Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Just a Few New Year Happenings

Happening #1
I went back to work as a teacher yesterday. I took off two months to have my knee joint replaced with titanium! I spent most of that time lying on the couch, of course, except when I was doing PT (physical torture). So, when I showed up at school, I was feeling pretty good about how well my knee had healed, and how well I could walk again, and just ready for action. By lunch, I discovered just how exhausted a person can be after they lie around for two months, and then jump back into the Rat Race (and it is a race...believe me...in fourth grade.) My new knee felt great! The whole rest of my body was panting, and yelling, "Hey! What happened to the couch? That was great!" I sat down most of the rest of the afternoon, and then ate some dinner, and fell into bed at 9:30. (I usually get to bed around 11:00.) And I felt pretty good by morning. Today wasn't nearly as exhausting, but I'm definitely going to have to get back into shape if I want to keep up with the school teacher routine.

Happening #2
This morning I woke up and I had a serious ear worm in my head. "Scripture Power!" Over and over, with great insistence my brain would not give up on the chorus: "Scripture Power! Everyday I need, the power that I get each time I read!" I mean--it was persistent, loud, and drowned out every other thing I could think about. Suddenly, I just laughed out loud, and thought, "Thank you, Heavenly Father! That's right, I really wanted to get better at the habit of reading the scriptures every morning."  I've actually been apologizing each night in my prayers about failing, once again, to sit down and read each day. I put my scriptures out on a table so they'd be a reminder. I have the time in the morning. While I eat my breakfast cereal, or toasted bagel, or whatever...I could easily sit and read something from my big old quad on the little table in front of my reading couch. So...I just went right in, sat down, and opened up that book and found a really nice section to contemplate this morning, while the house was quiet, and I was well-rested. Sometimes, God has to resort to actual nagging. Thanks again!

Happening #3
Our son and his wife called a couple of days ago, out of the blue! It was great! The big surprise is that they were driving across Montana at the time. They live in Bremerton, WA, where he is serving on a submarine. So, hey! Montana? In the middle of winter? They were driving across country so that the wife can live the next five months with her mom in Worcester, MA, and have the car so she can go to work, while our son heads out to sea for an unexpected trip on another submarine. He's a sonar man and I guess this other boat just really needed him and couple of other guys from his original boat to fill in their crew. So, every day, I got a text from them telling me where they were next. Yes, they ended up driving south a little to escape the amazing storm slamming the northernmost part of the USA. It was fun to keep track of their journey. Today, I read that they stopped to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame for about three hours. Those two need three days -- I'm just saying. And then, I got a little video in a text, of her walking into to her mom's house for the Big Surprise! Yes, it was a secret for her mom, and it was a dandy payoff. Her mom will appreciate seeing her, and then our daughter-in-law won't have to be so lonely while our son is listening to whales and shrimp...and other things...


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Going to the Sun

There is a highway in Montana, in Glacier National Park named "Going to the Sun" and someday, I hope to drive on it. But right now, I'm reveling in the fact that today marks the End of the Darkness. It is Winter Solstice, and I always have a tiny celebration when this day comes! From now on, the sun will be in the sky for a teensy bit longer. It isn't really noticeable until later in February. One day, you walk outside and realize that it isn't dark yet, and it used to be dark this time of day. It's a relief to me. I'm sure I had ancestors who were Druids or something. I really look forward to December 21st every year.

It's not exactly like I have a harsh winter to deal with here in the Mojave Desert. It is actually rather mild, compared to the winters of my childhood. Yesterday, I saw a posting on Facebook from Cody, Wyoming, that showed the temperature at 2:30 A.M. as -56 degrees. Yes! Minus -56...I've been outside, doing chores, when it was 45 degrees below zero in Wyoming. It doesn't feel any colder than negative 20, but you just freeze faster. It is very, very, very unpleasant. I got to leave those weather conditions when I was a newly married woman, and it has ruined me forever for enduring bitter temperatures. For about two weeks here, the temperature has dipped into the 30s every night, and only risen to the low 60s during the day. A few days, it actually only warmed up to 47. Brrrrr....yes, it feels really cold when it does that here in Southern Nevada. You realize, of course, that it regularly exceeds 100 degrees every day in the summer. so that is a variation of 60-70 degrees. The variation in Wyoming, though, is from negative 40 to 80 above, so we have nothing to complain about.

