By BR Chitwood
“Billy, go round-up ‘Bessie’ – it’s milking time.”
Grandma gave me a hug, and I went rushing out the old rickety screen door in the side-room of the kitchen.
Grandma yelled after me, “If you’re going barefooted, you watch where you’re walking, ‘little man’.”
“I’ll be watching, Grandma. Don’t worry. I’ll stay on the lane ‘til I get to Bessie and her cow-buddies.”
I waved and was on my way.
The sunshine and clear blue sky was perfect, Grasshoppers and butterflies were flitting here and there, birds tweeting, and this was my favorite part of the day. Rounding up Bessie was the best part of my day. Truth is, I loved Bessie, and she was the nearest thing to a pet I had. We spent a lot of each day together, mornings before she went to pasture, during milking, and times not even grandma and grandpa knew about. I loved Bessie.
When I reached the pasture area Bessie now favored, she walked to me with a head wave and tacit ‘see you tomorrow, guys’ to the remaining cows. She nuzzled me gently while I put the rope around her neck with the copper bell. She bowed downward to me so I could give my own nuzzling to her blond and brown fur.
Guess my mind was too confused and young when I came to live with Grandma and Grandpa. My Dad and Mom had money problems, finally divorced, Dad taking a job out of state because jobs were not available, and my sister was sent to my Mom’s folks during that time.
When I first went up to Bessie, she lifted her head and looked at me with those beautiful brown eyes and softly ’mooed’. For reasons I could not understand in those moments, I wrapped my small arms around her big neck, kissed her, and my tears fell on her as she gently nudged me. Also, I could not understand in those precious moments, I loved Bessie.
Bessie and I walked the lane, and Grandma was waiting outside the kitchen door at our arrival home. She grinned happily when she saw the great friendship we had.
After leaving Bessie in her special area, Grandma took my hand, led me inside the clapboard farmhouse and treated me with watermelon. She spoke to me while I ate the melon pieces, trying in her way to let me know that I was loved.
After the watermelon treat, Grandma took my hand and led me to her old stuffed chair in the living room, put me on her lap, and told me stories about my Dad and the family history. She would stop occasionally to reach her spittle can on the floor to deposit some of her ‘snuff’. Her stories were told from the heart in a solemn tone, and, at times, I could see her eyes getting watery…it was like she wanted me to know the history of my family, the tough times of our history along with the good. Most likely, the tough times would beat out the good
When the time was right, we looked out the south-facing window and down the lane that led to the nearby mountain, waiting to see Grandpa walking home from his day on the railroad hauling logs from the other side of the mountain to our hamlet’s sawmill. Grandpa was the old train’s engineer.
When we saw him his metal lunch pail was swinging with each step he took, and a grin would break on his face when he saw me running down the lane to meet him…he always had a surprise for me in the lunch pail, candy bar, bubble gum, a toy.
Bessie mooed when she saw us nearing the old farm house – her milking would be coming in short order…plus, feeding hogs, Old Fred, the mule, plus spreading Chickens feed, gathering eggs from hens’ nests, and there would be acres of corn to be hoed, potatoes, turnips, and other farm jobs – not all jobs done by Grandpa but by my uncles. Even, I hoed some corn (hating it).
When dinner was finished, Grandpa turned on the floor model radio and listened to HV Kavelborn. If wintry, Grandpa would shave wood for the living room’s large ‘belly stove’ for the next morning’s heat.
When first darkness began Grandma would call me from my time with Bessie for a bath and bed. She would read me stories from the bible.
Some things in life are hard to explain. I loved a cow named Bessie, and, I know Bessie loved me. I loved my grandparents (paternal and maternal), and I know they loved me. They are connected in loving ways to my heart and mind.
I would eventually return to my mother and sister in a home setting, and it was wonderful being with my Mom and Sis. The time with my grandparents and Bessie is one of the most compellingly beautiful memories I have.
But, then, there are so many.
BR Chitwood – Feb. 5, 2021
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