CHUM, A COW DOG

Last night, my son Taggart and I were talking about Chum, the cow dog that our family had when I was a child.

My dad had trained him as a cow dog. Chum used that training, but instinctively was much more than that. We regularly had 39 cows. We had a 40-stanchion barn, but the bull occupied one in the back corner. He did not roam outside with the cows.

It often appeared that Chum could count. If any animals were in sight when it was time to bring them to the barn, Dad would simply command Chum to “go get ‘em.” He would get behind the most distant cow and all of them moved toward the barn. Should one not wish to go, Chum ran up behind her and nipped at her heel. In no time the cow learned it was best to go with the others. If some were in the nearby woods, he would ferret them out. Nearly without exception all 39 cows would be rounded up and brought into pasture lot by the barn.

I remember a few times when the cows would come, but Chum didn’t return with them. It was then that Dad would discover a cow was missing. Chum was still searching for her. He would continue searching until Dad called him to come. Then they could search together. Usually that cow had thought the grass was better on the other side of the fence, broken through and strayed. Sometimes a neighbor would telephone that they had spotted our stray.

One summer when I was about ten or eleven, Dad asked if my cousin and I would go over to the woods with Chum to get the cows. He wanted to get an extra load of hay into the barn because rain was predicted. Norma and I agreed. We crossed the flat land. Chum tore ahead of us and was already up the hill beyond and heading into the woods.

Soon the cows came straggling out of the lane that led through the woods. Then we heard Chum bark. We followed the sound because we knew he’d only bark for a reason. We found him trying to persuade a cow with a new baby calf to go to the barn. That was futile.

I knew from Dad that the only way a cow with a calf would go was if the calf was forced to move. Norma and I began the long process of pushing and shoving the calf out of the woods with Chum’s help. As a self-designated protector, he wouldn’t leave me. It was three steps forward and two back. We’d push the baby a distance, mama would call, and the baby would turn back. It took us a long time before we were able to get them out in the open away from the woods.

About that time Dad was back with the hay and realized that we should be back too. He looked out the barn and saw the cows. A minute later he spied us on the edge of the woods. Soon the doodlebug with a wagon attached headed toward us. With the calf on the wagon with us, mama cow followed us to the barn.

Norm and I were proud of ourselves. Dad too. That calf, a female jersey we named Lady, grew up to become one of the best milkers in the barn.

A note: a dairy cow who is not relieved of its milk may get very sick. A calf cannot consume enough of the milk to prevent disease.

 

 

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A LETTER TO A GRANDSON

This is from a letter written by my husband. It is my Valentine gift to you.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

My Dear Grandson,

You were born on the 28th of August 2006, just three days ago. You will not read or understand what I am writing for a good number of years. And by the time you read this, I will be buried, having lived a good, rich exciting and satisfying life.

What can I possibly write at this time that will make any sense to you as you begin to read? What would I most want you to understand, realize, inherit, or discover? I have no profound wisdom, though I’ve enjoyed learning all my life.

I also hope that perhaps you will be able some day to read some of my journals, poetry, and essays. I have written much, published little, and never had the discipline to write a book.

I want you to know how important love is in our lives, your life. Know without question that you are loved even before birth. Your parents, my son and his lovely, intelligent, creative wife, your mother, loves you more deeply than can be expressed in these words. And as an old popular song sung by Nat King Cole many years ago, “The Greatest thing you’ll every learn, is just to love and be loved in return.”

So, to love and be fully, unconditionally, continually without having to constantly earn that love, is about as wise as I can because that has been the experience of your father’s parents.

At another time he wrote:

(Parenthetical thoughts)
Monday, February 21, 2011
(I just took a writing break and sat in the other room leafing through some of my writing from past Februaries in the South. I’ve decided to take up brick making. I’ll imprint my words on bricks, fire them, and then bury them in abandoned blue stone quarries and let them be discovered some later centuries by anthropologists seeking evidence of our decline as a world power.)

MORE ON WARSAW

PHOTO: View of a small museum from our apartment on Observatorow

 

EXCERPTS FROM A LETTER TO FRIENDS DATED DECEMBER 2, 1989

We get mail that comes to us through the American Embassy. If we wait until we’re home (to open it), we make a pot of tea, then sit with our feet up and relish every word.

