Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Brazen Coons, Runaway Cows, & Substandard Ducks

There are many classic country memories - the smell of beeswax at the old country store, bidding at the stock auction, and checking out the latest tractors at the local Agway. There are many other memories - lesser known and a bit more unique.

Some mornings I’d lie in bed a while, listening to the sound of cattle & pork futures blaring on my parents’ radio. It was our redneck Wall Street stock ticker, prices fluttering up and down ever so slightly. Some mornings, though, I awoke to the sound of my dad’s shotgun. He’d be at his bedroom window, firing at the raccoons in the cornfield.

“I’m just scaring them,” he’d say as I watched him pull up his pajama bottoms. Dad had a habit of wearing clothes well after the elastic had given up the ghost, to the point that the cloth was shiny and nearly sheer. He’d fire a shot, pull up his droopy drawers, then fire again, never missing a beat.

“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna hit them,” he’d say as I stared at the spectacle. Since I never found a dead raccoon in the cornfield, I left it at that. But I sure wished he’d spring for new pajamas.

Sometimes we wouldn’t get to sleep all the way to the radio. Once in a while, in the middle of the night, the phone would ring. It would be a neighbor calling to tell us our cows were out again, munching their way through his garden. They had to be fetched back home, so at the sound of the telephone, everyone would automatically pile out of bed, into their clothes and wearily head down the road to be zombie cattle wranglers. Mercifully the cows only escaped in the summer, when the smell of the Thompson’s alfalfa down the road was too tempting to resist.

In the days just prior to a ‘jailbreak,’ I’d often catch the cows ‘working’ the fence line, literally climbing up the fence and pushing on it, trying to find the weakest spot. I lectured them about this, but they never listened. They kept on with their wicked ways, going for destructive, moonlit strolls until we came and got them. Some folks had uncles or brothers they’d retrieve from the local bar at 1 am. We had Midnight, Cindy, Sonny, and a few other rowdy, roaming cows.

“Get your furry butts home right this minute!” I’d hiss at them. I prayed this didn’t get back to my friends at school. While the town girls were probably out on dates, I was half-dressed and frumpy, standing in a field, arguing with a bovine gatecrasher.

“What’s it worth to you?” Midnight would inquire smugly. She was the leader, the shop steward of the cows. It was 1 am, and she was arguing with me.

“Get your butt home now,” I’d sigh, “Or I’ll tie you by the tulips.”

We often chained the cows to trees on the front lawn so they could eat the grass. We’d end up with large ‘mowed’ circles, complete with cowpies, and unmowed areas in between. It was an attention-grabbing look. Instead of crop circles, we had ‘crap circles.’ There was a flower bed in one area that contained mostly tulips, and I knew Midnight couldn’t stand them. She despised them, actually, not even daring to step on them, and eating all the grass neatly around them. We liked to put her there because she did such a good job, but I knew she hated it.

“Fine,” Midnight huffed, flicking her tail and sticking her tongue up her nose as she turned toward home. “I wasn’t that hungry anyway.”

Somehow word got out about my cattle wrangling skills (I blame my sister), and I was offered a job at the Dutchess County Fair. Not just any job, mind you, but a job in the baby animal tent. It was my first real employment, and being a cow-whisperer, I took it very seriously. Besides the usual feeding and pen-maintenance, I was saddled with the task of teaching baby ducks to walk up a ramp, grab a bite of food, then slide down the slide. This would be easy if baby ducks came equipped with at least the tiniest hint of a brain stem. I could push them up that ramp all day, but unless I crammed food right down their throats, they weren’t getting it. Suddenly the cows looked smart.

Early visitors to our tent did not get to witness cute, quacking ducklings waddling happily up a ramp and sliding down a slide. Instead, they were treated to a puppet show. I was the puppeteer, having my right hand shoved neatly up a baby duck’s butt, ‘walking’ it up the ramp, where my left hand would force feed some meal down its gullet as the right hand flicked it down the slick slide. The baby duck would choke a bit on its dinner as it tumbled down into the water, hopefully landing right side up. I’d wear a big smile and exclaim how cute the ducklings were as I shoved my right hand up the next duck’s butt. I’m sure quite a few of those ducks are still in therapy.

The Fair was a huge deal, almost the biggest fair in New York State. What made it so big was that it was within commuting distance of New York City. So every year, our little town was inundated with city folk intent on having a good old country time. Whether they stepped on us in the process didn’t matter – they were going to spend a day in the country admiring the local kitsch, littering, and stomping on our every word with the most bizarre accent. My parents still had a Brooklyn accent, but it was nowhere near as raucous and brazen as these urban interlopers. I was stunned. It seemed, also, that many of these urbanites were missing a key filter between their brain and their mouth. Every little thing that came out of their brain went directly out their mouth, with no processing whatsoever, much like the primitive digestive tract of a tapeworm. Suddenly the cows looked smart.

Eventually I had ‘puppeteered’ enough duck butts that the mere sight of me was enough to send the birds squawking up the ramp. One of my favorite activities was to watch the look on the city people when they noticed the effect I had on the animals. They’d stand there, jabbering away, their accents sawing at words like dull chainsaws. I’d stare at them. Once I had their attention, I’d motion to the ducklings. This was their cue to run up the ramp and do their thing. Then I’d watch the city slickers’ jaws drop. I’d give them the ‘you’re next’ look, and they’d skitter away, speechless.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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