Beaver, Ok

November 2, 2017

By Mary Ellen Main

We raised cattle on the farm. They lived out in the pasture. We lived in the house. We didn’t have any cows as house pets. However, one calf was born during freezing temperatures which meant Dad brought him in to rejuvenate him. Apple Butter, named after what Dad was eating when he finally let me take a turn massaging the calf, grew up to live a long a healthy life – out in the pasture. Occasionally we had calves we had to bottle feed. It gave us a great sympathy for cows with their nursing calves. Man! Those little guys sure could butt. We’d fill a glass pop bottle with milk and put a rubber nipple on it. The nipple was such a tight fit, but even at that the calf’s eager eating was enough to jerk it off. They were pretty special little guys – fun to watch romping around in the pasture. There’s nothing quite as cute as a baby calf with its little wet nose and long eyelashes. We knew, though, that they lived "out there" and we also knew not to get too attached to them. The only milk cow I remember was Stuff. Though she had a name, I didn’t exactly consider her a pet. Our Charolais bull had a name, which was Charly, but that still didn’t put him in the pet category. Many people consider their horse as a lifelong (the horse’s life) companion, similar to other people’s thoughts about their "best friend" dogs. However, I wrote about our horse White Lightening, which we called Lightening for short, in my article "I Think I’ll Live." I didn’t think of Lightening as a lifelong companion nor as a "best friend."

Our barn cats were a little wild to be classified as pets. I was able to catch one a time or two and dress it in doll clothes, which might explain why they were on the wild side. When a cat would have kittens, some of them were tame enough to play with. But it seems like our cats were more of the kind we named for identification than ones to have a relationship with. We might point and say, "Look, there goes White Face," but not sit around cuddling her in our lap.

Once we got sheep for my brother’s FFA project, we enjoyed watching the lambs play "King of the Mountain." They’d stiffen their little legs when they ran, which caused a spring in their step. (We called it "boinking.") We had some orphan lambs, which we kept in a pen in the backyard. There was Buttons Honey and Maude Frickert – alias Maudi – alias Cutie (whose proper name came from one of Jonathan Winters’ characters), and some others whose names escape me. As my sister so aptly put it, those pets always came to a less-than-favorable end (like the calves).

I remember a little about when we had chickens, though I was pretty young at the time. I went with Dad to pick up a crate of chicks at the feed store in Enid one time. Now those little guys were cute! They grew up so fast. Just as with the calves and sheep, chickens were also destined for the dinner table (or to be sold), so it wasn’t a good idea to get too attached to them. I can recall the smell of scalded chicken feathers when we were dressing out the chickens that had fulfilled their life’s span. That was a smell that lingered for days. I think we all agreed that it was difficult to get too attached to something that ran around after its head was cut off (nor would a pet be put in that situation – hopefully!) Even when the hens were in their prime, they weren’t very cuddly. They mostly scowled and pecked at us. Of course we were robbing their nest of eggs, so I guess that made sense. And since the rooster was a smaller version of our bull (they both had an attitude problem), we weren’t planning on giving him the "Pet of the Year" award.


All of us have memories that have changed and adjusted through time. I audited a Criminal Psychology class a while back through and they talked about some memory studies and how they relate to the fallibility of eye witness testimonies, but I think it applies to any memories. They said some studies have been done that suggest that when we have lapses in our memory, we tend to fill in the blanks. That would make sense because as I get to visiting with my two sisters about their recollections, I get varied answers plus their memories are often a little different from mine. My sister Pam told me at one point that my memory was great because I remembered something she couldn’t recall at all, but I explained that it was probably just that I had a better imagination. My sister Jeanne is five years older than I am, so I texted her some questions about some of the earlier animals in our family. There were some that I’d heard stories about, but whose background I wasn’t sure of. The things Jeanne told me that I’d only heard about were very helpful, but the funny part was that when we began to compare shared memories there were noticeable differences.

One of the before-my-time critters was a skunk named Daisy. Jeanne said that Daisy was a very young skunk when Dad found her. She was young enough that she hadn’t learned to fear/spray people. As goofy as my dad was about a lot of things, he wouldn’t have taken a young animal from its mother. Because of that, he must have found Daisy abandoned or her mother dead. Jeanne’s pretty sure that Daisy’s home at our house was under the front porch. She had no idea what happened to her in the end; whether another animal got her or whether she just grew up and moved on. Joe the crow was also a pet I’d heard about but never knew. Jeanne remembers Dad teaching Joe to sit on his shoulder and say, "Hello Joe." She thinks he migrated with the other crows as he wasn’t around too long but I always had heard he flew into a highline wire during a storm.

A couple of wild animals I do remember were a squirrel with no name and a raccoon named Kitty Coon. I’m not sure how we acquired the squirrel but it was very young and lived an extremely short life. I’m surprised that Dad let us keep it because I’m sure he knew it wouldn’t survive. We fixed a box for the squirrel on top of the air conditioning unit in my bedroom window (on the outside). We tried to take care of it, but I remember coming home from school and finding it dead. I was so sad! One thing that stuck in my mind was the feel of the squirrel’s fur. At a distance their fur looks soft and fluffy, but this one’s fur felt almost wiry.

I think Kitty Coon’s mom drowned when the creek flooded. Dad brought Kitty Coon up to the house. His home for a little bit may have been the famous box atop the air conditioner but when he became too active for that, he came and went as he pleased. He often went back to the trees along the creek. Sometimes he’d come up to the front porch, though, and climb the screen door. We’d have the inside door open and he’d "talk" to us. He made sort of a shrill purr sound. We’d play with him when he was little (always outside), scratching his belly while he "wrestled" with our hand. Much like a cat, he’d play harder one time than another. We finally had to stop because his teeth and claws got too sharp. One night Dad heard a ruckus at the hen house. He ran outside and there was a raccoon. He hadn’t grabbed his gun but was able to chase the coon away. Kitty Coon was at Dad’s feet. The second night Dad was ready. When he heard the commotion he grabbed his gun and shot, wounding the coon, who limped away. That time it was Kitty Coon. (This is an excellent example of the "memory" thing. My sister only remembers the second night. I don’t know whether she "lost" part of the memory or I "added" some. I guess I could run a sibling survey, but the study done on memory suggested that majority doesn’t necessarily mean reality. That’s a whole other topic, but it relates to all my stories of the past.)

Dad accidentally ran over a rabbit’s nest with the disc one day. Since he killed the mama, he brought the babies to the house. He put a box down on the living room floor and brought one of our cats in. This cat acted as surrogate mother to any abandoned kittens in our "farm cat" community. With the mama cat in the box, he gently put the bunnies in one at a time to see if she would allow them to nurse. She did! I guess she didn’t like being the center of attention, though, because soon she began to relocate her new family. Dad decided at that point that it was time to take them back out to the field. He knew it was only a matter of time before the cat discovered her "inner self" as well as the fact that those weren’t kittens she was nursing. It was very special to see those bunnies, but we understood why they wouldn’t have made good pets if they were going to be mama cat’s lunch. (Even if the mama cat stayed true to her mothering instincts, the other farm animals probably would’ve still thought, "They sure look, smell, and taste like rabbits to us!")

We had a lot of brief encounters with critters. It made it fun to get close to some of the animals that we’d otherwise only see at a distance (sometimes with wisdom – such as skunks). My exact memory of which one came when is about as fuzzy as the fur on some of the critters (though not the squirrel!) Next time I’ll take a closer look at our official pets on the farm. Join me then.