This post is published today to honor the memory of NY Yankee pitcher Don Larsen. Don Larsen died today at the age of 90, he is mentioned in this post, written a couple of years ago as a memory of a from my growing up years.
D. E. Larsen, DVM
I enjoyed laying in the haymow, resting before evening chores and pondering the mysteries of the world and reliving the day’s events. The fresh hay was warm and chewing on a stem of grass yielded a pleasant taste. I could lay here, and nobody would bother me as I let my mind wander over the events of the morning before getting to the mysteries of life.
As soon as the barn was cleaned following the morning’s milking I had hurried to the house to change out of my barn clothes. I gathered my willow fishing pole and a can for worms as raced out of the house and off the back porch. That was one of those mysteries. Every home I knew of used the back door to come and go, usually through the kitchen. If the front door was never used and the back door was the main door in life, why didn’t the back door become the front door and front door the back door?
I ran to the manure pile at the corner of the barn. I was anxious to get to the creek before the sun was on the water. The fish would be biting better early in the morning. I drove the shovel into the ground at the edge of the manure pile and jumped on it a couple of times to drive it deeper into the earth. Then with both hands near the top of the handle, I pulled back with all my weight. After a brief resistance, the shovel flipped over a large scoop of dirt. It was loaded with worms. Breaking the dirt apart, I filled the worm can quickly. These worms were large and wiggled a lot. They had that bright reddish color that the fish seemed to like. This was going to be a good morning of fishing.
The run to the creek was several hundred yards, but I covered it in no time. I practiced my moves that I learned watching Crazy Legs at the movie last year. I scrambled over the fence at the wooden section and ran down to the creek. This first hole was the largest and the best. There was a 4-foot waterfall at the head of the hole. The water was deep under the waterfall. I fished from a rock shelf that ran the length of the hole on this side of the creek. These early summer days were great fishing. The flow was just starting to slow a little, and the water was crystal clear.
I put my stuff down and untangled the line on my willow pole. My hands were shaking in anticipation as I threaded a worm on to the hook. The free end of the worm wiggled a lot. I would break this portion off if the worm supply was low, but I liked to leave it on for the first couple of fish. The larger fish would tend the seek out this squirming worm. I dipped the worm in my vial of Cod Liver Oil. I was less than convinced that it made a difference but my Uncle Duke was sure that it did and Dad said that it couldn’t hurt.
With everything ready, I lowered the worm into the water at the deepest end, just a foot from the foam from the waterfall. Bam, there was a sharp tug on the line before the worm was halfway to the bottom. I struggled a little, and the willow pole bent with the tip touching the water. But then with the spring in the willow branch and my pull, the fish came flying out of the water. Such a nice fish, probably 14 inches long. I quickly dispatched him with my pocket knife, driving the blade into the back of his neck at the base of his skull. He didn’t even damage the worm much.
The morning went quickly, I had 20 fish and had only fished 2 of the main holes. I gathered up my stuff and the willow fork of fish and headed back to the house. Mom would have lunch made, and after I cleaned the fish and finished lunch, I could head out to the barn until it was time to do evening chores.
I cut the heads off the fish with Mom’s large butcher knife. She was always quick to remind me not to cut a finger off.
“David, you be careful with that knife,” she would say, “You could cut a finger off before you know what happened.”
It was good for her to remind me I guess, but you would think she should know that I would remember her warning by now.
Uncle Duke left the heads of his fish on and cooked them that way, but Mom said she didn’t want them looking at her from the frying pan.
It didn’t take long, and the fish were cleaned and in the refrigerator. They would make a good dinner tonight, enough for everyone. Mom fried them after dipping them in egg and the flour. They came out golden brown and tasted great. There was nothing better than fresh trout unless it was really fresh trout, cooked over a campfire.
I washed and sat down with Mom and my brother Gary for lunch. Baloney sandwich and a glass of milk. We ate quickly without a lot of conversation. Gary had not wanted to fish this morning. I bet he regretted that decision after seeing the mess of fish I brought home. Anyway, I finished lunch and headed to the barn.
The fresh hay was warm and smelled sweet. I pulled a long straw from a bale and casually chewed on it as I laid back and tried to decide if I should take a nap or solve some the mysteries that seemed to bother me a lot these days.
I wonder why girls are so different from boys. I mean the farm girls are not bad, they can do stuff like ride horses and do barn chores. They even fish sometimes. But the town girls, they play jacks and do hopscotch, that’s about it. Last summer when two LA cousins visited and I took them on a hike around the hill, they complained most of the time. They were not impressed with the duck pond on top of the hill, and then when they had to scale down the face of the cliff on the back side of the hill, you would have thought the world had come to an end. I thought we were going to have to turn around and go back the way we came. I ended up taking them down the cliff, one at a time. Almost had to place their every step but we all got down okay. To hear them tell the story when we got back to the house, you would have thought we had climbed down into the Grand Canyon.
