By Marie F Martin
Grandpa Yeats, a tall straight man, looked exactly what a farmer should in his bibbed overalls and straw work hat. His chest barreled under wide shoulders, and his hair was white with a bald top. He smiled the kindest smile I ever saw. His patience with farm animals and grandchildren was eternal.
As my sister Norma and I roamed all over the two-hundred acre farm with Charmall, his daughter from a second marriage, we knew he was always there tending the animals or fields or buildings. We just gave a yell and his answering call guided us to where he worked. We played by ourselves for hours on end, but never felt alone.
Grandpa set very few limits on us as we traveled between the creek and the farm buildings seeking to entertain ourselves. His only real no-no was not to ride the calves. This bugged Norma as all forbidden things did.
We were at the farm one evening for milking and were instructed to feed the calves. We filled the galvanized nursing buckets with foamy warm milk and carried them through the barn to the slat and wire gate of the calf pen.
“I’m gonna ride one of the calves,” Norma whispered to me.
“No,” I whispered back, “You hadn’t better. Grandpa told us never to do that.”
“Oh, you sissy. You never want to do anything, besides he’ll never know unless you squeal on me.” Her eyes dared me to try and tell anything on her. “You can hold it’s head while I get on.”
We set our buckets down carefully because we knew better to get dirt on the rubber nipple or to spill any milk. Norma slid back the handle and opened the gate.
I dipped my fingers into the milk and held them toward the nearest calf. His perfectly white face leaned to the smell of milk and he came nearer. Quickly I grabbed him around the neck and held on for dear life while Norma straddled his back.
I let go.
The calf’s eyes glazed in panic, his body quivered and his sturdy legs trembled. Norma kicked him in the ribs and held one hand high in the air. The calf jumped straight up arching it’s back, then fish-tailed coming down at full speed. He tore around the pen. Norma landed seat first on the mucky ground.
“What are you girls doing?” asked Grandpa’s stern voice. Instantaneously we jumped, then held down our heads. “Both of you go home right now!”
“I’m sorry, Grandpa,” I said as we passed by.
“Sorry doesn’t help that calf one bit.” He picked up the bucket and came into the pen holding the gate open for us to leave. And we did. We scurried through the barn yard, down the lane, across LaSalle Highway and onto our gravel road.
The two-mile walk home stretched ahead, but neither of us felt in any hurry to get there. I for sure didn’t want Norma to tell Mom what we did.
“Are you going to tell Mom?” I asked.
“Are you nuts, of course not?”
“What if Grandpa tells her?”
I wasn’t so sure. He seemed awfully mad. We followed the road around a bend, up a short hill, past Westry’s farm, then by the Catholic cemetery and to the back part of our ten acres. The sun sank below Dollar Hill as we ran the length of our property through clump grass and alfalfa and into the house. Mom was setting the table when we arrived.
“I thought you were spending the night with Charmall in the barn,” she said.
“Naw,” answered Norma, “we decided not to.”
“I see,” said Mom.
The next day Grandpa’s old farm truck pulled into our yard and I knew we were dead, but he only wanted to know if we were going to ride into Whitefish with him for the weekly cream delivery. Norma and I climbed into the back of his old truck joining, Charmall and her sister. The ten miles of asphalt sped by as we hung on tight with wind blowing in our faces. We were going to town.
The creamery, a clean white place, smelled like cream or ice cream I should say. Grandpa always bought us kids an ice cream bar. And he did that day too even after our crime, never once mentioning it. The ice cream tasted even more wonderful.
When we got home, I found Mom in the garden hoeing the carrots.
“Mom,” I said, “Norma rode one of Grandpa’s calves yesterday and I helped her.”
“What did Grandpa say?” Mom straightened and looked at me.
“He just told us to go home, but I could tell he was really mad.”
“Did you tell him you were sorry?”
“Yes, but he said sorry didn’t do the calf any good.”
I shook my head. “I couldn’t believe he came for us. He even bought us an ice cream bar just like always.”
“Honey,” said Mom, “you know your grandfather loves you kids. When someone loves you, they don’t stay mad.”