Here's what is nice about winter in the desert: it is short. In another week or two, it won't be chilly any more. I'll be planting my tomatoes before the end of February, so that they'll have time to set fruit before it heats up in late May. I don't even wear a coat...I just wear a sweater. Mr. CoolGuy wore his chaps this week, but he's still riding the motorcycle every day! I have large palm trees in my front yard. They're just fine. I have a plant growing up a trellis in my back yard that still has flowers blooming on it. One night, it must have gotten to 31 degrees, because my basil plants are all black and drooping, dead. I've been harvesting from them since May...that was seven months. I don't mind winter at all here.


 Here is one magnificent part of "winter" here: there is almost always a spectacular sunset, every night.

Here is another way I enjoy my "winter" here. There are beautiful snow-covered mountains. They are waaay up there, where I can admire them, but I never have to walk or drive in that snow.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Mother "Rules"

Today is our mother's birthday. She would have 89 years old. She was a remarkable person, who gave birth to eight children, helped our dad run the farm, and was a fantastic grandmother to the large group of grandchildren that we gave her. I was thinking today of how she was, and why she still looms large in our family. It think it is because there were a few hard and fast "rules" she had. Not all of the rules were spoken, but nevertheless, they were known to all. Here are a few of which I was aware:

#1    People always want to eat, no matter what else is going on. Food matters. 
She was an accomplished cook. She fed all ten of us from her little kitchen, and every meal was a masterpiece. No, seriously...she prepared a balanced meal, every time. By balanced, I mean nutritionally, but I also mean visually. Each presentation was colorful, had a variety of textures, and was complete with side dishes, bread and butter, and dessert. Also, she knew that whoever showed up at our house, at whatever time of day, they would be hungry, and she was ready to deal with it. Inevitably, especially in summer, we'd be setting the table for dinner (the mid-day meal on a farm) and a car would enter our driveway, bearing cousins, or grandparents, or whoever...No problem, set another plate, slice more bread, get out another dish of pickled beets and we'll feed them.

Whenever a family member went to a special event, Mother would always want to hear about the meal served. And, frankly, when she went to something, the food was the highlight for her, too! Don't know why, but I guess if you're a fabulous cook, you always check out the competition.

#2   Always clean up, comb your hair, and wear your lipstick if you're leaving the house. 
My mother milked the cows every night until I was about seven years old. By then, my two older sisters were able to milk on their own. The evening milking was done by others, not Daddy, because he was busy in winter feeding hay to the other animals in the fields, and in summer he was irrigating. Also, my mother could, and did drive tractors, trucks, and helped herd horses, and cattle when necessary. BUT...if she was going to be leaving the farm, whether to teach Primary, attend Relief Society (both were weekday activities way back when) or just to drive to town to pick up a part for a piece of machinery, she "fixed" herself. She combed her hair neatly, she changed into clean clothes, she put on lipstick. Despite the fact that she might be just going right back out to that tractor, she wouldn't have dreamed of showing up in public without looking well-groomed and put together. One of my favorite times was Sunday, because she had matching earrings, shoes and purses for different seasons. She was classy looking. She held our whole family to this standard. If you were going to be out in public, you should dress for it. She felt it was just good manners.