And then, maybe the biggest mystery of all, how does this barn roof shed water without leaking a drop. Laying here I can see cracks between every shake. At night you can see stars through the roof. I asked Mom once, she had no idea how it worked but said that “All barns are made that way.” When I talked to Grandpa about it, he just chuckled.
“David, they have been building barns that way my entire life,” he said. “I guess there must be a draft the keeps the water out of the cracks.”
Grandpas are pretty smart guys, if he couldn’t answer, I was at a loss of who to ask. Then Uncle Ern, Grandpa’s brother who had been listening to the conversation, came up with a reasonable answer.
“David, the hay is warm, that makes the air inside the barn warmer than outside, the warm air rises and goes out the cracks in the roof, that keeps the water out,” he explained.
Made sense, but how come the hay was warm? I guess some things in life just are too complex to explain. Answer one question, and it leads to another question.
I must have drifted off to sleep for a time. When I woke with a start, I could hear the cows coming into the barn for the evening milking. I would have to hurry to change clothes or I would be late for my chores.
I hurried to the house, passing Gary on the way. He had just brought in the cows and was now trying to practice hitting a baseball. Throwing the ball up in the air and swinging the bat at it when it came down. He actually hit it once in a while.
After changing into my barn clothes, I hurried out of the house toward the barn. Just then Gary connected with the ball for a good hit. The only thing wrong was the ball landed in the middle of the bullpen.
Of all places for it to land. The only place on the entire farm that was strictly off limits was the bullpen. All bulls were dangerous just like all guns were loaded. We were never allowed to touch the bull and even bull calves were off limits. Get caught playing with a bull calf, and your name was Mudd for some time. I never did know why Mudd was such a bad name, but that was the way it was around our place. This particular bull in the bullpen now was a young Hereford bull. The main concern on the local farms was with Jersey bulls. The Jersey bulls had the reputation of being the meanest of all the bulls.
“What are we going to do now,” Gary said, “we will never get that ball out of there.”
“Just go in and get it,” I said, “this bull is not mean, and Dad will never know.”
“Not me,” Gary said, “I am too scared to go into that bullpen. What would you do if he came after you?”
The bullpen was made with a high fence, two rows of woven wire with barbed wire on top. It was a large square pen, about 100 feet on a side. Right now the bull was standing at the corner near the barn talking to a few of the cows. He wasn’t paying any attention to us or to the ball.
“I’ll go get the ball for you,” I said to Gary.
I climbed over the gate and looked at the bull when my feet hit the ground. The bull glanced at me briefly and then turned back to the cows. I walked to the center of the pen and picked up the baseball. Again, the bull glanced at me but did not move and returned his attention to the cows. I started back to the gate. As I walked I made one fatal mistake, I started throwing the ball in the air and catching it as it came down. This caught the bull’s attention. The second toss and bull turned and kicked up his heels. Here he came at a fast trot.
I first turned to run but immediately realized that being in the middle of the pen, I had nowhere that I could run to and make a getaway before the bull would catch me. I stopped, turned and took my stance. I had watched Don Larsen pitch his perfect game on TV last fall when visiting Mom’s cousin, Margery, and Mid Johnson, in Smith River. I had been practicing my pitching ever since. I concentrated on the bull’s forehead.
Things were in slow motion now. The bull was closing the ground between us at a rapid pace. I could see Gary coming across the gate with the baseball bat, and I could see Dad jumping off the end of the milk house platform, he would be really pissed. I concentrated on the bull’s forehead. I took my windup and threw the ball as hard as I could. I completed my follow through and immediately assumed an athletic stance, ready to move in any direction if the pitch missed its mark.
The ball struck the bull squarely in the middle of his forehead. It bounced off hard. The bull stopped in his tracks, shook his head a little, turned and walked back to the cows at the edge of the pen. I quickly retrieved the ball and ran to the gate. Now my next obstacle was Dad. I think I would rather face down the bull.
“You damn little Buck Fart,” he said as he reached out to bat the back of my head. “What do you think you are doing in the bullpen?”
I ducked my head just at the right moment to avoid most of the blow to the back of my head. That was from years of practice. “Gary was afraid to get his ball, so I went in after it,” I replied. “That bull is too young to be mean.”
“You are just damn lucky. That bull could just as well knocked you down and mauled you to death by the time I got there to help,” Dad said.
“I hit him with my best pitch,” I said.
“Your best pitch, I haven’t seen you throw very many good pitches, you are just lucky it hit him. Now you get your butt in the barn and get your chores done and give some thanks to the fact that you’re lucky to be alive,” Dad said. “You can daydream about you pitching while you work.”
I tossed the baseball to Gary and went to the barn and grabbed the bucket of milk for the calves. I was thinking while I portioned the milk out into the calf buckets.
Dad was just like all my teachers, he just thought I was lucky, but just maybe, I am good.
Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash