Charlie fell into bed that night aching with fatigue. It seemed he’d just shut his eyes when Bessie opened his door, “Wake up! Them cows is calling you!” He learned to hate that phrase long before the week was out. Sore and stumbling with sleep, he filed out to the milking. Though his hands protested, he got the hang of it and stripped one cow by the time the time Robert and Freddy were done with the other six. He made up his mind to do two tomorrow. The barn cats danced behind his cow as he squirted milk in their mouths, unconcerned at his substandard milking. While Freddy turned the cows in the lot with their calves, Robert and Charlie slopped the hogs, fed the horses and chickens, and gathered eggs.
Egg-gathering seemed easy enough until Charlie reached into a nest and pulled out a long back snake.” He pitched it down, screaming, and ran. Freddy laughed hysterically while Robert scurried after the snake. Picking it up, he popped it like a whip, snapping its head off. “I guess that’s the last of the eggs you’ll git, you ol’ devil. That’s just a chicken snake, Charlie. He hangs around the barn stealing eggs. He wouldn’t hurt you if he did bite you. But, it wouldn’t hurt to look before poking your hand in dark places.”
“I’ll try to remember that.” Charlie laughed. “I took off so fast it like to took me a half a day to walk back.”
“I think somethin’s or somebody’s been dipping’ in my corncrib. The last three mornin’s I noticed the shelled corn in the bib was hollered out a little. I ain’t accusing nobody, but I think we’ll git out there a little early in the morning an’ see cain’t we catch em. Let’s git this milk an’ eggs in an’ git us some breakfast. I’m so hungry my stomach thinks my throat’s been cut.” Robert led the way with heavy, cloth-covered milk buckets.
That day was the beginning of a farmer’s life for Charlie. Over the course of the summer, he learned the business of breeding and birthing stock, cultivating and gathering crops, building fences, haymaking, mechanicking on the old truck and tractor, repairing outbuildings, and many other farm tasks at hand. As he worked alongside the others, his muscles grew long and bulked up. As his estrogen levels dropped after surgery, his breasts lost mass and he sprouted the beginnings of a beard. He was beginning to look more the person he’d always known he was.