My First Barn

As wide as she was tall, the little old lady looked amusingly like a cartoon turtle in a floral dress slipping slowly out the back door before full daylight.  The last I remembered, I’d been asleep on the train.  Not wanting to be left alone, I rolled to my belly and hung off the edge of an unfamiliar bed, my pudgy feet peddling till I thudded solidly to the unfinished wood floor.  Following her out into the dewy grass of the early daylight, I saw her lurching one-sidedly under the burden of a heavy bucket of corn in one hand and a shovel in the other, totally unaware of my silent pursuit.  As I padded silently behind, sandburs pierced my baby feet.  Dropping to my round bottom, I shrieked at the insult.  The grass at home was soft and welcoming.  Startled by my banshee cries, she turned.  “Oh my Lord!  I thought I shut the door behind me.  You could have gotten in the road!”

Dropping the bucket of chicken feed, she rushed over to comfort me, as fast as a turtle could, I suppose, seating me on her shovel blade to pick sandburs out of my feet.  By the time she’d finished, I pointed out a huge yellow road grader a few yards away on the side of the dirt road.  “You want to see that?  Okay.  Grandma will take you over there.  It’ll be a while before the workers get here.  Little fellers need to see road graders if they get a chance.”

I admired the way she thought.  Blessed with my company every day, my harried mother would probably have told me to “Get away from that.  That’s none of your business!” I’d noticed early on most interesting things fell in that category. Standing on the shovel blade, I clung to the shovel handle as Grandma dragged me across the grass.   She lifted me as high to study the gigantic tires before setting me on the step to peer inside the cab.  I am still fascinated by heavy machinery.

After I had my fill of the road grader, we went back for her bucket of corn to feed her chickens.  I liked the chickens just fine, though they weren’t nearly as interesting as the road machine.  We had chickens at home.  The barn next to the chicken yard was a different matter.  Since the grass path was worn away between the two, I toddled over to have a look. A huge, two-storied white structure larger than the house enticed me, nearer.  A padlocked chain  ran through two holes in the big double-doors, denying me entry.  Peeking into the dee shade of the barn, I discovered untold riches: a child-sized table and chairs, a rocking horse, a tricycle, and a red wagon.  Grandma’s little black and white dog dropped to his belly and slid in the deep, sandy track worn under the doors.  I dropped to my belly and wiggled right behind him.  Had Grandma moved just a little slower, I’d have earned my prize.  Instead, she caught me by my heels and dragged me by my back into the barn yard howling in protest as she explained those things belonged to the child of the landlord and were off limits to me.  I couldn’t wrap my thoughts around that, having no idea what a landlord was, but I knew what toys were, and meant to have them.  To temper my disappointment, she led me to the back of barn and allowed me to climb on the rail fence.  The barn and lot  were shaded by an enormous oak tree.  Marvelously, a tire swing hung temptingly from a high branch.  I flew to the tire swing suspending myself in its embrace.  I could run and swing backwards, kicking up a sandy, white cloud.  I had a tire swing at home and had learned to wind myself up for a spinning ride.  Grandma generously let me entertain myself,  For the moment, I was satisfied, knowing I’d get find a way to get in that barn later.

Back in the house, Grandma slid brown-topped biscuits out of the oven.  Minutes later, I met my first true love, bacon. I have not tasted anything so goodsince.  I felt strangely independent sharing my first morning with Grandma.  I’d never been awake before my mother that I remembered.  I was surprised to see Mother wander through in her nightgown and robe looking for coffee soon after.  I’d never seen her dressed for bed before.

This is my first conscious memory, though I must have been familiar with Grandma.  Mother recalled the story, dating it to around the time I was eighteen months old.  I am older now than Grandma was then, and like her, carry a shovel as I putter in the yard, an excellent implement to have on hand for a little impromptu digging or snake-routing.  Some things never change.

This photo was taken on that visit.  I was eighteen months old, and my sister four.  This was taken at a park.  Later that that, we were allowed to take our shoes off and wade in a park pool  I cut my foot on a coke bottle, not badly, just enough to make me scream bloody murder.

Shot Down

“I’m gonna be a cowgirl and a dance hall girl. “  I had my life planned. I really wanted to be a cowboy, but had the bad luck to be born a girl.  I had no intention of being one of those silly girls who wore a tasseled skirt and made eyes at cowboys.  I’d be wearing jeans, roping and riding, and shooting snakes.  Then, I’d head in to the saloon, get into my floozy dress and dance the night away.  I loved that jangly honky-took piano..  For the grand finale, I’d flip up my skirttail and wiggle my butt at the appreciative cowboys.

Mother shot me down.  “No you’re not!  There’s no such thing as a cowgirl and you’re certainly not working in a dance hall!  You are not allowed to dance, anyway.. Besides, dancing makes your legs big.”

