I always wanted to play school with my younger brothers after Frank and Margaret caught the bus out front. I was too young for school but the oldest one at home and momma depended on me to help with my three younger brothers. She would allow the two older ones to go outside to play and Buck stayed inside because he was not yet a year old, and because I was the oldest I got to make the rules. That’s just how it is.
Neither Henry nor Johnny were very cooperative in my class room, but that was okay because having never been in a school room myself I had no idea what to expect. It was enough just to say I was the teacher and boss them around. Johnny took bossing a lot better than Henry, maybe it was the difference in their ages.
We lived on White’s Farm, right out of McKinney Texas, and it was a wonderful place for little kids! We had a large barn behind the house and all sorts of pens, animals and farm implements. We even had a tall fuel pump that daddy had to keep locked, otherwise we were sure to fill something up!
We weren’t bad kids, in fact we were pretty good. It was just that there were so many of us there was a lot of things going on at all times.
Daddy raised sheep for Mr White. He cut and bailed hay in the summer and he drilled wheat seed or planted rye grass when it was cold.
In the spring there were a lot of people who came to the farm, riding on big flatbed trucks, to shear the sheep. At the end of the day they hauled away huge stacks of fluffy smelly wool. There was always something going on at the farm.
Sheep are really dumb animals and sometimes they got through the fences and ate the green wheat and would bloat up. If daddy didn’t catch them quickly enough, they would die. This happened a few times and occasionally he would bring in a hungry lamb that had to be bottle fed.
Daddy kept a herd of milk goats primarily to feed the orphan lambs but we drank it and momma put it in a baby’s bottle for Buck.
It was funny to watch daddy make a mother goat accept an orphaned lamb and he always turned the job over to us once he got the initial introduction over with.
I learned to milk the goats because it was so much more fun to feed the lambs with a bottle and daddy didn’t care, just as long as they got fed. Besides, the goat objected less to being milked than to a strange lamb hanging to a teat.
Johnny didn’t talk very well but he named the lambs. They were all named Judy.
On Sundays we always had company and usually daddy’s youngest brother Wallace brought his family after church.
Uncle Wallace was a Baptist preacher, Aunt Othello was the Sunday school teacher and they usually turned up for momma’s Sunday dinner, which was always fried chicken and biscuits as big as a man’s hand. She always served cream gravy, mashed potatoes and gallons of grape Kool-Aid for the kids and sweet tea for the grownups.
Uncle Wallace was pretty flamboyant and he did everything in a big way. It really showed one Sunday when they came for dinner, driving a beautiful new 1956 Cadillac, Tittie Pink according to Aunt Othello, and a convertible to boot!
At some point during dinner daddy thought it was time to bring Aunt Othello down a notch.
“You walkin’ in tall cotton Thell’ a titty pink Cadillac and goat gravy on yer biscuits.”
Aunt Othello was skinny as a rail, all because she was real particular about what she ate, and she’d tell anyone that listened, she hated goats!
I think the Good Lord must have been on daddy’s side that day because Aunt Othello jumped up and ran out on the front porch, saying she was about to puke.
All we heard was a scream and a whole lot of words that I don’t think she learned in church.
All of the milk goats were out of the pen and were either on or in the Titty Pink Cadillac, or they were contemplating how to get there.
Uncle Wallace said one of the goats had head butted his hubcaps, but I didn’t see that.
Aunt Othello claimed one of the goats chewed up her Sunday school jacket. I didn’t see that either but with those goats, it was possible.
Momma was so mad at daddy for telling that the gravy was made with goats milk, which it was, she said she was not making gravy, ever again.
The next week daddy brought home a cow and soon we had a beautiful black calf. Johnny named the calf Judy. At age two, his vocabulary was a bit limited and he kept it simple. He named everything Judy.
A week or so after the calf was born, daddy separated them before he would leave on the tractor. This would keep the calf from sucking and right after lunch momma go out to milk the cow, getting at least a gallon of fresh milk before she let turned the bawling calf back in to nurse.
Every morning after daddy left, the three of us would go feed the little black calf a bottle of warm goat’s milk. It sure made that calf happy and he got fat like a pig!