Our life here can be described as a set of small victories. I have begun to feel as if I’m digging for Herkimer diamonds and find small (and large) perfect jewels. The hall of the opera house is lovely with great crystal chandeliers made in Poland. It has a huge stage canted uphill for a true life-like effect and the possibility of nearly any stage effect including someone jumping from a suspended bridge into the water.

At another concert hall we saw Garrick Olson, an American pianist born in White Plains, New York, who won the Chopin competition here in 1970. He played to a standing room only audience who called him back for encores several times. While I had not heard of him, the Poles certainly had and love him. He was excellent. On December 8 we have tickets to a symphony concert to hear Saint-Saens Organ Symphony, which I’m looking forward to.

I have been teaching English to a group of novitiates of Mother Theresa’s order. I will not go back now until January when I expect here will be a totally new group of girls. They impress me. They thoroughly enjoy life together. Mother Theresa believes in laughter. While these girls are very serious about learning English, they giggle and share silly things that have happened to them.

In addition, I’m singing in a choir led by an American expat. It consists mostly of Poles, so 98 percent of the instruction is in Polish, which I miss. I can understand the letters, so I usually know where we are. We sang Mozart’s Requiem. It was a thrill to be a part of it.

Shopping  produces jewels. I found a lovely plaid skirt, a blouse, and a sweater for 174,500 zlotys, translated is about $25. Clothing appears in strange places as do odds and ends one needs–Crest in local news stand, or slippers in an underground cross walk. I have also been able to get great haircuts just up the hill from our house for the equivalent of 75 cents.

Enough for now, another chapter to come later.

 

MY MOTHER’S MEMORIES

I found this bit of writing when looking through my mother’s photograph album.

The things I miss and the memories I cherish … .

I am an old lady and this is the day before Easter.

We only had one child, a blond-headed baby girl named Phyllis, who we called Dottie as she was very small.

I miss the first bouquets of spring of a few yellow dandelion and perhaps a violet or two, clutched tight in a grubby little hand and given to me in love to put in a vase.

I also miss the May baskets the neighbor’s children hung on our door, who would come in for ice cream and cake afterwards. Now it seems the children don’t have time for the simple joys of life anymore.

I also miss the country schools and the programs put on in the old country church, and the happy little faces when Santa Claus came in.

These are just a few of the things that take me back many years. They were the good old days when we lived on the farm and you had neighbors who cared about you, and would always help each other out, if needed.

We had lots of hard work, but many pleasant memories, never forgotten.

We have lost many dear friends through out the years and made new ones also, but the memories linger on–never to be forgotten.

Now it’s my turn to be the old lady. I too remember

those days as a child on the farm and the country school.

FASHION: 1963

This picture of my husband and I standing in front of the Bloomington Reformed Church the year he was ordained shows a considerable change in clothing people wore to church.

We had lived in Bloomington (our first church) about three or four months when this was taken. Richard is still in his Genevan gown following service. I am wearing a suit I do not remember but would presume to be a neutral light brown, tan, or gray. My hat is red. In the 1960s a woman always wore a hat to church. I am not wearing gloves which were also demanded if you were to be “properly dressed.” I would guess this was taken after the congregation left, so they had been discarded. When I went to church I would also have carried a matching purse. Certainly a new minister’s wife was expected to be properly dressed.

