A former scaredy cat recounts fears on the farm and off the farm

Mychal Wilmes says he was a scaredy cat, afraid of his niece's tales of aliens and mass murderers along with the real-life dangers of the mean gander, pecking hens and lightning strikes. But he found his courage when he was called on to help get the angry bull out of a pen.

Chickens congregate in a yard.
Among Mychal Wilmes' expressed fears was being pecked by chickens while collecting eggs.
Erin Ehnle Brown / Grand Vale Creative LLC
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What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

It was nearly impossible to find any good in the gander that threatened children and adult visitors if they came near the flock he was protecting. Mother — with a broom in hand and an apron around her waist — rescued the unaware from the gander’s wrath.

I decided that it was time to prove to my same-age nieces and nephews that a feathered fiend didn’t scare me. It was a false bravado, proven when the goose’s approach sent me running amid “chicken, chicken" taunts.

Truth be told I was a scaredy cat, a condition worsened by Mary, a same-age niece who often spoke of alien sightings and abductions, and mass murderers. She fixated on Ed Gein, a Wisconsin resident who robbed graves and murdered a couple of people in the 1950s.

He was eventually committed to an asylum for the criminally insane. That was bad, Mary said, because Gein could easily escape from the asylum.


“What would you do if you saw him," she asked.

The answer was obvious. The alien abduction tales were much harder to get a handle on. Her theory came at a time when farmers in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin reported cattle mutilations in pastures. Certain parts were removed from the victims, which had died without a known cause.

Some thought aliens were behind the mutilations while others said Satan worshipers roaming the countryside were responsible.

Dad was a skeptic about the stories, but with each report in the newspaper and on television, I was convinced that there must be truth behind them.

“What would you do if you were abducted?"

I hoped that the aliens would be friendly, though photographs of the aliens that appeared in a magazine that Mary had convinced me that they wouldn’t be.

We were shocked when two otherwise healthy yearlings were found dead in our pasture. They were not mutilated. Dad thought dreaded blackleg might have killed them. A brother-in-law’s herd suffered from it. His dead cattle were buried deep in peat ground.

The disease is caused by bacteria in the soil and usually affects younger cattle. Many livestock owners routinely vaccinate against it.


It was lightning and not disease that killed our animals.

There is good reason to fear lightning, though Mother said thunder amounted to nothing more than angels having fun bowling in heaven.

She did not understand when I admitted that I wouldn’t gather eggs from occupied nests. Mean hens pecked exposed skin on the wrist. An egg picker who left occupied nests was, in her words, close to worthless.

The ultimate test of bravery unexpectedly came from Leo Selly. He rented out bulls to several farmers. We had rented a Hereford to breed heifers in the calf pasture. The bull was out of control and ineffective and Leo brought a replacement. The challenge was to corral the current pasture occupant.

Dad and Leo hemmed and hawed for several minutes before hatching a plan that much to my surprise included me.

“You can run fast," Leo said.

I thanked him for the compliment before learning what the two men had agreed upon. A rope needed to be placed around the bull’s neck, and then the end of the rope held on to. The bull would charge, but I would reach the fence before the animal reached me. The bull tickled my rear end before I passed through the barbwire fence.

Other tangible threats existed.


Most communities constructed fallout shelters as the nuclear threat from the Soviet Union worsened at the height of the Cold War. Grade school students practiced should an attack occur by hiding under desks with hands covering their heads. The U.S. government produced an educational film about how people could better protect themselves should war begin.

Homes that were freshly painted with well-trimmed shrubs would better survive than homes lacking in good maintenance.

Gory horror films hold no attraction. The memory of Mary’s take on aliens and Ed Gein remain vivid.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minnesota, with his wife, Kathy.

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