By Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)
Chapter 23 - Barn Life
Copyright Scott Dunbar 2010
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Our introduction to barn activities began appropriately early. Father’s farm experience was probably to blame for that and we had at least one tenant in our stable all the time to answer the barnyard roll. They were respectively Puss, Barney and Dock, (horses) and Bossy, the cow that presented us with calico calves at due intervals. At least one of these potential dairies was sent to boarding school at an early age and when she returned, Maynard who was an active boy at that time, served as her personal escort. On that five-mile jaunt he had enough acrobatics to satisfy his ambitions for the remainder of his youth.
The Johnsons owned a dairy farm near Springfield and were friends of our parents. Mrs. Johnson was a Bostonian and belonged to the Saturday Club of which Mother was a member. The farm and its owners were charming to me chiefly because, in their small parlor at Springbrook, musical instruments stood temptingly about: a violin, a cello and a piano. On the few occasions when I visited the farm, I walked about yearning for some one to play on them, but no one ever divined my wish and I was too bashful to express it. I preferred the house to the outdoors too, because their mammoth bull, modestly christened Springfield, had glanced my way as he stood tied to a post in their side yard. Large animals like oversized people always impressed me with my own insignificance.
When our Bossy’s offspring Daisy reached nursery school age, the Johnsons took over her education, and after several months of sporting freedom, Father sent Maynard out to bring her home. Sometimes I have been led to wonder if Maynard hadn’t been so full of energy that Father with malice aforethought planned to tire him out. Father had given him minute instructions as to the course he was to follow and the Saturday was young when Maynard set out for the Johnson farm. It was a good trek and he enjoyed his freedom as he walked along the country road. Drivers were genial and lifted their hands in a friendly gesture as they drove past him. He arrived in good fettle and after a short chat with the Johnsons and a cool glass of buttermilk in the springhouse, Mr. Johnson turned the re-conditioned Daisy over to his care.
Mr. Johnson was a keen and understanding person, well versed in the idiosyncrasies of the animal kingdom, domestically speaking.
“I’m afraid you may have trouble with Daisy. She’s very lively. I could bring her in the wagon sometime next week if you are not in a hurry for her.”
“Thank you, Mr. Johnson, but I think Father might not like it as long as he sent me especially to get her today.”
Mr. Johnson agreed and immediately set to work helping him fix the leading string around the calf’s neck so it would not hurt her. Maynard led Daisy out on the country road, Mr. Johnson walking beside her. As Brother turned his steps toward town, he lifted his cap to wave at Mrs. Johnson in the garden. At that instant Daisy decided to rush the bushes at the side of the road. The rope slipped from his hand and it was nip and tuck for a while. Mr. Johnson was coming to his rescue when Maynard with soft blandishments coaxed the playful creature near enough to permit him to grab the leash again. It was not a reassuring start. Up to that moment, Maynard’s experience with Daisy had been largely confined to barn projects. He had taught her to nurse and summed it up as follows:
“First I pulled her ears out to make her suck, then I pulled her tail out to make her stop.”
When she was weaned he had tutored her in the art of receiving nourishment from a pail by immersing his foot in the bran-milk mixture, then coaxing her to suck it from his big toe. Today, this did not seem to be the baby calf he had so tenderly nurtured. Only those who have had intimate, first-hand acquaintance with a calf can visualize the antics she cut. She tugged like a mule and leapt like a goat, then she zigzagged over the road back and forth, till Mayne’s arms were fairly jerked from their sockets. Their total forward progress was slower than a snail’s speed. Mother and Father estimated that, while the distance from the Johnson farm was a short five miles, if Brother had worn a pedometer the hand would have climbed to three times the actual mileage through Daisy’s crossing and dashing back over the highway. Pulling in the tether would not have registered on the meter but it certainly did on Maynard’s arm sockets and neither Mother nor Father laughed as he doffed his clothes and fell into bed while the sun shone brightly, too tired to eat or care. His sleep was so deep that Father decided he had exacted too much, though he did not admit it at the time.
The stable that housed Daisy was of very ordinary planning and construction. It had none of the charm of a big active barn on a farm. It was merely an overgrown shed, the small-town storehouse for unused tools and harness plus an animal or two. There were two stalls and a buggyshed, with one general room over which the hayloft perched. The nicest thing about our barn was that it smelled of sweet clover hay Father stored for the animals. The barn’s real drawing-power was on rainy days in summer. Then we played in the loft. The only window upstairs faced the street; it was probably four feet wide and five feet tall and on a level with the floor. It may have had a glass door but if so it was rarely closed and how we managed to keep from falling out, I do not know. We had to climb through a hole to reach the loft and that opening may have served to warn us because we had to guard against falling through it constantly and one more dangerspot made little difference. The small slanting-roofed building stood within a few feet of the Market Street fence and just opposite it was a gate through which vehicles were driven. Mary was an ardent barn advocate and whenever we had extra playmates we did stunts there. We had a bar over which we skinned the cat, and jumping in the hay from a height was a popular sport.