A SALUTE TO MY DAD

I grew up on an upstate New York dairy farm in the 1940s. An only child, I have always been petite, a nice word for small. Dad certainly could have used a strapping young man to help him care for the herd of 50 to 60 large animals. He hired those men.
Still, no matter what I asked to do, Dad never said, “You can’t do that. You are a girl.” He did say on occasion, “You can try it, but I don’t think you can do that.” It was true, I couldn’t. I didn’t have the strength.
When I was about twelve, he taught me to drive the doodlebug, which was an old 1929 car, cut in half with no cab that he used for a tractor. Manufacturers who built tractors were turning out tanks during World War II. A standard shift and I had to learn to deal with the clutch and changing gears.
One day I asked to drive our pickup truck on the road. About a mile from home I went around a sharp right hand turn on two wheels. In a normal voice Dad said, “Next time, slow down before the corner.”
After the war, we acquired a tractor which was fun for me to drive. One day I was driving it with the hay wagon and hay loader attached, making it nearly the length of a semi. Twice the same day, I cut the corner in the hay field too short causing the hay loader to catch on the rigging of the wagon. The first time, he called, “Whoa.” The second time, Dad hollered, “Lord, girl, what in hell are you doing?” He fixed the problem and we finished loading the hay with me being more careful to swing wide on corners.
One day, the tractor was on the third story barn floor. I asked to back it out of the barn and down the stone ramp. I climbed on the tractor, started backwards. I had my foot on the clutch and it began rolling. Dad yelled, “Brake!” I slammed on the break just short of going over the side of the ramp. I think Dad took over at that point. But a short time later, we were back in the barn. Dad pointed to the tractor. “Get on.” He climbed up beside me. “Now, back up. Keep your foot off the clutch!”
I’ve driven many vehicles with a standard shift over the past years. Each time the words, “Keep your foot off the clutch!” have kept me from making dangerous moves.
When he had back surgery in 1952, the doctor told him he’d spend most of the remainder of his life in a wheelchair. His response, “To hell I will.” He was never without pain for the next 35 years of his life, and he almost never complained. He just kept moving.
Dad has always been my hero.

HOW DO YOU WAIT?

HOW DO YOU WAIT?

What do you do while you wait for a doctor to see you, for the person ahead of you at the grocery store, for the pharmacist to fill your prescription, or for the stalled traffic on your way home?

Do you sit and steam because it is now 35 minutes past your appointment for which you left early so you would be on time?

Do you shift from one foot to the other as the person or persons ahead of you in line seem to have all the time in the world?

Do you drum your fingers on the steering wheel and say unkind things to whomever is keeping you from moving?

I could have said yes to all these questions at one time, and as I waited anger would build and I would think of all the things I could be doing. Whether or not I would actually be doing those things is doubtful.

The only way to eliminate the waiting is to leave: not to keep your appointment, walk away and not get what you need, or get out of the car and walk. All of these solutions would have consequences.

Through the years I’ve learned that waiting can be fun and restful.

Arriving on time at the dentist today for my eleven o’clock appointment, I discovered he was at least a half hour behind. I’d planned to buy gas after my appointment, so I went to do that. I returned and in a few minutes I was seated in the examining room. After five to ten minutes, I realized I was in for a long wait. What should I do? I’d not brought a crossword puzzle or a book.

Relaxation is always good for the body. I began with head and neck stretches; I sat back in the chair so my head was on the headrest, my arms on the armrests, my legs stretched out in front of me, I closed my eyes, and began quiet deep breathing. I’ve been known to fall asleep in the dentist’s chair or lying on the doctor’s examining table. Time passes.

After fifteen or twenty minutes today, I felt rested. I began thinking about what I needed to for my writing. I’ve wanted to post a blog for several days, but no topic seemed to blossom in my brain. Now it did. I pulled a little notebook and pen from my purse. This is result.

If you are a writer, the grocery or pharmacy can become character food. One day while I was next in line, I watched a woman in a wheelchair cart with less than twelve items, which someone had already put on counter. That should be quick, right? It must have ten minutes as she told the very patient clerk into which paper bag each item should go, then to put the paper bags inside plastic bags. Then the clerk went around the counter to put them in her cart. I’m sure those  minutes hold a story. Meanwhile, I discouraged out persons from standing behind me in the short line. The next cash register line was moving quickly.

In the car, you can catch up on the news with an NPR station, or listen to the music with more intention. While the music plays on my radio when I am driving, I only half listen. Stopped I can concentrate on what I’m hearing.

Wherever you are waiting you have time to pray. Pray for ones you know. Pray for the hungry and the homeless. Pray for the sick and lonely. Pray for all those you know and those you don’t. Pray for this world torn apart in so many, many ways.

Waiting will no longer be an annoyance, but an opportunity.