I never intended to be a farmer. I was going to major in business and live in a big city like Dallas.
I was raised on a farm that has been in my family for over 100 years. My dad worked for the U. S. Department of Agriculture, taught a Veteran’s class at night and raised cows. Being the youngest of four and the only girl, I didn’t have to do a lot of farm chores, the boys got to do that. Mainly, my chores were to care for the zoo that Dad allowed me to keep.
There were times that he would make me “work” too. I went to the hay field a few times to do something… I’m still not sure what. I was too small to load hay bales and too young to drive. I carried water and whined as much as I could without get my jaws slapped. I often checked cows with him, but I was scared to death of them and he carried me on his shoulders until I was about 13.
When I was 16, my brother James went to college leaving me the only kid left at home. This is when I became Dad’s farm helper. I checked cows for him when he couldn’t and helped him feed in the winter. I helped him get the cows up and “work” them, which might include vaccinating them, medicating them for various ailments, worming them, getting them up to sell, etc. My dad had zero patience with cows and most of the time zero patience with me. He had one hell of a temper and it was always a good idea to do exactly what he said.
The most memorable cow experience we had was once when we were getting cows up to send to the sale barn. We had a Hereford cow that was a little high headed (wild and mean) that he wanted to send. Our corral was at the corner of the barn. We would get the cows in the barn lot and then separate them. The ones we wanted to keep, got turned out and the ones we wanted to sell got put in the corral.
The said Hereford decided she didn’t want to go. I let her get past me a couple of times. This meant she was running around like a wild animal and not going toward the corral and I was letting her. I was 17 or 18 by this time and still had a respectful fear of cows. Dad was livid. His face and bald head were red as red can be, and I still remember his exact words. “RENO! What the hell are you doing? Whatever you do, do NOT let that damn bitch by you again! Do you understand me??” Me: “Yes, Sir I do.” And I did…
As he brought her around the barn again, my job was to stand in an opening to keep her from going through. She was running at top cow speed and I got down in the defensive stance I had learned from playing basketball. I was NOT moving, she was not going around me again. As she got closer I held my ground. When she was within about 4’ of me Dad started yelling again. “SISTER, get the hell out of the way!!!” I never moved and by the grace of God, she turned and we got her in.
Once the dust settled, I thought I had done good. She was penned up and Jim Baxter would be to pick her up shortly. I was wrong. Apparently, I had scared my dad so bad he couldn’t speak for several minutes. When he finally did, he asked me what I was thinking by not getting out of the cows path. There was a lot of cursing in there too. Since I was his child, I replied “YOU said NOT to let the damn bitch by again, and I DIDN’T!” He just shook his head.
When Phil and I bought our farm in 1988, Dad gave us our first two heifers. We still have descendants of one of them and it has been nearly 30 years. When we first got cows, Phil told me that I would never know they were there, that he would take care of everything. That didn’t last long.
That first spring/summer when he got so busy with the watermelons, I got the job of checking the cows and I’ve been doing it ever since. I check them daily. I talk to them, walk around and through them. My face is typically the first human the babies see. Phil does the hard stuff like pulling a calf that can’t be born on its own, giving shots, untangling wire from around a leg, etc… but typically I’m right there with him. He puts the hay out in the winter. He won’t show me how to do it, because he says if I can feed them on my own I will have no use for him. They bring me a lot of joy and sometimes a lot of sadness.
This morning Phi and I got calves up to sell, my least favorite thing. Phil is much calmer than Dad was and for the most part our cows are pretty easy to handle. Very seldom when we get the cows up do I not think about my dad. He loved living on a farm and having cows. He was raised a “town” kid in Ash Flat and he wanted nothing more than to live on a farm.
A few weeks before he died I was visiting him in the nursing home. The nursing home can be seen from the school so I was there often. On this particular day he started talking about my brothers and me. He was talking about the things my brothers had done and the all the things they had accomplished in their careers. When he came to me, he paused. This made me so nervous, I was so sure I had been his biggest disappointment. He looked up at me with those blue eyes sparkling and said, “Then there’s you. I have 3 boys and you, my only girl, turned out to be my farmer! You turned out good Reno!”
Only because of you Dad. You gave me the best gifts of all, the love of the outdoors and animals. You taught me to care and respect nature and the land. You taught me in you own way that I can find God among the trees if I will just stop and look. You taught me to be independent and stand up for what I believe in. You taught me to love deeply and that when you love someone so much, you will grieve for them everyday they are gone. You also taught me to curse like a madwoman, but we won’t get into that!
This is absolutely not the post I intended to write today. In my head, it was going to be a short blurb about farming and mostly about running and some of the new things I am doing. I guess I will have to save that one for later… it has just occurred to me that Sunday is Father’s Day and that I’m missing someone a little more than usual today.
Run happy. Be fierce. Hug your daddy if you can.