I was devastated.  Not allowed to dance?  What was I going to say to all the guys clambering to dance with me after my big finale?  From there, I was the star in dance-hall chorus line.  I’d be mortified to have to turn my back on my admirers.

I pushed back.  She clearly didn’t get the big picture.  “Then what am I gonna do when I get grown?”

”You’ll probably just be a housewife and take care of your kids, like me.” She pronounced.  The subject was closed.

She might as well have shot me between the eyes.

 

 

Class Clown in the Class Picture

 

My brother Bill realized he was a comedian just as he had his school picture made.  All his friends loved it, but Mother had no sense of humor.  “I’m not buying those ridiculous pictures!” She fumed.

”Oh yes we are!”  Daddy put his foot down.  His family had never been able to buy school pictures, so he was rewriting his childhood.  He would not be shamed.

Daddy ruled the roost, so Mother seethed as she sent a check to school on the last possible day.   Billy wasn’t worried.  He’d already impressed his friends.  He had endured an impressive lecture and threat of grave repercussions should he pull that stunt again, but that was a condition he’d learned to live with, so it wasn’t a problem.  All his buddies wanted a picture.  He was flushed with pride.

It wasn’t long till the class picture came out.  His teacher opened her copy before she passed the envelopes out to the students.  She was livid, landing on him like an old wet hen.  He’d enjoyed so much success with his individual school pictures, that he’d repeated his trick in the class picture.  There he sat, sat prominently in the front row with his tongue out and crossed eyes. This picture would be in the yearbook!

The teacher was mad.  Mamas were mad.  I’m sure the photographer was mad since he wouldn’t  have sold many prints with a clown in the front row.  Needless to say, my parents didn’t buy one. I am sorry I couldn’t find one for this post, so I substituted my own first grade class picture.  I am the eighth girl in the second row, remarkable for the wild hair.

 

 

 

 

The Great Cow Hoist

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The above picture is not me. I would never have smiled while I milked.

There has been an ongoing argument between Connie and Marilyn for years. At the risk of alienating one of my sisters, as a true witness, I feel obligated to set the record straight. Mother was there as well, but everyone knows how ditzy she is. Additionally, she tries to be impartial, so she sees the story both ways, depending on which sister is putting the most pressure on her at the time.

To begin with, milking the cow was the most universally hated job in the household, palmed off on whichever God-forsaken soul who had the least excuses and broke first. Of course, neither Daddy nor my brother could milk. It was a Biblical injunction, book, chapter, and verse known to Daddy alone. “Thou canst not take milk if thee cannot give it.” I never heard this verse quoted by another and seriously doubted its existence, but if it was good enough for Daddy, by golly, the lowly women in the family were stuck with it.

Mother was stuck with milking in the morning on school days due to the amount of time involved in de-manuring required before school. As much as she hated milking, she didn’t want to get notes from school, “Your daughter comes in reeking of cow s__t!”

There was no salvation for us on evenings, weekends and holidays. “I’ve milked all week. Now it’s your turn!” Eventually, Phyllis and I fought it out. I grudgingly took mornings since I got up earlier and preferred to get the evil deed over with. She took evenings. It was horrible! First of all, milking involved wading manure and mud to lure the cow to the least manure slopped area. We never had a milking shed with fancy mangers to fasten the cow’s head in while they eat their grain. I suspect there was no Biblical injunction preventing construction of a milk shed or manger, just unconcern on Daddy’s part, since he didn’t have to worry about getting hooked or the weather while milking. Milking, standing in mud and manure, with freezing rain running down my collar was my personal favorite. I feel sure all that rain that ran off the cow’s back must have greatly improved the purity of the milk.

To the best of my recollection, I never milked a constipated cow. Invariably, Bessie or Star would feel the urge as soon as I got started. In the event she was a little slow getting started, I could always content myself with being slapped with a tail caked with dried manure left from the last episode. Just so you know, personal hygiene is not high on a cow’s list of priorities. The milker could count on several solid tail slaps while milking, in addition to being stepped on if one is not good at following the cow’s lead.

Enough bragging. On the day of the Great Cow Hoisting, there was no milking involved. Mother had dragged me out to help her separate the cow and new calf who had escaped his pen to join his mother in the pasture. For your edification, I’ll explain. The cow and calf had to be separated all day to keep him from stripping her of all the milk that he felt was rightfully his. He got to spend a few minutes with her twice a day to nurse after milking, when the milk from one udder was saved for him. Afterwards, the cow turned out to pasture leaving the calf penned up.

Connie and Marilyn were standing nearby. As the cow ambled by, she turned her head to the side, hooking Connie’s shorts. Surprised to find herself burdened with a little girl, she lowered her gently back to the ground, setting her on her feet.