Parents say the darndest things.
That is what we thought when we were stopped from throwing acorns at each other because someone might lose an eye.
We — a half-dozen of us who made our own fun on a fall afternoon while our parents visited — explored in the calf pasture.
We were drawn to the salt block, which had been licked snow white by the heifers.
“Bet you won’t lick it.’’
With that, we took our turns. Our parents, many of whom who thought we were healthier than our town cousins because we were naturally exposed to more germs, were slow to notice. When they did, we scattered deeper into the hilly pasture where we regathered at the cottonwood, which by our accounting was the largest one in the world.
The Hereford bull that ran with the Holstein heifers rested by himself at the crest of a hill. He had a name and was as gentle as the best Herefords often are.
“I dare you to ride him,’’ someone said.
A dare cannot be carelessly declined without risk of being called a scaredy-cat. Besides, he was too calm and old to move fast. I hung on while he rose and stood still for a moment before racing pell-mell down the hill. I made it halfway down. The fall did not hurt, but the landing knocked the breath out of me, and stars appeared.
Laughter made it hurt much worse.
“Don’t tell anybody about it or I’ll get in trouble.’’
My companions did not blab until they reached the house. Mother was beside herself but Dad — who may have ridden a bull bareback a time or two when he was young — did not make a big deal about it.
I hope you learned your lesson, was all that he said.
It would not be the last time a bull caused trouble. Dad did not put any stock in improving the dairy herd’s genetics with artificial insemination. I tried to change his mind without success. Part of the reason was pitching bullpen manure (packed as it was with heavy hoofs and wasted hay) was nearly as bad as cleaning beneath the roosts in the chicken coop.
Cleaning the bullpen was risky business to the extent fork handles sometimes broke. A broken handle, Dad thought, was the result of carelessness and haste. He would — if I were a laborer who got paid — deduct the cost of a new handle from my wages. A second risk involved overloading the spreader with too much heavy manure.
Doing so was hard on the New Idea spreader and increased the risk of a broken apron. He was uncertain about the maximum manure load but was certain that it had been overfilled when the tractor and spreader pulled into the yard with the apron dragging on the gravel.
It occurred to me on those rare occasions when the pitchfork and spreader held up that it was a good idea to ask for a living wage. I aimed high — $5 for the bullpen and $3 for each of three calf pens.
Dad never agreed because by his accounting I was repaid with three meals a day, clothes on my back, and muscles built strong. Mother was more understanding with her egg money, which when she was paid in quarters and dimes, was kept in what used to be a sugar jar.
She allowed that when on the rare occasions the chicken was on the school’s hot lunch menu, I could take a quarter from the jar. However, she did not tolerate thievery. The small grocery next to the school sold chocolate-covered doughnuts that my friends purchased over lunch hour. They were the tastiest thing I had ever seen, and she would not miss 50 cents out of many.
A stealer of small things will grow up to steal larger things.
Parents do say the wisest things.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.