Animal Characters

American football player with cat head in lights of sport arena. Mixed media

By Lela Torgesen Wade

Feral cats were always welcome on our farm, mostly because they kept down the rodent population. My little brother and I tried to tame them, but they were very wary of people. Even the table scraps we left for them in the barn were often ignored. The large black one that I named Kate was an exception. We even coaxed her into the house, after several weeks, when Mama was too busy to notice.

One sultry summer day several neighbor boys came over to play football with my older brother. They frowned upon a girl having any part in their game so I was sidelined.

Meanwhile I observed Kate lurking at the corner of the house, studying the strange goings-on as if learning how to play this game. Several minutes later my brother had the ball and was nearing the goal line. Kate bounded into the chase and with all claws bared, leaped onto his left leg, leaving bloody scratches from shorts hem to ankle. He screamed in pain and rage. She shunned him from then on.

For many years we kept a herd bull whom someone had nicknamed George. He had a pedigree, as did all our registered Aberdeen Angus, but I don’t remember what it was. George was particularly friendly with his human family. When he spotted us in the pasture, he’d chug toward us at top speed looking like a hairy freight engine.

Eighteen hundred pounds of muscle. But he always made a sudden stop about three feet from us, then bowed his head so we could scratch his ears and forehead. He was the only herd member who ate wild onions. When we entered the barn in spring and early summer and smelled onion breath, we knew George had come in to get cool.

Angus are hornless and very gentle. But never go anywhere near a calf and its mother, or you’ll be trampled.

We had several dogs over the years. The first one I remember was Hugo. He was a Saint Bernard mix and the size of a small pony beside me in a photograph when I was 2. A few years later we were adopted by Pete, a medium-sized white mutt with light tan splotches, and Spook, a chow mix. They were loyal guardians of little brother and me, roaming the woods and pastures with us. But if we set off toward the store just down the road or anywhere else off our property, they felt it their duty to stay home keeping watch.

I raised a calf to show at the county fair two consecutive years. Her shortened name was Blackbird. Then I trained a sheep. I called her Elvera for some reason. That just popped into my head and I accepted it. She was chosen as Grand Champion ewe the second year she competed. They were both my very special friends, following wherever I led, without leashes.

Daddy insisted on owning only Brown Swiss milk cows. He said they produced the most and richest milk and were very mild mannered. First there was Polly, already with us when I was born. Many years later she died of old age. That breed was scarce in this country.

Daddy had to drive his cattle truck about 300 miles round trip to purchase the one named Maryann. When she passed on, we bought milk from a neighbor or the grocery store. But Daddy still woke up at 5:30 every morning the rest of his life, in time to milk before going to his office.

I can still hear him calling – two protracted notes sounding like “Hew, cow!” And she would come sashaying up the pasture hill and glide into her milking stall.