There is nothing quite like a town kid coming to the country, especially in the summertime. The lessons learned, on both sides of this fence, may be humorous and luminous, shining a light on two very different ways of looking at the very same thing.
I remember so many times when one of us would invite a kid home for an overnight stay. The question would always come up, “Well, is she going to help with chores?”
It would be one of those moments when the rest of the gang would figuratively be crossing their fingers and toes, in hopes that the answer would be, “Nah, she’s not much interested in barn stuff … ”
But, nine times out of 10, those townie friends felt compelled to see what we did with about 90% of our lives, so tagging along to the barn was expected. At least once. And once just might prove to be enough.
The milk cows, ever on alert for rookies in the milking parlor, acted like Nervous Nellies when a town kid helped. It was an experience filled with utter disdain for us all. If this were a script, it would have “bad day” written all over it — in capital letters.
I laughed out loud last night when I read, again, Haven Kimmel’s memoir, which everyone should read at least once, titled “A Girl Named Zippy.” Zippy grew up in Indiana in an area so much like my own small hometown that a part of me thinks we are linked in some cosmic way. Zippy was the “town kid” who constantly yearns to spend time on her friend Julie’s farm.
When Julie’s mom stops to get her daughter’s town friend, the first question out of Zippy’s mouth was, “What are we gonna do today?”
Julie shrugs, which could mean a lot of things. Kimmel writes, “It could mean she had 62,000 chores and I was going to help with every one. It could mean we were going to ride horses or else take her new moped out around the countryside. It could mean her bedroom needed painting and if I didn’t work fast enough she’d give the raised middle-finger punch on the upper arm that left a bruise for days. Or her shrug could mean nothing. It could mean she didn’t know and since we were only going to the best place on the earth, where every single minute of every day was different, and filled with promise, what the heck difference did it make what we were gonna do.”
What they ended up doing was taking a lazy walk “on their own feet” since Julie’s horse was injured from their last big adventure, and suddenly found themselves in a tricky situation, between a bleating calf that thought it was lost, and a mama heifer who saw the two girls as a threat of mythical proportions. The two girls quickly scrambled up a tree, staying there for hours while the mama cow turned into a weapon of mass destruction, pawing at the ground beneath the tree that housed them.
Zippy began believing that she and her friend would have to live in that tree until it was time to slaughter that calf, or until after it made the rounds at the 4-H fair. But what really incensed her most was that they were stuck in a tree with nothing to do while the whole world of a farm was out there, waiting for them to discover it.
Julie’s older brother eventually comes to their rescue, waving and hollering and acting the fool so that the heifer chases him around, allowing the girls to make their escape. They jumped from the tree and took a shortcut through the pig pen, landing in sloppy goo.
When they came out on the other side, Zippy realized she had neither shoes nor socks on her feet. A glance back over her shoulder in search of her slippery saddle shoes, “And there they were, stuck like bones in a tar pit, sinking. A pig walked over and picked up one of the socks, carried it away like a to-go order,” Kimmel writes.
Reading all of this makes me wonder what kind of impression our farm left on so many friends over the years.
I recall one girl who nearly passed out when I reached down and picked up a dead runt piglet while the sow screamed in a way that was infinitely worse than fingernails scraping a chalkboard. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Dana yelled over that screeching sound.
“Gonna throw it on the dead spot,” I answered nonchalantly. “You can come with me and see it if you want to.”
I’m not sure what happened next. Dana either passed out or ran away. I just know that when I returned from the back lot, she was nowhere to be found.
The next time she spent the night, she was too busy to help with chores. Imagine that!
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