#3  Be nice.
She was known as a smiling, cheerful person. She could strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere. When we were kids, my dad would often bring home people who were hitch hiking their way across America. It was the 1960s, and there were a lot of young people who thought that would be a great idea. The only thing they didn't know was, that, when you get to Wyoming, there are very large areas of nothing-ness. You can drive for several hours and not pass a town, a house, or any human habitation. Plus, it gets cold at night, even in July. Many people wandered through our small town, because it was a main route to Yellowstone Park. Whether they had a car or were just biking or hiking, by the time some of these vagabonds got to the highway in front of our farm, they were bedraggled. My mom would welcome them in, feed them a hearty meal. My dad would offer them a chance to earn a few dollars, helping around the farm, or they could trade their service for a tank of gas. But, while they were with us, they could regroup, and then Daddy would take them into town, where a ride would be more likely to be found. I brought home a couple of "long-haired weirdos" one time after high school, when I working in a resort town. They loved our place. They gobbled up the delicious farm food, and helped us haul hay, and then drove off the next day to continue their adventure. My parents had been so kind and welcoming while the "guests" were there, but quietly informed me to not hook up with "that type" ever again. But, my mother was always nice. You don't lose a thing when you're nice.

#4 Hard work won't kill you.
I know this, because if it did, my mother would have not live until she was 78 years old. She worked hard! She learned it as a child, too. Then, she grew up, and taught it to her children. Sometimes, it felt like we might die, but we never did. She had high standards of cleanliness. Every single day the living room was dusted, the floors were swept, the beds were made, the bathroom was cleaned. Someone had to sweep the porch, the steps and sidewalk.  Those "someones" were us children, because she was busy cooking, and doing laundry, and cleaning things that we weren't capable of doing to her standards. When I got my own house, I thought I'd just not be so militant about it. But, I quickly learned that unless you daily clean, you soon have a really dirty house. Oh. But, between the chickens, the cows, the dishes, the bathrooms, the floors, and the dusting, we all learned the satisfaction of a job well-done. And we learned that the world doesn't owe you a living, and if you do something, you should do it the best you can. This was drilled into each of us and, by gum, we've all turned out pretty well, and can take care of ourselves in this big old world. Plus, we learned how to raise our children with these same good habits.

I'm sure others who knew her could add to this list of "rules" but these are a few that represent her life to me. I had a really awesome childhood, growing up under the influence of Carol Haderlie Welch, and I want to pay tribute to her today.

 This is elementary school in Freedom, Wyoming.

 My parents, in their yard, before my dad got sick, probably the early 1970s. 

My sister Patricia, my mom, and me at Arlington National Cemetery, in the late 1990s. 

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Swimming...One of My Favorite Things


I love swimming. It is right up there at the top of my favorite things. When I was a little girl, we took swimming lessons every summer. I was terrible at it. It took me three years to pass off the first level. I just kept getting held back until I towered over the other kids in my class. Somehow, I couldn’t master the part about dipping my head in the water, exhaling, and then lifting it up to get another breath. Sigh…I still swim with my head out of the water. I still haven’t mastered that skill. But I don’t let it get in my way! If there is water, I want to be in it.

I grew up in the northwestern part of Wyoming—land of geysers. Every pool that I ever swam in was sourced from a hot spring that bubbled up from the thin crust of the earth there. Our pool for summer lessons was built around a sulfur hot spring, so we smelled like rotten eggs after swimming there. But–every scratch, scab, and injury that little kids acquire during the course of playing hard, would be healed up after an hour in that smelly pool.

When we married, CoolGuy was a Navy man, and we lived in California by the ocean. Wow, a gigantic, free swimming pool that splashed back at you. Actually, my first swim in the ocean was a wake-up call that Mother Nature is the boss. I picked a spot, waded out into the waves, and messed around a little, with my inadequate swimming skills. When I turned to look back at the shore, I was smacked by a wave, dragged up the beach, as the top half of my suit was pushed down around my waist. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to even stand up, because the effect of the waves rushing back and forth had me scrambling to get my footing, while I struggled to pull my clothing back into place. Aww, nature…it’s tougher than you are.

But, that didn’t put me off swimming in the ocean! I just learned to avoid certain spots. Not every beach is a good place to swim. There is hardly anything more delightful than floating off shore, just past the wave break, feeling the water moving past you, as you bob up and down. Pelicans fly by, kelp floats along tickling your legs. The salty taste is invigorating.

