthony, but let’s call him that here because I use his name for other things in other places.
After all, if Congress can keep its own pay grade while talking about lowering Social Security, I can call my dog Anthony.
Every great once in a while, the cows would be close to our house, but more often they were a half-mile away on a long hill ridge that lay straight, north to south.
I always knew this somehow looked different than other landscapes. Later on, as an older adult, I was to find our hills marked on a U.S. Army 1800s survey map as a parallel hill system, a relatively rare geological feature.
After bringing the cows down, we had to open gates to have them cross the road into my grandparents’ place to go to the milk barn another quarter-mile away.
I especially loved to get the cows in the spring when water was abundant. Starting out, the terraces above the adjoining field would be full of spring rain with thousands of singing frogs in it.
As the season progressed, knowing the terraces would dry up, we might stop there to catch tadpoles to take down a hundred yards to dump into the pond. That’s even though the pond had its own abundance of frogs.
Much farther down, we crossed the creek before walking on up into the hillside grass. If there had been a lot of rain, we might have frothy water running a foot deep over the rock crossing into deep pools beyond. It could be frightening, and feel like it might sweep us away. I never thought to mention this to our parents.
Of course, Anthony would cross the water a half-dozen times to our once. He would diverge on multiple hunting forays, but always come back to check on us.
Usually the cows would be on the far hillside above us, knowing full-well we were coming, but grabbing for last-chance grass.
My dad usually milked from 15 to 24 cows, small by today’s standards, but common then.
I remember him and Grandpa milking the cows by hand, but by the time we were old enough to get cows he was using machines. Grandpa had retired to a lawn chair in his front yard.
The cows were most often Holsteins or Holstein crosses with their own unique personalities, and named after women we knew. Old broken-horn Judy and white-striped-face Winnie were calm and deliberate, although Winnie could get irate if you told Anthony to heel her.
Brown-black Bunny was sweet for a cow and Gladys the Swiss was nearly as dangerous as a bull. When a cousin was with us, we learned that Gladys considered girls fair game.
We became especially cautious if Dad ran a bull with the cows. Usually it would be a large, mature Hereford always named Amos or, later, an Angus always named Oscar. Anthony stayed close for bull-protection duty.
One time the neighbor’s bull got in, and he and Amos were fighting on our side of the fence. Being little boys, we didn’t know what to do, so we sicked Anthony on them. Anthony always knew what to do, and seemed to rescue us in many types of situations.
He bit them in the heels, and if that didn’t turn them, he bit them in the flanks. It was a grand spectacle that sometimes made us run back to dive to the other side of a fence for safety.
But Anthony always won. He ran the neighbor’s bull crashing back to his own side of the fence, and Amos back to the cows. He was so angry with the bulls that it was difficult to keep him from running all the cows home. So we let him. I suppose Dad wondered why milk yields were down that night.
Another time, Anthony stayed close to us, growling all the way across the hill, as we walked behind the cows. Our neighbor, the Wild Swede, said that from his home across the creek he watched a pair of coyotes following us, sometimes as closely as 30 feet away without us seeing them.
I’ve written more than my length, kids, so I guess I have to quit for now. But I’ll tell you more later, and I’m at least better at keeping promises than Congress.