D. E. Larsen, DVM
Mom stepped out of the kitchen as soon as I came through the door. There was no smile on her face, which could only mean that there was work to be done.
“I want you to change into work clothes,” Mom said. “I was up checking Lila and Robert’s today. They aren’t going to be home for another four days, and they have a dead cow out by their filbert orchard.”
“So, what am I supposed to do about that?” I asked.
“As soon as I can track down your brother, you guys can go bury the cow,” Mom said, sounding a little stern. “That’s what you can do about that.”
“Mom, it’s the middle of August,” I said. “That ground will be as hard as a rock.”
“Yes, it’s the middle of August, and if we don’t get that cow buried, it will be a real mess by the time your Aunt and Uncle get home,” Mom said. “Besides, if you are going to play football this fall, you need to start getting into shape.”
About then, Mom heard the front door opening.
“Maybe that’s Gary now,” Mom said as she stepped out of the kitchen. “Oh, Frank, I thought you might be Gary. Do you know where he went this morning?”
“He’s salmoned on that new girl,” Dad said. “I think he ran over there for something, who knows what. Why do you ask?”
“I went up to check Lila’s place this morning, and they have a dead cow out by their filbert orchard,” Mom said. “I am going send these boys up to bury it.”
“Are you tough enough to dig that kind of a hole?” Dad said, looking at me.
“The two of them should be able to do it without any problem,” Mom said. “I think I will call Spires and see if Gary is over there.”
Gary pulled into the driveway before Mom could get to the phone, and mom started in as soon as he came through the door.
“You need to change clothes and get ready,” Mom said. “I am sending you and David up to bury a dead cow at Lila and Robert’s.”
“Mom, it’s the middle of August,” Gary said.
“Yes, and that cow won’t smell any better tomorrow,” Mom said. “Now get going.”
“I have a date tonight,” Gary said.
“Then you better get on your horse,” Dad said. “You can take the truck so you won’t have to get dirt in your car. You stop at the barn and pick up a rope.”
“Why do we need a rope?” I asked.
“You need to dig this hole ten feet deep,” Dad said. “How do you think you are going to get out of that hole?”
“Maybe we should take a ladder,” Gary said. “If we take the truck, we could just throw it on the bed.”
“Yes, and lose it on the first corner,” Dad said. “If you take the ladder, you make sure to tie it down. That might be better to have a ladder in the hole, anyway. That would give you a chance to survive if the bank caved in on you. And you make sure you have gloves.”
It didn’t take long, and we were changed and ready to go. Dad came out just as Gary finished getting the ladder tied down.
“This cow is probably going to be all bloated up,” Dad said. “Mom has been up there for several days, so it could be dead for that long. You dig this hole on the back side of the cow so you can just roll her over with her legs and drop her into the hole. That hole needs to be at least four feet wide and however long it needs to be to fit the cow. When you are deep enough where you can’t see out, you only want to have one of you in the hole at a time and keep the ladder in the hole.”
“Okay, we are on our way,” Gary said. “How long do you figure this will take us?”
“A couple of tough guys like you two, you should be done in an hour or two,” Dad said. “You should pull over and put some gas in that truck before you go. I’m not sure I trust that gas gauge anymore.”
“I thought that gas was just for the farm, not the highway,” Gary said.
“The state isn’t going miss a few cents for tax money,” Dad said. “And how would they know, anyway.”
Just as we started to leave, Mom came out with a jug of water.
“It’s going to be hot this afternoon,” Mom said. “You might need this before you are done.”
Gary took the jug and handed it to me, and we were off. The trip up the river to Lila’s place was not long, but the old farm truck didn’t go fast, and it was a hot and bumping drive.
I got out, opened the gate, and pulled out to where the cow was lying. She was all puffed up, and her legs stuck out straight. Flies buzzed around her in swarms. When we got out of the truck, the odor struck us.
“This is going to be nice,” Gary said. “Let’s get to work so we can get the old girl in the ground.”
“I wonder what she died from?” I asked. “I mean, cows don’t just drop dead like this.”