Now, I live in the desert. But, I remembered my friend’s advice from her college years in Arizona: you need a pool to survive desert summers. So, I do not have walk-in closets, nor granite counter tops, but I do have an in-ground pool, with a hot-tub. The moment it is warm enough to swim, I’m out there–every day. I have difficult feet, so running or jogging has never been an option. But, when you swim, feet don’t count. I swim early, I swim at night, I swim whenever I feel like it!

And, as an old lady, I have to say: you need a hot tub. Every night, all year round, we end our day by soaking in the warm, bubbly water. Last night, it was 40 degrees here in the Mojave Desert. I stepped outside in my thick robe, and looked down across the valley at the bright lights of the Strip. I slipped out of my robe, and stepped down into the steaming bubbles of the hot tub, and looked up at the stars. Orion was overhead to the south, Cassiopeia was off to the north. I could see Pleiades, and as I relaxed and let my eyes adjust, hundreds of other stars came into view. There is nothing so great as a big pool of water. Every care floats away. You’re one with nature. Sigh….my favorite thing.

 Me, in the Pacific Ocean: the way life ought to be.

 Even the grandchildren know that water is the best place for fun, too.

What to do when it is 112 degrees in the Mojave Desert.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Celebrating Christ In Music

On Sunday the hymns were from the Christmas song section of the hymnal.  YEAH! I love Christmas music, especially the hymns we sing. I also loved playing them when I was the organist for so many years. However, as I sang two of the songs yesterday, I realized that, although they start out celebrating the birth of Christ, the later verses are actually predicting and anticipating the Second Coming. But, in reality, one cannot discuss one event's significance without it leading to the other event. Christ was born so that He could be resurrected and return in glory to cleanse the earth.

The first song was "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear." This hymn was written in 1849, and addressed the difficulties of the changing world. The writer expressed his belief that the birth of Christ was not just a one time event, but something that has, or should have, ramifications continuously throughout history. In verse two, the writer expresses his belief that Christ's message is still being brought to us by angels who "float o'er all the weary world" to lift us with the hope of His Gospel. The third verse in our LDS hymn book then moves right into the prophecy of the Second Coming. The "days are hastening on" when we will welcome our Prince of Peace and the whole world will join together in song rejoicing, and we will answer the angels.

The next song that had a message of the Millennium was "Joy to the World." The arrangement we use in our LDS hymn book is by W.W. Phelps, who edited and printed Emma Smith's collection of hymns. He arranged a significant number of the hymns, altering the wording of some popular Christian hymns to reflect the unique doctrine of the restored gospel. The original words to "Joy to the World" were written by Issac Watts in the 1700's. Actually, his original title for it was "The Messiah's Coming and Kingdom" so that indicates that he, too, considered this hymn not just a "Christmas" song. Once you get past the first verse, it is obvious that, although this tune has become totally associated with Christ's birth celebration, the words are about the great event of the Lord's return to reign and rule in peace and glory for a thousand years.

 "No more will sin and sorrow grow, 
nor thorns infest the ground;
He'll come and make the blessings flow,"

But, don't you just love singing it? The first part is just a march down the scale, and then the chorus starts small, with the tenor and bass echoing the melody, until, at the end, we join our voices together in a final joyous shout.

I guess I'm going to need to take my Primary president's key and go over to the church one of these days with my hymn book, just to play Christmas songs on the organ. This will be the first year in a decade...really...that I haven't been the organist during the Christmas singing season at church. So, I'm just going to indulge my need. I should take CoolGuy with me---he loves Christmas hymns, too. What a lovely way to spend an hour, musically celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Horses, Horses



 I can't remember who this colt is, but the mare is Suzie. And that is me during high school.

I loved horses when I was growing up. I also was scared to death of them. They were beautiful, they were fun to ride, and they were terrifying. At least my dad's horses were terrifying to me. In our family, you were in the saddle before you could walk. A sister would hold you, while Mom led the horse around the barnyard, and then took your picture. We always had horses. In the summer, there was a horse tied up and saddled, next to the fence every day. I didn't have my own bike. I said that once to a friend when I was an adult. She looked at me sadly, acknowledging that indeed I did come from poor roots. But, hey! We had horses!Who needed a bike? There were actually more places to ride the horse, than to ride the bike. We did have a bike--it belonged to all of us. We rode it when we felt like it, and we rode a horse the rest of the time.

