You are never really alone when you live on a farm.
Over the last two years that my husband and I have lived on his family’s farm, this point has been reiterated many times. It was reiterated last night when I almost ran head on into a semi parked in our driveway waiting to unload roofing equipment for our barn; it was reiterated last Saturday when a curmudgeonly, old farmer from up the road knocked on our door at 6:45 AM to chat with my husband about farm business; it is reiterated last fall with a visit from a father and son looking for a place to unload a group of dying chicks they had purchased and had no idea how to take care of; it is reiterated almost daily by friendly neighbors, curious out-of-staters, and nosy family members.
It was especially reiterated early last summer when my mother-in-law Connie showed-up unannounced with my 2-year-old nephew in tow to babysit him at the farm for the day. They had decided to come to the farm to watch my father-in-law Mark hay.
“We’re here!” She declared as she shuffled in, filling our kitchen table with food, clothes, and diapers that would be needed for the day.
“Dit? Dit? Dit?” My nephew repeated as he toddled towards me. Dit is his name for my daughter Kitt – my daughter who I had just dropped off for one of her last days of daycare before I was off for the summer from my job as a teacher. It was one of the few days that the daycare was open, but my school was not. My plan was to take advantage of the rare alone time, and to get some work done.
“Kitt’s not here honey,” I leaned down to tell him, and his downtrodden look caused my eyes to well up, but I was resolved to get some work done.
“I was just about to mow the lawn,” I looked up to tell Connie. Unfortunately one of the drawbacks of farm-life is having a husband who has to cut hay for cattle and was often unable to cut grass for aesthetics, and we have a lot of fast-growing grass.
“Well don’t let us stop you; we know our way around,” this I knew to be true as she had lived in the house for forty years. After a visit I often found things rearranged back into the position she had kept them in. I think it is an unconscious habit – at least that is what I hope.
“Mmm, Mmm,” my nephew repeated, which I knew to be his sound for cows.
“We are going outside anyway. Max wants to look at the cows.”
After spending the morning dodging my nephew with the lawnmower, I gave-in and decided to visit for a while. It was Max’s naptime, anyway, so we would have time to relax. Connie and I sat and chatted. We flipped through magazines and Facebook pictures, and gossiped about everyone we knew.
She then got up to do clean the kitchen. This, I have learned, is the most positive aspect of having in-laws that frequently visit – you have a clean kitchen. I always hope someday she’ll get really bored and pick up the vacuum cleaner, but that hasn’t happened yet. I walked over to the sink to help her, when she looked out our back window towards the pool.
“Something’s in the pool!” she said in loud gasp.
Time seemed to stop then – I instantly went through every resident of the house that could be in there – Kitt, no—thankfully, she was still at daycare; Max—no, still in the crib sleeping; Mark – on the tractor; my husband Xandy – at work; my dog – her Norweigian elkhound coat is grey and black, whatever was in the pool was a chocolate color; Molly, my in-laws chocolate lab? Right color – definitely wrong size. This thing was the size of an adult person – but bulky and brown. The only thing left it could be – COW.
I followed Connie quickly out into the backyard, and stood at the pool surveying the situation. In the shallow end of the pool a brown and white spring calf’s head floated on the solar cover. The calf had obviously bent down to drink, fell in, and was saved by the solar cover’s presence. Only a few feet of water were visible, with most of the pool still under cover. The multi-chambered bovine stomach of the calf kept the rest of its body floating. I thought he must be dead.
As my mind wandered to “how sad” – the calf’s eyes found us, and I saw his nose flare.
Connie must have seen it too, because at that instant, my 63-year-old mother-in-law screamed, “Get it out. IT’S GOING TO RUIN THE POOL!”
She then took off her watch and her shoes and jumped in.
Now I came to the realization long ago, that I am NOT the person that you want with you if there is an emergency. In the classroom, I process information at lightening speed and can give an instantaneous answer to anything that happens, but in an emergency I become immobile. I always feel like I am in one of those dreams where you try to run and scream, but your legs won’t work and your voice is silent. That is exactly what happened as I watched Connie wade over to the calf, and hold its head above water.
“Try to grab it’s legs.” She motioned toward me as she floated the calf to the edge. The water on my face from her entry, woke me into action, and I hurried closer to the edge to help her.
Although this poor creature was a “calf” – it was by no means a small baby. At this point, the animal was at least 150 – 200 lbs in weight, and it became apparent quite quickly that we would not be able to get it out of the pool. Our effort was valiant, however. I pulled it’s front legs, and she pushed up from the bottom, but the frightened animal could not get footing and repeatedly fell back in.
“Get Mark, Quick!”
My father-in-law had been on a tractor across the road cutting hay, and had just jumped off the still running machine when I started yelling at him.
“Mark, quick, there’s a cow in the pool!” I yelled as a line of cars passed in front of me.
“A what?” he came to the edge of the road cupping his hand to his ear to try to filter through the sounds.
“THERE’S A COW IN THE POOL, AND CONNIE IS HOLDING IT UP!”
After a line of expletives, my 68-year-old father-in-law sprinted to the best of his ability towards the backyard.
When we returned to the backyard, the calf and Connie had bonded even more deeply. Connie stood hip-deep in what was becoming mucky water stroking the top of his head and muzzle as she waited. The calf was curiously calm in the situation – something for which we were all thankful.
Not hesitating for a second, Mark jumped into the pool, boots and all and began to push the cow up towards the edge. I again, went over to help, and within moments the beast was free. All I could think was “Now what?” when my dog came running up behind me. She started to bark at the frightened calf, forcing him to run towards the only non-chained link section of fence in the backyard. It became apparent as to how he go into the yard as he ducked and ran directly through the barbed-wire fence and joined the rest of the herd.
Connie and Mark chuckled and shook their heads and recounted the time when a full grown cow had fallen in the pool. That day ended with a dead cow and a new lining. I instantly felt lucky. After determining that our lining was still in tact we went into the house so that I could find them dry clothes.
A few moments later, my husband sauntered through the door, having come home early from work to hay. He didn’t have time to say hello as I launched into my animated story.
“Huh,” was his reaction.
“Huh, that’s all you have to say? HUH?”
“Yeah, well, I’ve been meaning to fix that fence. It’s on my To-Do list – I guess I should move it to the top.”
I looked over at my in-laws who again chuckled and shook their heads at their son’s lack of emotion. I joined in the laughter as my husband went to change into farm clothes. I sat for the rest of the afternoon listening to farm stories — glad that I lived in the kind of place people felt comfortable to visit.