Daddy came in to supper, worried to death. Bessie, our cow had had a calf and had “got down.” This was a catastrophe. “Getting down” meant certain death for the cow and a disaster for us. “Oh, Lord! What in the world will we do? We’ve got to have milk for the kids. And we’ll lose the calf, too.” Mama was calm, not panicking, so, I knew this was terrible. Mama panicked over little things and stayed calm when things were at their worst. I felt sick.
“I don’t know. I’ve got to try something to save her. We can’t get back without a cow. “Daddy smoked a cigarette, drank a cup of coffee, and went back out to the barn.
“You kids finish up, clean up, do your homework, and go to bed. I’m going out to talk to Daddy.” Mama never went to the barn after dark. Anne and I cleaned up the kitchen while John got water and wood for tomorrow. For once, he didn’t aggravate or pop us with the dish towel. We were all worried, knowing there was no way to get another cow.
Mama and Daddy hadn’t come back in when we went to bed. I snuggled close to Anne in our big bed and asked “Do you think Bessie’s gonna die?”
Annie squeezed my hand, “I hope not. Maybe Daddy will think of something.” I lay worrying in the dark for a long time. First the national debt and now this.
I smelled biscuits, dry salt meat frying, and coffee as always when I woke up the next morning. I had raised my flannel gown and was warming my backside against the woodstove when Mama handed me a glass of milk to hold me over till breakfast when I saw Mama’s worried face and remembered Bessie. “Mama, did Bessie die last night?”
“No. Thank the Lord. She and the little heifer are still alive. Daddy and some of the men are out in the barn with her trying to do something. Drink your milk and get ready for school. Biscuits are in the oven.” I finished my milk, not wasting a drop, and scurried to get dressed, hoping I wouldn’t starve before the biscuits got done. Carefully taking the same dress I’d worn yesterday off the hanger from the line stretched across the corner, I pulled it on and turned for Anne to button it. I despised my long beige cotton stockings, but pulled them from my shoes where I’d left them last night and pulled them far above my knees, finally pulling on the inner tube garters that held them. I hated those blessed garters. They had to be readjusted constantly to restore circulation to my skinny legs, but today wasn’t the day to complain. I could be stuck wearing union suits, one piece underwear with sleeves to which stockings were pinned. I’d rather have had big pink lines on my skinny legs than the humiliation of union suits. Anne brushed my hair and I was ready for breakfast.
I worried about Bessie and our family’s financial disaster all morning at school. Without Bessie’s milk, I knew Anne, John, and I would get rickets. We’d learned that in school. We were all skinny, anyway, just like all the other kids in school, even with plenty of milk to drink. We were counting on Bessie’s calf, too. If it was a girl, we’d keep her for a milk cow since Bessie is getting old. If it was a boy, we’d sell him. since we always needed the money. Mama and Daddy had been hoping for a girl this year, but I’d wanted a boy since we hardly ever had money. I was struck with a horrible thought. Was this is my fault because I hoped for a boy, just so I could have meat? I didn’t mean to kill Bessie! I just wanted some money! I had an amazing capacity for guilt. As the morning dragged on, I bargained with God, praying, “Please God, if you’ll just save Bessie and her calf, I’ll never read for fun again.” I squinched my eyes shut and prayed so hard I heard a roaring in my head, making me “need to go.” I rushed to the toilet, barely making it. On the way out, I dawdled comfortably, taking a moment to read the graffiti the big girls had scratched on the wall shielding the entrance to the toilet, just like I always did. Horrified, after a couple of moments of pleasant reading, I realized I had just finished Bessie and the calf off for sure. My heart fell!
By the time we let out for lunch, I dreaded going home to face Mama and Daddy, “A Cow Murderer.” They’d know it as soon as they saw my sorry face. I dragged myself across the school yard to our place surprised to see a crowd milling about. Daddy and a group of men had rigged feed sacks and ropes to support Bessie where she stood in the barn. The calf was nursing and Bessie was feeding from a bucket. She rehabilitated and regained strength in her support for a few days till she was strong enough to make it on her own, despite my evil ways. The next year she had a boy calf we could sell. Some hours later I sheepishly remembered to thank God.