I'm probably about 15 months old in this shot, with my sister Connie.

 My dad holding a workhorse with the four "big sisters" and 
our little brother when he was about six months old.


One summer, a car pulled into our driveway. I didn't recognize the people, but my mother came outside and waved and gave the mother, who was behind the wheel, a big hug. We took the children, instructed by both mothers, for horse rides while my mom and her cousin (it turned out) talked and laughed for a bit. See, as this family had come down from the mountain pass that led into our little valley, the children were anticipating visiting some of their mom's family members. But, they were also longing to ride a horse. Apparently their relatives didn't have animals. So, the mother, mischievously said to her children, (knowing that within a couple of miles she would come around a curve and see her cousin's farm) "Okay, the next time we see some horses tied up to a fence at a house, we'll stop there, and ask if we can ride their horses." The children expressed their incredulity, and then their mother pointed out that RIGHT THERE were horses tied to the fence, with saddles already on them. She started to slow down, and her kids suddenly became hesitant to just stop in at total strangers and ask for a favor. But she turned into the driveway anyway. Now, the kids were just too embarrassed, and shrunk down in their seats. But! What's this? Their mom and this farm lady are hugging?? They had a great time riding our horses, and we thoroughly enjoyed sharing our best thing with them.

My dad loved beautiful horses. We had a mare that was part thoroughbred, and part quarter-horse. She was feisty. She scared me to death! Her leg had been injured in a cutter race, so we didn't ride her, which contributed to her flighty nature. But she made some beautiful off-spring. Men need a hobby and for my dad it was breeding beautiful horses. He'd pay big bucks (at the time) to hire a stallion, and then take Bo-Peep in his truck over to the romantic rendezvous. Each spring, we get a fantastic foal that pleased Daddy so much. Now, we weren't cowboys. We didn't have a big herd of cattle that someone needed to ride the range with; nor did we round-up and rope and brand calves out on the prairie. Milk cows are different. So, we did not need horses like a rancher might. But, beautiful horses was my dad's thing, so we always had four or five of them. He used them in the fall to go elk hunting. We children rode them during the summers for fun. He liked to show them off to his cousins who'd occasionally visit. He would sometimes sell one of the foals, and make a little profit. You know how some people just like having a collection of cool cars, or motorcycles, or a room full of fabric? Well, my dad had his horses.

This is Old Pal and I think the foal is Mickey.

We had Old Pal, a mare that could, and would, hold children from her neck to the tip of her tail. She would patiently allow the inexperienced to clamber aboard, and would walk along patiently keeping them seated. Or my dad could take her elk hunting in the fall, and ride her hard all day, pack out the elk quarters on her, and she would work for him like a champion. Her two off-spring were Mickey (a gelding) and Bo-Peep, a mare. Cutter racing was a big sport when I was child. Two-horse teams pulled a sled down the main street of one of the little towns. Bo-Peep had the legs and the speed, and a man convinced Daddy that she would do well with his horse in a team. Unfortunately, she was injured in a race (I don't know the circumstances, but I think my dad was upset with the driver's lack of judgement) and she was retired to be a broodmare. Her two daughters were Lindy and Susie. One spring, both Susie and Lindy were going to have foals. My dad told me that Lindy's would be mine. My own horse!! 

This is Suzie, patient as her grandmother, Old Pal.
Trish, Scott, Shelly, Daddy, Lorene, Lawrence

This is one of Old Pal's great-grandchildren, with a group of
mother's grandchildren piled on her, the way we used to pack ourselves on.

