People seem to believe that farms need animals. Generally they do. Some persons are wont for driving to a farm, opening the door to their vehicle and speeding away after depositing, oh say, unwanted puppies or a litter of kittens. That’s probably where the term “letting the cat out of the bag” came from.
Having barn cats is nice. Having a house cat is even more comforting. Thus we ended up with a ball of fur named Jasper. He was just a bit of a thing when we first got him but had this fur that made him appear full and lush. Utilizing my favorite reference source, the public library, I believe Jasper was a Maine Coon Cat. We had a myriad of other cats in the barn, too.
Some friends of ours were going on a mission trip to Africa and brought us their black Labrador Retriever. They wanted to find a new home for her as she had killed all their ducks. That didn't faze me. She was a Lab and that is their nature – they are hunting dogs for persons who kill birds, generally ducks. It was her inherent nature to do so. The family who gave us the dog was named Schwartz, an old German name that means ‘black’. So I named the dog Ebony Schwartz (Blackie Black!).
Ebony became the ‘protector of the property’. She learned the entire 20 acres of the land and protected it well for us. Some mornings she would greet us at the door with huge groundhogs she had found and killed, then brought them home for us to admire. She would be sitting at attention and when we opened the door, she began this slow dance, wiggle that would build to a crescendo with her quivering in anticipation of us saying, “Good Girl, Ebony! You saved the farm from destruction of the evil Ground Hogs!” She would then pick up the dead ground hog and take it to her quarters and ‘coddle’ it! Getting it away from her was a difficult and stinking job! Whew!!! We would have to chain her to the corn crib, then take the dead thing out of her sight to bury it.
We finally figured out what the issue was. She was approximately three years old and had never had a litter of pups. She was trying to quell her maternal instincts by coddling and nurturing a dead ground hog! One spring day, during her throes of estrus, the Beagle Boys from a nearby farm came to call. I wasn't too worried, she was chained and inside the corn crib. She was a ‘tall’ Labrador and they were short and stubby Beagles.
That afternoon when our son came in from the school bus, he loudly proclaimed, “Ebony is going to have puppies!” I, in a rather smug fashion said, “I don’t think so, she’s in the corn crib.” He said, “Not any more.” This first grader led me outside to the corn crib where Ebony had dug under the building to get out, then dug the opening deep enough where the short, stubby Beagle Boys could… well, I’m sure you can put the rest together.
Our son was right. Later that summer, Ebony gave birth to her first litter of 13 pups! Oh my goodness! My husband and the kids fixed up a spot on in the old summer kitchen and helped to usher those puppies into the world. One didn't appear to be going to make it, but I took a towel and massaged the little guy until he was a wiggling mass and gave him back to Mamma Ebony. I don’t know how she did it, but all the pups survived even though there were not enough teats. When the time came, we were able to find homes for all the puppies, too. I learned that farms are a wonderful way of teaching children the facts of life.
That summer kitchen was also the place our daughter fed the cats during the winter months. I recall one evening after our dinner when she went out to the summer kitchen, calling “kitty, kitty, kitty” then a shrill scream after she turned on the light. We went running! Poor girl was as white as a sheet. We asked what was wrong and she told us an opossum had been sitting there, eyes glowing in the dark waiting for a meal. We still laugh about that excursion of hers.
We had another set of missionary friends who had a wonderful, highly trained Golden Retriever name Tyler. Highly trained that was, except for chasing cars. One caught him and he was… well, a bit brain damaged. They asked us to take him, so we did. Ebony tried to teach Tyler the ropes of living on the farm. She expected him to be able to traverse the 20 acres and help rid the land of evil ground hogs. Her method was to quietly sneak upon them, grab them by the throat and then shake them until their neck’s broke, at which point she would bring them home to us to admire… Tyler wasn't a quick learner.
One evening when setting down to dinner, prayer offered and the plates passed, I happened to glance out the window. There was Tyler, practicing his “grab them by the throat and shake them until their dead” maneuver with one of the very small kittens. I must have turned white as Husband asked what was wrong. I motioned for him to follow me and we went outside to separate the dog and kitten. Fortunately, it wasn't lethal and the kitten lived. My daughter would have been damaged for all time and eternity had she witnessed that event!
Ebony grew weary of Tyler and did what she had done to other dogs left on our property. She took him for a 3-day hike and lost him. When she returned she acted as if nothing had changed. And life continued on at the farm.
As we lived in one of the most remote locations in the state of Ohio the first two week of November were challenging. It was deer hunting season. The first week for bucks and the second week for both genders. Let me preface this section of the story by saying emphatically “I don’t eat Bambi!” Nor do I eat Thumper or any other critter that Disney could possibly use as subject matter on a feature length cartoon. In fact, had I never tasted steak, I probably could have been a vegetarian – not a full fledged Vegan, but a vegetarian.
Sorry for the interruption, now back to the story… So during those first two weeks of November, it literally sounded like the Civil War around our farm. Men would travel to the area from the big city with all their camping gear, their weapons of mass destruction and ammunition and loaded six-packs. It was frightening. Really. We had to take florescent paint and mark the animals; “PIG” “HORSE” “GOAT”. We’d heard the stories about field dressed goats being taken to the weigh station.
By now you are probably laughing, but I’m serious. A jeep sped past our house and two guys were sitting on the hood with their rifles pointing towards our pond. I looked out the window and saw a young doe shaking and quivering and probably thinking, “I’m gonna die… I’m gonna die!” All our property was posted “NO HUNTING” so I went outside with a clipboard and pen and placed my fingers between my teeth and whistled loud enough they stopped the jeep and looked at me as I was writing down their license plate number. They left. (If they couldn't read the posted signs you know they didn’t read the hunting license manual.)
I think I mentioned that we were… financially challenged during that period of our lives. I refer to that time as ‘the poverty years’. So, it was hunting season and Husband fancied himself the ‘great white hunter’ so off he went to the corner of our property that was by a rather steep ravine. He had to chase Ebony off so she wouldn't scare off any deer that might approach. He settled in with his hunting rifle and devotional book. When he finished he offered a prayer. Now, he sat there for quite awhile, but eventually he heard a noise and when he looked up it was a doe, a deer, a female deer and he took aim and shot. Over she went head down into the ravine where she bled out. Soon he heard a voice saying, “What’d you get?” Husband was sure it was the voice of God and thought, “Don’t you know, Lord? It’s a deer!” Fortunately, he didn't utter that out loud and soon realized it was the voice of our neighbor, who said, “I kicked it up over on our property and she ran through here.” Husband (you recall… the great white hunter) asked the neighbor, “So… how do I gut this thing?” Neighbor helped him out.
He somehow got the deer home and then strung her up by her back legs from the tree. When Farmer Bumpus (the original family of owners of our property) came to take a look, Husband asked, how long do you let them hang before taking them to the butcher’s? Mr. Bumpus informed Husband that part of the hunt is just for show. What did we know? We were amateurs, after all. She hung in the tree until the school bus backed into the drive. Then Husband removed her and took her to the butcher’s. And still… I don’t “do” Bambi even though God did indeed provide!
Until the next installment… I remain as ever,
PS Isaiah 58
11 The Lord will guide you continually
and provide for you,
even in parched places.
He will rescue your bones.
You will be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water
that won’t run dry.