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Homegrown Entertainment on the Farm
During that bygone time known as B.C.E. – Before Cerebellum-atrophying Electronics – children had to invent their own entertainment.
For instance, the summer when I was 10, my sister, Di, and I decided that we needed ponies. We presented our best pro-pony arguments to our parents (ponies could be used for emergency transportation, plus they would make us look like a miniature Roy Rogers and Dale Evans) but were told “no.” Horses, Dad said, are hay burners and we needed all of our alfalfa to feed our herd of 25 Holsteins.
But we didn’t let a little thing like parental disapproval stand in the way of a bracing, wind-in-the-hair gallop. In our cattle yard were critters who, like horses, were large, four-footed, and herbivorous. Why couldn’t a cowboy or cowgirl ride a cow?
Di and I each selected a likely heifer. When we tried to slip halters onto our steeds, they ran from us as if we were skunk perfume salespersons.
Undeterred, we decided to leverage the heifers’ fondness of grain and presented them with buckets of corn. When the heifers buried their noses in the buckets, we slipped our homemade halters over their heads. Using great stealth, we then tried to climb aboard our steeds. After several failed attempts, I finally sat astride my noble black-and-white charger.
And there I sat until the heifer gobbled the last few kernels of corn. Suddenly noticing that a weird two-legged creature was perched atop her bony spine, she bellowed with alarm and bolted, accelerating at a rate often associated with top fuel dragsters.
I swiftly discovered that cantering Holsteins have no steering and don’t respond to commands such as “Slow down!” or “Whoa!” or “Look out!” I was unhorsed (uncowed?) by a low-hanging bough when my heifer galloped past a tree.
But the cattle yard wasn’t our only source of entertainment. The hayloft of our dairy barn provided my seven siblings and me with countless hours of amusement.
Among our favorite hayloft activities was constructing kid-size tunnels from bales of hay and straw. Our tunnel networks were masterworks of forage-based engineering. We crafted secret hiding places and side tunnels that could be used during heated games of bale tunnel tag.
Our parents could always tell when we had been playing in the bale tunnels. We would have so much hay and straw entangled in our hair and clothing that we looked like pint-size versions of the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. To this day, the mere thought of a burning broom gives me the heebie-jeebies.
Another boredom buster was our farm’s ever-changing, multicolored herd of cats.
Tracking Down Kittens
The cats were given leftover milk. In return, the felines were expected to evict the mice and rats who viewed our farm as a sprawling rodent condo and all-you-can-eat buffet. We petted and named all of our barn cats, but paid especially close attention to the mother cats.
We would take note whenever a mother cat began to sport a telltale bulge. Within weeks, she would come to resemble a furry, four-legged cantaloupe.
One day we would perceive that the mother cat had become suddenly svelte. Overnight, she had transformed from a creature that was so plump that she could barely walk into a slinky thing that could easily slip through the spokes of a spinning bicycle wheel.
As soon as we determined that a mother cat had given birth, the race was on. We had to find her nest as quickly as possible; if the kittens weren’t properly acclimated to humans, they would become feral. We would also be deprived of innumerable hours of watching the fuzzy little clowns play.
Mother cats can be extremely sneaky. We had to scour the hidden nooks and crannies of our farmstead in our search for the baby kitties. We would occasionally pause and hold our breaths, listening for the telltale “mew” of newborns.
Upon discovering the nest, the kittens would be petted and named. We would try to guess their genders, but this was never our strong suit. If we later learned that we were wrong, “George” would simply be changed to “Gidget.”
Some momma cats were unnaturally canny. One successfully concealed her babies from us for several weeks. By the time we located them, the kittens’ eyes were open. When we peered into their nest, we were greeted by a chorus of ferocious little growls and hisses. It was as if the cat had birthed a litter of Tasmanian devils. Fishing out a kitten was like sticking your hand into a blender.
I’m sure we did many other things back then to entertain ourselves, but I can’t recall any just now. Maybe I can find them on Facebook.
Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.