It was pretty amazing. Up till then, I was rather afraid of our horses. I'd had a few exciting experiences: hanging on for dear life when the mare I was riding decided to turn back and run for home because her nursing baby was back in the other field. Or the time my older sister and I packed a picnic lunch, and were going to ride Mickey up the field. However, he was very, very unhappy at the sound of the ice-cubes clanging against the side of the honey bucket we'd filled with water and tied on the saddle with the back strings. We just got through the barnyard gate, and was passing by some parked farm machinery, when he exploded in fury, in an attempt to get rid of that bouncing, clanging thing. We girls both flew off and landed on the ground, and I rolled under the drill to protect myself. He bucked like a rodeo champ, trying to throw off that noisy can. I can still picture his hoofs slamming into the dirt so close to my face, as I huddled under the edge of the overhanging seed buckets.

But, something about getting my own horse made it all different. First: he was just a little baby! He was small and not taller than me. After all, I could look over the top of a cow's back since I was about nine years old. And cows moved slowly. Horses were all legs and stepped lively. But, he seemed calmer than his fidgety mother. I'd read a lot of books about horses (well...ALL the books about horses in the town library...) and I had some ideas. I worked on gentling my colt (named Bucky) and over the course of a year, I'd taught him to come when I whistled, (I bribed him with grain), and to stand calmly while I touched him all over. He grew taller, but I didn't get frightened of him. We had an understanding. The winter he was two years old, I asked Daddy to let him stay with the calves in the field behind the barn, instead of going to the upper fields with the rest of the herd. During most winters, our horses just hung out with the cattle, living a herd life, eating hay daily when we took it to them. But they weren't "our" horses during those months--they became a little band of their own, with the oldest mare as the leader.

With Bucky available for me to talk to, pet, and bring grain snacks every day at milking time, he and I became a little team. I started to tie him up to the fence during milking, and I'd go out and talk to him, and touch his back, and lean on him. Eventually, I climbed the fence and sat on his trembling back very gently. I did this every day until he didn't care anymore. Then, I introduced the saddle blanket, then the saddle, then I cinched it up. Then, I sat on the saddle. All of this was done gradually over the Christmas break,and through the January evenings while we were outside anyway. Finally, at the end of February, when the sunlight isn't gone so early, I had my dad lead me around the barnyard. Bucky was very nervous, walking with that saddle and a 14 year old girl on his back. But, he calmed down when I talked to him. Daddy led me through the gate, so that I could ride him in the pasture, which was three feet deep in snow at that point. Bucky and I rode like that for several weeks, and by the time the snow melted, he was completely comfortable with me climbing up in the saddle and riding him wherever I chose.

I know it sounds like a Laura Ingalls Wilder book, or maybe something by Walter Farley. But, seriously, I just was so obsessed with having my own horse, that I was determined to really make him mine. I've reflected on this two year period, and realized that having my horse helped me to grow up. At the same time I was taming and training Bucky, I was also in Junior High School. Now--picture this: very tall, skinny, knocked-kneed girl with ugly corrective shoes. She is now entering a school with about 250 other students, of whom she only knows about 25. And, although she knows them, and can chat and say "hi" she really doesn't have a "friend"---yes, I did not know anyone who I could say was my "BFF." I was friendly, but not in a group. I look back and realize that I preferred reading books all the time, and that I tended to be a know-it-all because I'd read so many books. I wasn't shy about sharing my knowledge. I was taller than most of the boys, and I milked cows every day. I wore my sisters' hand-me-down dresses, which had been fine up till then. However, fashion changed dramatically in the middle of Junior High, and now my clothes were so last decade. Sigh. Plus...who among us has ever felt "cool" at that age?? (I also realized as an adult that NO ONE loves Jr. High.) So, at school, I was always embarrassing myself by talking too much, or by not having anyone to sit by at lunch, or by getting caught reading a book in my lap, when I should have been paying attention to the teacher.

BUT! At home, I was a confident horse trainer! I helped my parents milk cows, feed chickens, gather and sort the eggs, feed the calves, help with younger siblings, and generally be a competent contributor to our family. I was a decent student. I got good grades. I had writing skills...math?...not so much. But, when I wasn't at school, I lived in a world that brought me a great deal of satisfaction, all thanks to my horse, and the cows, and even the dopey chickens.