It didn’t take us long before we had that calf tamed and he would follow us all around the barnyard. We would have tamed the cow but we’d seen how momma had to put shackles on her legs to keep her from kicking the milk bucket over. She scared us just enough we stayed away from her, besides, she wasn’t a bit cute!
The sun was shining that day when we were playing school and I decided we needed a roof on the school house we had made out of hay bales in the barnyard.
Black Judy was following us around expecting another bottle of milk when I saw just what we needed!
Henry and Johnny help me drag the wooden cover off the cistern and the three of us managed to lift it up to sit perfectly on the walls we had made with hay bales.
The walls were only one bale high and I decided the roof would make an excellent second floor school room instead.
The three of us were on the cover watching Judy flounce around. Anyone who has seen a calf playing knows what I mean. Calves will flounce and bounce like a rubber ball with legs, and this is what Judy was doing when he got too close to the cistern.
The cistern was made with rock walls that came above the ground, waist high to me at that time and it set in the barnyard, in plain view of the kitchen window. Momma could keep an eye on us from inside but I guess she had too much to do that morning or she would have seen what was fixing to happen!
We watched in big eyed wonder as Black Judy bounced right up on the rock wall and then flipped head first, right over and out of sight.
We heard the splash and then we heard Judy’s choked cries from way down in the ground!
Momma came running out the back door as soon as she heard us screaming and Buck was riding on one hip like a little bull rider.
She pushed me away from the cistern and told me to take Buck, “Take the boys and go get your daddy!”
She straddled the rock wall and turned to me one last time.
“Go get your daddy! NOW!”
Momma braced herself and walked down the rock wall, stepping from one side to the other, all the way down to where poor little Judy was desperately trying to swim.
The last time I looked, momma was all the way down in the well, chest deep in water and she was hugging Judy close.
I’m sure when she looked up and saw me looking over the wall, with Buck on my skinny little hip, she was surely horrified!
It was like a shriek from the bowels of hell and it got me moving!
Daddy was on the tractor about a quarter of a mile away and to get to where he was, I had to carry Buck and get the other two boys to follow me across a shallow stream.
Henry had Johnny by the hand and was having to drag him every step of the way. Johnny was set back, heels dug in like a little mule, determined not to leave momma in the cistern. Henry dragged Johnny and I toted Buck, first on one hip and then the other.
We made it all the way to the stream and that’s when Johnny forgot his worries about momma. It was a good place to unload my fat baby brother and take a breather.
I don’t know how long we were distracted at the stream. Henry threw some rocks, Johnny tried to catch a frog and Buck got wet before I remembered what we were supposed to be doing.
I could see daddy in the distance and we zigzagged across the open pasture, following as the tractor moved one way and then the opposite, before daddy saw us coming.
Daddy made a quick turn and drove to meet us, knowing something was wrong at home. He loaded all of us up onto the tractor, Buck on one knee, Johnny on the other. Henry and I hung on to the fenders from either side and we rode back to the barn as fast as daddy thought he could go without losing one of us.
Daddy dropped a rope down and momma managed to tie it around Black Judy and he was pulled out kicking and bawling. He dropped the rope again and momma tied it around her chest and then she walked from side to side up the rock wall to the top.
Momma was very pretty with red hair and green eyes but she looked more like a refugee from a ship wreck, soaking wet and chilled to the bone.
“Those kids were gone for hours!”
Oh boy! Momma was cat spitting mad, something we were not used to seeing. Daddy got mad a lot, but not momma.
“Now Faye, it just seemed like a long time.”
Henry and I were the only two who could tell how we got sidetracked and we weren’t talking.
Momma didn’t do the milking that day. Daddy dropped the calf in with the cow and let momma have the rest of the day off.
He kept saying she needed to just get in a warm bed so she didn’t lose the baby, which was confusing to me because Buck was right there, no way lost.
I never asked questions and my parents were always saying odd things.
Momma and daddy left one night and Ms White stayed with us after they said they were “going to get a baby.”
They come home later with Buck and I always imagined they picked him out of a display case, just like choosing a rump roast.
Daddy once said something about one of the goats finding a kid. I looked several times and had no idea where a goat would find a kid!
So his comment about losing the baby was just confusing too me.