Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Gift

When I was about six years old, I announced to my dad one evening that I was going to learn to milk cows. We had about 12 milk cows at the time and my father milked them by hand every night and every morning. My dad just smiled at my suggestion that I would be able to help him once I learned.

So, determined to do this, I followed him out to the milk barn which was a small, low building back of the big barn. The path to the barn was made up of large stones, strategically placed in the dirt and manure that made up the lot. They were placed for my father's long stride, so I had to jump from stone to stone to get the the barn. I got there just as my dad opened the door and called the cows in.

They were lumbering giants, these cows. They were beautiful in the way they responded to my dad's voice, their big, trusting liquid eyes watching him as they all went to their spots and stood, placing their heads in the v-shaped grips on the walls, their tails toward the door. I stood, my back to the wall, and looked down the line at these massive animals. The smallness of the barn and their close quarters with one another only emphasized their enormity. Their square rear ends were now still, their tails periodically swinging to the loud country music my dad always had on the radio in the barn.

Sitting on his T-shaped stool, my dad began milking the first cow, humming to the radio. He stopped before the first bucket was full and poured the warm, foamy contents into a large pan that sat at one end of the barn. Instantly, about ten barn cats showed up to lap up the milk. These feral beauties I had never been able to get close to, were now within arm's length and they were letting my father pet them. My head swam with happiness. It was the warm summer evening, and I was filled with bliss, being in the barn with the cows, the cats, but most of all being with my dad, in his domain, watching the way he sang, and worked. The tension he sometimes carried while he was in the house seem to slip off his shoulders here and he was totally at ease and best of all, I was with him.

It was while I was in this blissful state that I noticed with great interest that the cow directly in front of me had raised its tail and I could see its crusty anus, twisting and turning like the shutter on a rusty camera. I was transfixed there by this sight, as if it were a real camera and I had to remain still until the picture was taken. I heard my dad's voice, "I wouldn't stand behind that one if I were you" but still I didn't move. I was memorized, hypnotized, transfixed. I heard my father's voice again, "That one's sick. You need to move."

Then it happened: the camera shutter opened, my eyes grew wide and my mouth opened in surprise, as the projectile diarrhea shot directly towards me. I felt the warmth coat my entire body and I sputtered as I stood, draped, covered, cloaked in runny light brown goo. I immediately started crying which was not a good idea as each gasp brought a new assault to my tongue and throat.

"Oh. Oh," my dad said calmly as he came my way. That's all he said as he surveyed the situation. There was no scolding, no admonishment, no kidding, no teasing. All he did was put down the bucket of milk he was carrying, gently take my hand, and helped me over the large stones, back through the big barn, and down the path to the house. I could barely see out of the small holes I had managed to make around my eyes. The evening was a warm one and I could feel the hardening of the crust on my skin. I felt low. I felt... well, like one does when one is covered in cow poop, but I also felt my hand in my father's hand and knew at least I was headed in the right direction.

I remember at least one sister screamed when she saw me and I remember the (understandable) shrinking back (I did look like a walking Snicker's bar) and then some shouts for my mom. She came out of the house, took my hand from my father and led me to the bathroom to get cleaned up. I felt remarkably clean and good after that bath though I would continue to find residue of the adventure in my ears and scalp for weeks.

My dad died five years ago; today would have been his 95th birthday. In addition to all I have to think him for, I have the lesson I learned from this incident.

It is this: there are times in life when we all feel just the way I did that day and the greatest gift we can receive is for someone to quietly, and without negativity, put down the work he or she is doing, take us by the hand, help us maneuver our way over the big stones in our lives, and gently guide us back home to get cleaned up.

Sometimes in life we are the ones who need the help and sometimes we are the ones who offer the hand. In the end, both situations are gifts.

Happy Birthday, Daddy, and thanks for the hand.


Jennifer said...

This is one of the best blog posts I have ever read, incredibly funny, yet so sweet and meaningful at the same time. It should be in a book. Happy Birthday to your dad, he sounds like he was a great father and a very nice man.

Wisconsin Parent said...

I agree with Jennifer! First I was smiling, then relating, then horrified at the projectile cow diahrreah (can never spell that word, never will), then kind of melancholy. My dad died last June and at least I had him for 32 years. Sigh! You are such a good blogger.

JennyMac said...

Awww...BB, this post made me laugh and want to cry. Love the lesson instilled by your Dad and that awesome photo.

And cracked up LOUD about the Snickers comment. You poor poor thing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Unknown said...

Dear Bossy Betty,

What a lovely, albeit disgusting, story. I must admit to a predisposition to bucolic literature but you have introduced me to something brand new, even for this old country broad!

Thanks for sharing and happy birthday to your Dad.

Denise Burks

Below is a short post that you might identify with:

avalanche said...

Bossy Betty!

This was such a great post! I almost pooped my pants it was so good. (Though I have been having some gastro-intestinal issues lately.) No. Seriously, this was lovely and funny and touching. I'm a new fan!! Can't wait to read more.

Unknown said...

A special thank you for this one, Betty. It's absolutely beautiful. Funny and touching, and I love the way you tied it together. Sharing this heartwarming, inspiring, and crusty tale with others is a wonderful way to remember your father. He must have been a great dad, and you do him proud.

Brian said...

Happy Birthday to your wonderful father.

I'm curious about the aftermath -- did you ever learn to milk the cows? Did your sisters tease you about the incident? Were there any lasting effects, like bouts of hypervigilance at the county fair? Do you think this event played any role in your comedic development?

Bossy Betty said...

Thank you all for the wonderful comments!

Brian--I did not learn how to milk cows. I lost a little of my mojo for the task after this. Yes, I DO think about this incident when I get near cows. I think this event played a role in my love of bathing and I just don't get the thrill that other people do from those chocolate fountains that are so popular at parties these days. (They sort of give me the hee-bees!)

Personalized Sketches and Sentiments said...

Aw! great tribute to your dad! I was anticipating the ineveitable, but was hoping that I was wrong about the projectile cow poop! Poor thing!

Yes, you are great with your words...the picture was pretty clear in my mind with your memories of that event. & I was laughing at your comment reply to Brian :o)

Blessings & Aloha!
(So glad to meet you! ...from Kathie @ Just a Happy Housewife's "Now Featuring"...)

Shan said...

What a sweet story. What a wonderful daddy to six year old you.

PS I'm not a fan of those chocolate fountain things either... for me they are the buffet table of desserts. Where's the sneeze guard and who's keeping people from sticking their fingers in it?!

Anonymous said...

this is my favorite! My throat clenched and my eyes watered when the feral cats let your father pet him, and then, my eyes watered and my nose twitched when you got dipped in diarrhea. And through it all I could hear the country music. I love your writing, Betty.