See, this is my plan for the little gangsters I see roaming the big city where I now live. They get into gang life for real around middle school age. They're looking for a purpose in life. They need a team, they need to feel value in their existence. School work? Maybe not...It's hard to care about the "author's purpose" when you don't read that well, your parents don't read English at all, and your hormones are telling you that you need to go and show off for the girls. But...if some of these kids had a group of calves to take care of, or a car to fix, or a horse to train, maybe then they could channel some of the youthful enthusiasm into a positive place, and they wouldn't need the fake validation of gangster life.

Here are some more horse photos. I'd post one of Bucky, but I do not think I own one of him. He was a beautiful buckskin, with a black mane and tail. We looked good together.

There are many more horse stories. Someday I might tell them. The horses were just part of the family.

This mare is BoPeep (see her damaged front knee), and I think that foal is Suzie. 
Stanford, Baby Scott, Lawrence, Daddy, Connie

This is Trish and Suzie in 1971.
Trish was the Lincoln County Fair Queen,
and she and Suzie attended rodeos and
 parades all over the area. Suzie loved to barrel race.

This is me in December 1964, before my colt, Bucky,
was born that spring. I'm the flagpole girl on the left.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Our Best Friends

Naturally, I'm talking about pets! There just isn't anything more satisfying than having an animal that loves you. Well, it's not necessarily obvious that cats love us, but they still desire our attention, and hang out with us, on their terms, of course. I'm thankful for all the animals I've known in my life.

I started out talking about pets...but I also mean all the farm animals that I interacted with in my childhood and teenager years, too. Some of our cows had vivid personalities. Gyp: a Guernsey who had an obsession with being the first cow into the milking barn each night. She'd plow through the herd, knocking over any inattentive humans in her determination to step through the door before any other animals did. Sheesh....her stall was # 5 or #6, I forget. No, we humans did not assign the stalls. The cow hierarchy did that. Goldie and Jewel were in #1 and #2. They were the purebred Guernseys my dad and mom brought over as calves from central Wyoming when they moved to our farm in 1953. I was 10 days old. They'd been working on a big dairy farm in Kinnear (near Riverton) and decided that it was too far from "home"--Star Valley. So, they packed up their three girls and returned to their home town and started a little farm of their own. Those two calves were the basis of their herd. They acquired some Jerseys, and a couple of Holsteins, and then my dad loved adding other breeds like Brown Swiss, milking shorthorn, and once we had a red Holstein, I think.

Anyway, contrary to any perception one might have of docile dairy animals, our milk cows had a complex social order. There were the head honchos and their best buddies, and then there were the lesser, not-as-cool cows. It was weird to learn about, but vital, because you did a lot better when you knew what the Cow Rules were. They are big, and generally calm, but you cannot win if you decided to mess up the "correct order" of events in a cow's daily schedule.

One of these cows was a Jersey named Malice. My sister, just 15 months younger than me, had made a pet out of her. I don't recall the beginnings of this amazing friendship. But it was true blue. Malice had a weird mannerism of letting her tongue flop out of the side of her mouth when she was hanging around, sometimes during cud chewing. Sometimes, it also was a greeting to my sister. And Malice had to be acknowledged, petted, and admired before she would go into the barn. If my sister was holding her cat (another weirdo) when Malice approached for loving, then the cow would shove the cat out of her arms to the ground, and thrust her own cowy head into my sister's grasp. Malice liked to lick my sister's head when she sat and milked her each night. They call an uncontrolled swirl of hair a "cowlick" because, not even Gorilla Snot hair gel can match the power of cow saliva to push one's hair into a position that can only be undone in the shower with shampoo. But you KNOW you are loved when your pet cow licks the side of your head while you milk her.

