Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Gifts We Remember


Note:  Last night I gave a speech at Toastmaster's.  I used one of my favorite blog posts, added a section in the beginning and one at the end to make it applicable to Christmas.  Some of you may recognize the majority of the body.  Think of it as an ice cream sandwich.  The ice cream is the same, but there are two new cookies.  In any case, I hope you enjoy and thanks for reading!



Christmas is coming up, and like many of you I am preparing by buying, wrapping, and putting presents under the tree.  Of course, I am looking forward to giving and receiving these presents as well, but let me ask you something.  Quick—do you remember the gifts you got last year?  

Chances are you don’t remember too many of them. Most of the time, those gifts of material objects are transitory.  In this season, of gift giving, I’d like to expand the concept of giving a little and think about gifts of the spirit, the gifts that we receive from others that live within us and stay with us our entire lives.

When I was about eight 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 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 seemed 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:  it was if it was 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, this time more urgent,  "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. (Not a good idea.)   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, quickly turning into a Crunch 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.

I received a great gift from my father that day.  

He gave me this lesson: 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 hands, 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.

So, this Christmas, I’ll be grateful for the presents under the tree.  Heck, I’ll probably be the first one there Christmas morning, ready to rip through that shiny paper and find out what’s in that package.  

I’ll thank those who thought of me, but amid all of that hustle and bustle, I’ll find some time to be grateful for the gifts of kindness and dignity from those who showed me how to be a better human being. 

Those are gifts that we keep with us our whole lives and if we are lucky, they are gifts that we can pass on to others.








31 comments:

BECKY said...

Oh Betty, I'm positive I've never read this before! What an "adventure" you had....and what a wonderful father you had. Very lucky gal!

Mamma has spoken said...

I LOVE the picture you painted with words in my mind. I can so see that cow's butt doing it's thing. I giggled at knowing why it was twisting and turning, feeling your shock as you are covered in feces.
Thanks for the wonderful story this morning. Made my cup of coffee a little more interesting.

Linda said...

I did remember this post because it had struck a chord with me the first time I read it, but it was a delight to read it again with the Christmas application. Loved the picture of your dad and his dog at the end.

Along These Lines ..... said...

Nice. Christmas is great for bringing back those old memories.

Leah J. Utas said...

What a beautiful way to look at it.

Old Kitty said...

I do remember this post!! Awwww! It's lovely! Take care
x

Anne Gallagher said...

Thank you for the gift of sharing your father with me today. That was an incredible story.

Olga said...

Out standing. Images made me laugh through tears brought on by the beautiful writing.

Shelly said...

Beauty from cow poop. As a farm girl myself, I have extra appreciation for this. Wonderful~

Cranberry Morning said...

That post made me laugh and cry. It is the sweetest post I have read in a long time. What great lessons we learn from our parents, even when they're not trying, necessarily, to teach us - but do, by example.

Lovely post!

P.S. Liked your analogy of sandwich cookie. lol

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I grew up milking cows on a farm. I have fond memories of the long quiet hours with the country music radio playing while my dad, little brother and I milked cows. Thanks for bringing up the memory.

Alison said...

Ugh. Amazing how you can turn something so disgusting into something kind of sweet. I'm very glad I don't eat Snickers bars, though.

Now tell the truth--later on, you did get a lot of ribbing about that, didn't you?

Furry Bottoms said...

Wow, that is very descriptive and I loved it! :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Betty .. lovely story and what a great Toastmaster's talk ... quite delightful.

You describe the benefits so well .. taking your hand quietly, not saying a word, just making sure you're safe and getting you back to the sanctity of the farm house - lovely lessons.

Cheers Hilary

YrHmblHst said...

I do indeed remember the post ; because it's so fantastic.

Madi and Mom said...

BB you painted a beautiful picture with words...I bet you are a very popular speaker at Toastmaster's meetings...I just know you speak as well as you write..you are very engaging!!
Hugs C

Ms. A said...

Vivid and beautiful touching, at the same time. I love it!

Retired English Teacher said...

This gift will stay with all of us. Lovely.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I remember that story! What an awesome story to tell at toastmasters.

Hilary said...

I remember this story well... beautifully told in true Betty fashion. Your dad was a fine person.

Ann said...

I do remember reading this story before and I loved it. Your dad was the kind of man who fit the saying "Any man can be a father but it takes someone special to be a dad"

Gigi said...

Ah Betty, you made me laugh and cry at the same time!

Brian said...

I totally love that story Betty!

Nancy Claeys said...

Funny, ewwy, and beautiful all at the same time. Great story about your dad. xo

jenny_o said...

Yes! One of my favourite posts! Your dad sounded like the farmers I knew - salt of the earth, quiet, patient, and, although practical, also kind.

Congratulation on the Toastmasters experience :)

Daisy said...

I do remember reading this post. Made me smile then and now. I liked it made into a Christmas story too. Your father sounds like a wonderful man.

Domestic Bella said...

This is one of my favorites. Glad you reposted it. I do a strange laugh-gag combination every time I read "crusty anus." It creates quite the visual!

SueAnn Lommler said...

Well done...I love this story
Thanks
Hugs
SueAnn

Empty Nester said...

Beautiful! Just beautiful! I'm so glad you posted this- I had not read it before. My step-mom is (or was, not sure which) a member of Toastmasters in Charlotte, NC. Pretty sure her speeches weren't near as moving as this one. :)

Pat said...

I've never read this before so I am so glad you re-posted this. It is very moving. I will remember it for a long, long time!

Baby Sister said...

I remember reading this, but I still read in anticipation and reacted (appropriately, I think) when you received the gift from the cow. It is a beautiful lesson though, one that we should all learn.