D. E. Larsen, DVM
I woke to an empty bedroom. The sky was clear and the morning sun was out, but there was still a chill to the summer air. I laid still and tried to listen to hear my brothers downstairs. I hated to wake to an empty room. Did the monster get them when they got up, was he still waiting for me? I felt confident that I was safe if I watched them get up and dress, but now, I didn’t know.
I stood up and backed up to the far corner of the old double bed. I had to bend over a little because of the slant of the roof on the side of the bedroom. After a deep breath, I ran and jumped, hit the floor on the dead run and made a rapid turn to the open staircase. I bounded down the stairs, taking 2 or 3 steps at a time. I didn’t look back until I was at the bottom. No monster, I opened the door and entered the kitchen as if nothing had happened. Both Larry and Gary were at the table eating breakfast. I huddled up to the wood stove, the only heat in the house. It felt good after my run down the stairs.
“You need to go get dressed and get back down here for breakfast,” Mom said. “Your brothers are planning to go swimming this morning but you guys have to clean the barn first.”
“We can ride Brownie to the river and back,” Gary said. “That way you won’t have to worry about the thistles in the field.”
I hurried back upstairs and dressed. Mom had a bowl of Wheat Hearts mush waiting for me when I got back to the kitchen. I didn’t like mush but Wheat Hearts were better that Oatmeal. The warm mush felt good on a cold morning, and the large glass of milk made it easier to swallow
With the three of us the barn cleaning went fast. Larry was the oldest, and he assigned the chores. Gary scrapped any manure on the flood into the gutter. I went along behind him and used the large barn broom and swept the loose dirt on the floor into the gutter. Larry cleaned the gutter, using the shovel to scrape long sections out the door onto the manure pile. With the job done we could head to river. No need for a bath today.
Back at the house we changed into our swim trunks and slipped on a pair of thongs (flip flops). I hated to cross the lower field in these things because of the thistles. There was no good way to avoid the stickers except when we could ride Brownie. Gary headed to the pasture to get Brownie. With a couple of whistles he came running. He probably knew he would get the whole lower pasture to himself while we swam.
Brownie was a Jersey cross steer, solid light brown in color with a pinkish nose. This was his second summer and he was starting to get extra grain every evening. We had raised him from a calf and he was very friendly. He came when Gary whistled. I couldn’t whistle yet but I was trying.
Gary had no trouble getting onto Brownie in the middle of the field. It was a little hard for me so I would wait at the gate. We didn’t need a bridle or rope. We just tapped him on the side of the neck with a switch to tell him where to go. I jumped on and he trotted down the lane. Larry was already across the highway and in the lower field but we would catch up with him now.
The grass in the lower field was knee high. The cows were not allowed in this field until we cut hay. Dad would be a little upset with Brownie being down here but we could tell him that we were just helping to fatten him up.
When we got to the riverbank we slid off and Brownie ran to middle of field, bucking with joy. The sand on the riverbank was warm from the morning sun. The river was probably still cold. Larry was already in the swimming hole. He had crossed the river and was ready to dive off the old log on the far bank. I was not supposed to go over to that log but with just us boys here today, I thought I would swim over to it.
The water was really cold. It took a slow walk to get into it. I swam a little up and back. I think I will wait until it is warmer before I swim across. A couple of times up and back was enough for me. I got out and laid down in the warm sand. It wasn’t long and everyone was ready to go back to the house.
“You go get Brownie while I dry off,” Gary said.
I ran up the riverbank. Brownie was clear across the field with his head buried in the grass. I made my best attempt and out came a weak little whistle. Brownie raised his head and looked. He had heard my whistle. Here he came on the run. This was going to be a good ride home. He came to a stop in front of me. I nuzzled up to his belly for a little warmth. I would need some help getting on him here in the field. Pretty soon Gary came up and jumped up on him with no problem. I jumped and Larry gave me a little boost and I was on also.
Brownie trotted toward the gate. His trot was a little rough, not like a horse, but we were used to it and had to no problem staying on his back. He stopped at the highway and waited for our heels to tell him to go. He gave a long look back to the lower field as he started up the lane toward the house.
We rode Brownie everyday that summer. He enjoyed the rides, we covered the hill on Brownie and went to river on all the good days. When we had company everyone wanted to see how well he was trained. As the summer worn on, I was able to get myself onto his back in the middle of the field. He was a better companion than a dog.
But fall came, and the second fall of all good steers would be their last. The day for Brownie’s slaughter finally came. We slaughtered on the farm. It was a common event that we were used to watching. We generally helped where we could. The steer was shot in the head and hung in the machine shed. He was gutted and skinned there. I had helped in this part in the past but today I waited in the house. Brownie was different than the other steers. After he was skinned and gutted, they would split his carcass with handsaw. Then cut him into quarters. The quarters were carried over and hung from the large cherry tree in the back yard. It would hang there in the cold fall air until the weekend when Uncle Ern would come and cut him up. Uncle Ern was an old man now but he had been a meat cutter in his younger days. He knew just how to do it.
It was hard to see Brownie hanging there in the back yard every day. In farm families, life revolves around the kitchen and the back yard. We never used the front door, and the front yard was seldom used. Finally Saturday came and with a lot of help for Uncle Ern, Brownie was in the freezer in a short time.
Dinnertime that winter became a challenge. With every meal, I would fiddle with the meat on my plate. I knew it was Brownie and I knew I had to eat it. It proved to be long, hard winter.
“Is this Brownie?” I would ask, almost every meal.
“Yes, this is Brownie,” was always the answer. “Now eat your dinner.”
“This meat is tough,” I would say.
Dad would answer, “It would be a damn sight tougher if you didn’t have it.”