October 26, 2020 at 5:30 p.m.
Tell me a story
The stories passed down from generation to generation. The stories that stick with you long after you have closed the cover of a book. The stories that little children babble about when they do not think you are listening to them play. The stories that are made up off-the-cuff to appease a wiggly child. The stories from the past – the ones that you hope will be part of your future. The silly stories, the true stories and the wishful stories – all play a part in a story-filled life.
Two weekends ago, our neighborhood band of “Amish Cowboys” brought our 38 heifers home from the ridge pasture. As I recount this tale to people, I tell them that it was like watching “Lonesome Dove.” There was dust flying, hooves clopping and a herd of Holstein heifers that were definitely in a hurry to get home. It looked like a genuine cattle drive. After the last heifer was checked off the list and the gate shut, we all met for breakfast in the shop. Ten helpful neighbors, José, Peter, Stacy, I, and a passel of children all swapped stories about the entertainment of bringing heifers home over the years. When we were kids, we would lock them in the corral and spend hours loading six on a trailer at a time, hauling them home, dumping them off and coming back. When we were teens, we enlisted the help of our cousins and used four-wheelers, trucks and many a loud-mouthed human. For the past few years, our friend, Eli, and his crew have successfully brought the girls home. It is a calm endeavor; absent of the yelling of years past. The biggest excitement this year was Eli getting dumped off his horse on the side of the creek into the mud. We also enjoyed watching the guys race their horses in the field afterwards. When retelling this Saturday morning adventure to a friend, the best part to tell is how wonderful the whole thing is and that our appreciation of them (the Amish Cowboys) doing it is equal to their thrill in doing so.
Cooler mornings have me bringing out the oatmeal for breakfast. While dishing it up, I inevitably tell the story of how, while growing up, my mom would make oatmeal for breakfast on the days there was no milk in the refrigerator. Then, to cool it down we would stir in Cool Whip or ice cream. There’s also the time I put my hand on the burner right after she had told me it was hot – talk about a fast education. I’m certain my boys are tired of these stories, as they have heard them a million times, but the warmth of oatmeal in my belly always takes me back to my childhood.
Henry and Finley are so fun to eavesdrop on when they are telling farm stories. They are often so intent on their sandbox farming, I can sneak up unnoticed. They drop their voices low and pretend to be Peter and Grandpa as they combine corn.
“Did you combine that field on the ridge?”
“No, I’ll get there next.”
They don’t miss a beat with the actions of any piece of heavy equipment on the farm. It still shows in their play – and on every piece of paper they bring home from school.
Stories from the Sunday breakfast club about bygone eras, snowmobiling trips that ended at the bar, dances and weddings are so delightful and give insight to a part of Grandpa’s life I can only imagine through these retellings. The laughter these tales cause is so lovely, and you can catch glimpses of them in their youth doing the wild things they speak of when you watch their faces light up.
Cora and I were doing our weekly cow moves last Thursday, and because it is less stressful on us and the cows, we pull them out as they come down the lane from the parlor. As we were waiting for a side of cows to release, we were sitting on the cement sidewall telling stories.
I began, “Once upon a time, there was a girl named Cora, who grew up to be an excellent farmer.” She was already grinning from ear to ear. “She milked Jerseys. She had Flashlight …”
“Mom, she’s not a cow, she’s still a calf.”
“I know, but she’ll be a cow someday. And she had Annabelle and Pepito.”
“I need Holsteins, too. Who can I milk?”
“You can have Itsy Bitsy, Peanut and Bumble.”
I babble on and on, telling her she can make fantastic cheese, and have me and Stacy work on her farm. My audience of one is enthralled by this quick story and rewards me with a hug.
As we sit there on the ledge watching our post-fresh cows do their jobs, I think about what her future story may hold. Will she be a fabulous farmer? A writer? A veterinarian? All of these things and more?
What is left in my story? At 40, I look back at some parts of my story of life and wish I could rip out the pages, or at least edit them a bit. Yet, I look to the future and try to fill in the pieces I hope will be there. Things change in our life stories. We keep telling the same stories from our past to carry them into the future. We tell ourselves how we want things to be, then life happens and here we are with edits marked all over the pages – crying, laughing and telling our stories to whomever will listen.
Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira (12), Dane (10), Henry (5) and Cora (3), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.
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