The question was answered quickly when we noticed a bullet hole between her eyes.
“Night hunters,” Gary said, looking at the hole. “That was a pretty good shot if they made it from the highway. Damn idiots, people should know that there are cows in these fields.”
We got started digging right away. We marked off the margins of the hole with small shovel scoops. It was about eight feet long, four feet wide, and only a couple of feet from the cow’s back. It would be easy to pull her up on her back with her outstretched feet, and then with a slight push, she would tumble into the hole.
The ground was dry and hard at the beginning, and I thought this was going to take forever to dig a deep hole. But after the first couple of feet, the ground was softer, and the digging went faster. I had to work hard to keep up with Gary. His side of the hole seemed to be just a bit deeper than mine.
It wasn’t long, and we were down about four feet on my side.
“We better get the ladder in the hole,” Gary said. “And then we can take turns digging.”
“I can still see out pretty good,” I said.
“That’s because you haven’t been digging fast enough,” Gary said.
“No, you’re just short,” I said.
Getting out of a hole four feet deep is a bit of a challenge, but I could jump up, push with my hands and throw a leg out on the grass. Almost falling back into the hole, I quickly grabbed a handhold on the grass and pulled myself out.
I retrieved the ladder and placed it in the hole for Gary.
“Let’s take a break and get a drink of water,” Gary said. “It’s getting hot, and I’m almost sick from smelling that cow.”
We took the jug of water and sat in the shade of the filbert trees. The odor from the cow was much less there, and shade felt good in the growing heat of the afternoon.
“I was talking with Roger Gary the other day,” Gary said. “They have been doing pretty good pigeon hunting. Both up at the blue clay slide above Bridge and up Four Bit Gulch.”
“Don Miller and I are going to try up at his uncle’s place on Catching Creek,” I said. “Where did they come up with a name like Four Bit Gulch?”
“They say that is what the whore house used to charge back in the day,” Gary said.
“When was that?” I asked.
“I don’t know, probably before the war, maybe later,” Gary said. “Let’s get back to work. With this softer dirt, we should be able to finish this hole in no time.”
I climbed down the ladder first. Gary pulled the ladder out, and I started digging. I knew Gary was in a hurry, so I dug fast. The air seemed better as the hole got deeper, and the odor was not nearly as strong.
“Okay, let’s change places,” Gary said. “You are slowing down a bit. If we keep changing off, we can be deep enough in another fifteen or twenty minutes.”
Watching how fast things went, we probably should have taken turns from the beginning. In no time at all, we were at ten feet. We pulled the ladder out of the hole and stood looking, first at the dead cow and then at each other.
“Which end do you want?” Gary asked.
“I’ll take the front legs,” I said.
We swung our arms to scatter the flies, and each grabbed a leg. with a hard pull, we rolled the cow up onto her back. Then glancing at Gary, I nodded and gave the legs one final push.
The cow tumbled into the hole. There was a load splat when she hit the bottom of the hole, and there was a gush of gas as her belly broke open. Fluid spilled from her belly and from both ends. The odor was overwhelming.
Gary turned away and gagged.
“Let’s get her covered up,” I said as I grabbed the shovel and started shoveling dirt back into the hole.
In no time, we had the hole filled in and a large mound of dirt on top. The air was clear, and the flies were gone. We loaded the ladder onto the truck and headed home.
“The good thing is we got done soon enough for me to get cleaned for tonight,” Gary said.
Mom was waiting out front when we got home.
“Could you tell why she died?” Mom asked.
“Lead poisoning,” Gary said, pointing to his forehead with a finger.
“Night hunters,” Mom said. “I hope they realize how much that cost Robert.”
“It probably wouldn’t have happened if Uncle Robert still had his hounds,” I said.
“They wouldn’t have been gone if he still had his hounds,” Mom said.
“Dave, you put things away and clean up the truck,” Gary said. “I’ve got to get cleaned up. I can still smell that cow on me.”
Photo by Alexey Demidov from Pexels.