One day when the barn had lured us to show off for cousin Roy, Mary, by her confidence drew a dare from him.
“I’ll bet you’re too scared to jump from the loft out the window,”
“I am not.”
“All right then prove it.”
The young male scornfully challenged her.
Mary was slightly daunted. She knew the loft was much higher than it looked and landing on the ground was not so easy as falling on the soft hay. Boys had to have everything proven and, in spite of a fear that Roy might think her scared, she hesitated.
“Mary, Mary, can’t take a dare.
“She kills a sheep and eats its hair,”
That settled it.
“All right, you just watch and see. As soon as that wagon gets opposite the barn I’ll show you whether I’m afraid.”
Mary bellowed, gathering her powers for the test. Surely enough when the wagon passed the line Mary standing in the loft let fly.
She had planned to hit a grassy spot just below the window but in her haste, she jumped further out and landed on a hard clay bed. He knees drove up and cracked her chin and the force of the thud released countless stars before her eyes. The passing teamster stopped, spat and called out in a wheezing voice,
“Come her little girl, and I’ll pick you up.”
The smart remark brought Mary back to her senses with a snap and as she rose to her feet, her temper flared forth. Mary’s wrath was something to reckon with for while it lasted it blazed with a golden fury.
“You nasty, stinking, dirty, old dog,”
She said, pulling out her best composite of permissible profanity. Tears of rage blinded her eyes as she looked at the wagon lumbering down the road.
Her legs felt trembly but she had fulfilled her pledge and she turned to crow over the teasing relative who had thrown out the challenge. As first she couldn’t find him, as she looked the landscape over. He had vanished utterly. Then down at the edge of the garden she spied him scaling the fence. Words were inadequate and for a second or two she watched him with contemptuous silence.
“Never mind, you did it anyway,”
I said offering a bit of the balm of Gilead (whatever that was). My mind was at last beginning to function. Though I couldn’t have been tempted to risk my bones for a dare, I had listened with endorsement and sympathy to her outburst, at the same time wondering what the family’s reaction would be. Mary had so many trying setbacks. I hadn’t forgotten the last one when she had climbed Eberhart’s high back fence and left a section of her Sunday dress of scalloped embroidery impaled on its pickets. She had cried bitterly as she picked off the remnants and headed for home and Mama. Mary’s tears were like spattering raindrops that leave polkadots on the earth. It took only a few to deluge. While I was strong on the comforting side, I used to wonder why she didn't remember the last escapade as she became enmeshed in a new one.
Cymric Strain, by Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)
Chapter 1 - Introduction
Chapter 2 - Father
Chapter 3 - Dartmouth
Chapter 4 - Killolog
Chapter 5 - America
Chapter 6 - Arrival
Chapter 7 - Gracious Living
Chapter 8 - I Am Born
Chapter 9 - My Name
Chapter 10 - Neighbors
Chapter 11 - The Cyclone
Chapter 12 - The Old Cemetary
Chapter 13 - Music
Chapter 14 - Religion
Chapter 15 - The Circuit
Chapter 16 - Hero No. 1
Chapter 17 - Pageantry
Chapter 18 - Mommy
Chapter 19 - Mental Quirks
Chapter 20 - Decoration
Chapter 21 - Domestic Animals
Chapter 22 - Episode
Chapter 23 - Barn Life
Chapter 24 - Vanities
Chapter 25 - Happy Hollow
Chapter 26 - New Horizons
Chapter 27 - Disciplines
Chapter 28 - An Experimenter
Chapter 29 - Health
Chapter 30 - Murder
Chapter 31 - Misunderstandings
Chapter 32 - Charm
Chapter 33 - Problems
Chapter 34 -Coming Events, Etc.
Chapter 35 - The Wedding
Chapter 36 - At Home
Chapter 37 - Cross Currents
Chapter 38 - A Baby
Chapter 39 - Dr. Winston
Chapter 40 - The Visitor
Chapter 41 - Buffetings
Chapter 42 - Agenda
Chapter 43 - David
Chapter 44 - Exit