I long ago asked why the bull had a ring in its nose. I was told, simply, to never get close enough to find out. Without a word said, it was Mary Lou Moffett who answered that question for me, and it is something I will never, ever forget.
A hard-working woman who raised five kids, worked a full-time job off the farm while milking cows twice a day, Mary Lou never seemed to take a break. In my memory, the only time she seemed to sit still was when the adults got together to play cards after the evening milking was done for everyone.
The Moffett kids, the Banks kids and the Young kids all would go outside to play, and for the longest time I thought those kids were our cousins. The 14 of us kids, all close in age, were as connected as family back in those early days of our childhood.
Everything seemed larger than life on the Moffett farm: horses, garden, hogs, even their dogs, which were enormous but gentle Saint Bernards.
When a new litter was born, we couldn’t wait to go see the big pups. So, it struck a chord with all of us kids way back then when we heard a snippet of conversation that conveyed how lucky Mary Lou had been.
“It’s a darn good thing that bull had the ring, or we would be going to a funeral,” I heard my dad say.
Never one to pass up an opportunity to teach farm safety, Dad told us what had happened. Mary Lou had been knocked down by the herd bull, taking her off guard. She found herself under the huge, raging beast. As the bull lowered his head to batter her repeatedly, she didn’t give up. Finally, she was able to get a tight grip on the bull’s nose ring. She had the strength to just keep pulling, steadily turning the tables on just who was in charge.
With that single ring, she was able to wrestle the bull down, while pulling herself up off the bullpen floor. While the bull certainly wondered what hit him, Mary Lou bolted from the pen, having just saved her own life with strength, presence of mind and sheer determination.
The symbolism of grabbing the brass ring took on whole new meaning. Many years later, I had the chance to sit with Mary Lou on bleacher seats while her granddaughter and my daughter played on a softball team together.
We talked about lots of things, but I told her my memory will forever be emblazoned with the day she wrestled a huge bull and won, beating all odds of survival. She smiled, nodded her head, chuckled a bit and said, “Yeh, I remember that day.”
She shrugged it off as if it were no big deal. Mary Lou prevailed, as she always managed to do. She impressed everyone who knew her, and her late husband Don had given her the nickname “Dusty” because she was always working so hard and moving so fast to get it all done that there was forever a trail of dust in her wake.
This past week, not feeling well, Mary Lou headed to the hospital to get some lab work done. She died suddenly in a single-car accident. It was, as so many people have said, the only way Mary Lou was ever going to be stopped.
The outpouring of love from a community was apparent as people stood in long lines to pay their respects. Her grandchildren said all of their memories are good ones, and friends and neighbors agree.
Her grandchildren each told sweet stories of a woman who cared deeply, loved cooking great dishes for them, and kept the refrigerator stocked with their favorites. She listened with an open heart, never making them feel their concerns were inconsequential. She welcomed great-grandchildren in the last few years of her life.
Each Thanksgiving, she made not one turkey but two, so that everyone could take some home.
When she went to a care center after hip surgery awhile back, it was a veiled blessing to her family because, for once, they knew where to find her, and they had good, long conversations because her surgery had forced her to be still.
I thought of Mary Lou, her love of gardening and farming, when I read this Abraham Lincoln quote: “Die when I may, I want it said of me by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.”