In 1952 when Dad milked the cows, I would sometimes sit underneath and pet them. I was in the habit of naming the animals. I was especially fond of names beginning with the letter “J” so I named my favorite cow, the one I was sitting under, Jane.
One day in the barn my dad said, “It makes your mother crazy that I let you crawl around under the cows. She thinks they’ll step on you and kill you.”
“The cows won’t hurt me. They like me and I like them.”
“I know that, Heather. I can see it. They trust you.”
There were three things to stay away from on the farm, geese, bulls, and buzzsaws. You never knew what they might do.
Geese were likely to chase and bite you whether you had food or not. Bulls were ornery unpredictable creatures, which probably accounted for why one got hold of my cousin and tore a piece out of his middle with its horn. I had no interest in naming any of the geese or bulls.
Buzzsaws were the worst. One got loose somehow in my uncle Ethan’s barn and in a flash tore his arm right off at the elbow. It took a long time for him to recover. I was three years old the next time I saw Uncle Ethan. He had a brand-new metal arm and a big hook where his hand used to be. It looked lethal, but he was proud-as-could-be of it.
“Your arm looks scary now, Uncle Ethan,” I said.
“Scary? Nah, it’s a gift from the Lord! I can grab and hook bales of hay a whole lot better than before,” he exclaimed while waving his new shiny arm in the air.
I didn’t think it was a gift from anyone. It looked more like payback for being stupid with a buzzsaw.
Death was an everyday possibility on the farm, more so for chickens.
One day while playing with a spider by the back door on the wraparound porch, I saw Dad pick up one of the chickens I had not yet named. He nonchalantly carried her to the wood-chopping block like nothing special was about to happen.
Dad once said that a riled-up chicken, high on adrenaline, might scratch its way through the limestone walls of our house.
He very gently set down the chicken while talking in a soothing voice, like when he was trying to get me to sleep, and I didn’t want to. Slowly with his other hand, he reached behind, pulled a cleaver out of his back pocket, and whacked off her head.
But this chicken did not want to die.
She was up and out of there, flapping and running all over the place. Blood spurting into the air soaked instantly into the dry dirt. It was all very quiet though since she had no head.
When she was pretty much out of blood, she fell over. It was a terribly heroic effort to stay alive I thought. She was a chicken that deserved a name. But by then I’d run out of “J” names, so I named her Alice.
What I learned about death from Alice…Don’t take it lying down.
Peace & Love,