Lost causes found a home at the family farm

Lame piglets, a maimed fawn, and weeds in the fields were all part of the never-ending battle with difficulties.

Kittens rest in grass.
There was never a shortage of barn cats at the author's farm, also no reason not to protect them from intruders.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek

A huge tom cat — a tiger in appearance and personality — caused an upheaval in the barn. He had come to kill kittens so that he might have his way with their mothers.

The chase was on and didn’t end until he was cornered in the feed room near the silo. A two-by-four might do the trick, but a swing and a miss provided him an escape. Rage toward the murderous wanderer increased with each dead kitten.

It wasn’t as though there were any shortage of barn cats that gathered around the pan filled with fresh milk. My favorite feline and likely leader of the cats was an old calico that had been with us for what seemed like forever.

Years before she had fallen ill, wouldn’t eat and was no more than skin and bones. I took a syringe and fed her milk for a few weeks. It appeared a lost cause, but after a month she made a remarkable recovery. She lived for a decade more and gave thanks by regularly rubbing against my coveralls.

Mother, who took in ducklings weak after hatching, an orphan lamb, runt piglets, and other animals in need of rescue, was challenged when my brother brought home a fawn that was badly maimed after being run over by a hay mower.


To read more of Mychal Wilmes' Farm Boy Memories, click here.

Fed initially with an eye dropper and with a leg immobilized by wood splints, the animal appeared to be a lost cause. Mother and the brother who carried the fawn home said it didn’t matter (unless the animal was in too much pain) that lost causes sometimes matter the most.

They learned that by watching “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,’’ a 1939 movie starring James Stewart and Jean Arthur that involved a new U.S. senator’s impossible fight against political corruption in Washington, D.C.

Mother’s last rescue involved a three-legged kitten and its black partner. The cats, treated to an extent like mischievous grandkids, were good company. However, when she could no longer stay at home, I adopted the cats. They and I got along great, but the problem was my soon-to-be wife Kathy could not co-exist.

The cats were gone, leaving behind a sense that I betrayed Mother’s wishes. It did not come too close to the guilt felt when Mother was placed in a nursing home. It bothers me to a great extent, until realization dawned that she enjoyed socializing with other residents, playing bingo, and making dozens of potholders for her children and countless grandchildren and great grandchildren.

The potholders remain in use, along with a decades-old bread pan, and a soup ladle. It’s funny how such things produce soft, comforting memories.

Dad had his own lost causes involving teaching his young son to hit a curveball or his unending effort to rid cornfields of cockleburs and thistles or pastures of aggressively spreading brush. A scythe, before herbicides were accepted and commonly used, efficiently felled field border weeds, but a good technique was important.

He made using the scythe look easy, but his youngest son attacked weeds with all the smoothness of an elephant in a strawberry patch.


Dad — on a day when the spring roosters were big enough to crow and thus large enough to eat — said he was going to show me how to sharpen knives. He cut a plug from his chewing tobacco before sitting down on the pedal-powered stone that may have been new sometime in the 1800s.

Too much pressure and a clumsy sharpening angle could make an already dull knife even duller. Nonetheless, he let me try on one of his lesser knives. It didn’t work out well, but he agreed to let me use one of his to dispatch a rooster or two.

I protested, given that my role had always been as a catcher and feather remover on what was a highly efficient system. I appreciate that my parents never gave up on lost causes.

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

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