Cows

Best I remember is was right about time we finished up supper that the phone rang. It was Frank Greer calling to let Dad know that some of our cows were over at his place. I sometimes think I’d like to have cows of my own. There’s a part of that life that I miss. But then I remember nights like this one and think better of it. Cows can be troublesome and inconvenient to keep up with.

I’m sure Mr. Greer was not bothered by having our cows eating his grass. Anyone who has ever had cows knows that cows get out. He probably told Dad not to worry about it. That we could get them in a few days. But Dad was a principled man and would no sooner let his cows mooch off the neighbor than run naked in public.

I heard just Dad’s side of the conversation, “We’ll get ‘em up this evening. Thanks for letting me know.”

It was late fall and darkness had settled in early. Tonight would probably be our first frost. I was still sitting at the table when Dad came back into the kitchen. There was a warm chess pie on the stove that I had been eyeing since we sat down.

“Get your jacket. We’ve got cows to get up.”

He knew I had pie on my mind.

“That pie will keep ‘til we get back.”

When we stepped out into the night, though we both had flashlights in our jacket pockets, we didn’t use them. The full moon was up and there was plenty of light to see what needed to be seen. Dad stopped by the smoke house, opened the door and reached up inside just to the right. He kept a “sack” hanging on a nail by the door. It was a sack that Mama had made from the leg of a pair of jeans. And in it he kept his fence tools. A pair of fence plyers. Staples. A few short strands of barbed wire. The sack had a long cloth strap on it that Dad pulled over his head and across one shoulder. He handed the axe for me to carry. If the cows were out, that meant the fence was down.

We walked without saying a word. The worn down hoof trail through the pasture shown up against the grass like a lighted runway in the moonlight. I always liked the fields and the woods in a full moon. The soft padding of our feet against the ground and the scraping of our jackets were the only noise for a while. An owl called out, and his cousin answered in the distance.

I could hear the wave of frogs in concert rising in the distance long before we got to the dam of the lake. The air had a bite to it and the reflection off the lake made everything seem clear and shadowy all at one time. A frog croaked and splashed into the water about the same time a deer scrambled off in the woods to our left. A younger version of me would have been jumpy, but I had come to recognize the sounds around me as sure as I knew the sound of my own voice.

Dad always walked at a pace that was hard to follow. Even the dark did not slow him down. I trailed directly behind him, which had always been our way. By the time we got across the top of the hill beyond the lake I could feel the warmth of my jacket and see my breath in the cold night air as it drifted away.

Beyond the back pasture we stepped into the woods.

On a full moon night the woods have a magical feel that I have never known anywhere else. Though you can see the ground beneath you, it seems far away, like your feet might not touch. The small wildflowers give back a faint glow that create the illusion that we are stepping among the stars as we make our way silently through the trees. At times, the woodland floor is moving, but it’s only the shadows of the late fall leaves overhead dancing across the ground.

We finally came to the creek on the back west corner of our place that flowed under the fence and on to Greer’s Dairy, headed for the Towaliga. An old dead Pine had broken and part of it had laid down across the fence.

“There’s our problem,” Dad said. It was the first words spoken since we left the house.

We stepped over the fence, leaving it for now. It wasn’t long before we found our cows, a few Angus and several mixed white-faced. It’s funny that cows seem to know what to do. We circled them and nugged them back toward the creek and they plodded through the woods exactly the way they had come. They knew the way home and their brief escape to freedom was over.

Back at the creek, we cut a few limbs off the top of the fence, using one of them as a temporary fence post. I got out my light and held it for Dad to see while he twisted a few strands of wire together and stapled them to the limb. That would do until we could get back to fix it right with a new post and wire stretchers.

The house was warm when we stepped back into the kitchen. We hung up our jackets by the pantry door. All the dishes had been put away. Mama was sitting in her chair in the den cutting out coupons from the paper. The TV was on. I noticed that the pie was still sitting on the stove.

“You want a piece of chess pie?” she asked. “It’s still warm.”

“You don’t have to ask me twice,” Dad bantered back. I agreed, “Me, too.”

The cows were home. The pie was good. It had been a fine evening for a walk. Which is what you do if you own cows.

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