Our barn cats were pretty fabulous, too. They kept the mice population under control in the grain storage area, and we treated them with warm, foamy milk each night for supper and each morning for breakfast. And they were a teensy bit spoiled, I believe, because when the foam had melted, and the milk in their little pan was cooled off, they would merely sniff at it, and walk away. By then, it was only good enough for the dog. We had a large family of barn cats. They all had crazy names, and interesting personalities to go with it.
And none of them would have ever allowed us to carry them into the house. They were BARN cats, and they only allowed human interaction during milking time. Hug and pet them at that time, the rest of the day, leave them alone.

We had several dogs on our farm, too. The first one I remember was just called Dog. I have no idea his breed, he was large, black and brown, with flopped over ears, and a big bushy tail. He supervised EVERYTHING. He helped round up the milk cows each morning and evening. He followed us around while we hauled hay. He was at my dad's heels as he did all the stuff I never knew about on the farm. Dog was our loyal friend. One day, he disappeared and my dad went out in the truck after 12 hours to look for him. Apparently, Dog had followed the pickup truck part way up the highway, as he often did, but when he turned back to go home, he had been struck by a vehicle. My dad found him lying in the road ditch, alive, but unable to move his hind-quarters. Dog was very excited to be rescued. We fed him, and petted him, and laid him on the straw in the central part of the barn, where the burlap bags of cow grain were stored. Each day, my dad would pick him up and carry him out into the sunshine, so he could lie just in front of the barn and survey his kingdom.

One evening, there was a newborn calf in the center place, because that is where they went after the first 24 hours with their mothers. Then, we fed them their mother's milk for a couple of months, in a bucket, because she was producing far more than one calf could consume. Well, as we brought the cows into the barnyard for the evening's milking, the new mother went over to the doors, behind which she could smell her new baby. The mother cow began to moo to her infant. Remember stupid Gyp from the previous paragraph? Well, another of her weird quirks was claiming every new calf as her own, so she, too, pushed up against the real mother so that Gyp could bawl piteously also, at the baby on the other side of the center doors.  Unfortunately, the two cows were now standing right next to the disabled dog. He barked at them, and growled, in a warning to watch out, I guess. But dopey Gyp took it into her head to get aggressive right back. She put her head down, and started to butt and maul our poor, crippled Dog. He howled and barked, and squirmed around. I could see this happening and so I grabbed a shovel and ran over to chase away the aggressor cow. I yelled and waved and pounded her, and my sister and little brother grabbed Dog and pulled him away. My mother, hearing the commotion, had run out of the house with the broom in her hand to help us do whatever it was we needed done. This whole episode lasted fewer than a couple of minutes, but it really got the whole barnyard stirred up good! Seriously, Gyp was not my favorite cow.

Sometime later, a few days, a few weeks, I forget, but we accidentally dropped Dog one evening as we picked him up to carry him back inside after the milking was finished. He cried, and we were so sorry, and petted and loved him up. But---the next morning when we went to the barn to greet him and then go out to get the cows for the morning milking---he was up on all fours, tail wagging, and whimpering to be let out to go get those dumb cows with us! I guess whatever structural defect had been done by the original injury, was cured by our dropping him the night before! It was weird...But the best part was when we went out for the cows. By this time, weeks and weeks with no dog, they'd become very blase about our efforts to nudge them out of the feed mangers and down from the pasture edges to go to the barn. At first, I'd whistle for the dog, knowing he couldn't come, but the cows didn't know that. They'd look around and step lively toward the gate, not wanting to get a nip on the ankle. But about a week into Dog's injury, the cows had figured it out, and they no longer fell for the "whistle" or any other dog-related threat. But that morning! When we went out to their pasture, and I called out, "Get 'em boy!" and there was actually a black furry creature trotting alongside me, suddenly those cows were all obedient again. Ha ha! It was great! Sadly, our dear old doggy friend died several years later, mysteriously shot in our big field. My dad thought it was probably the work of someone attempting to steal gas from the tractors. We missed him. We had another couple of farm dogs while I was a teenager, but Dog was a legend.

Barn cats, surveying their kingdom from the palace loft.


Part 2 tomorrow: more animal love.