Our farm had been in the family for a few generations. In the early 1900′s, before the time of refrigeration, there was a small building on the farm that housed the food that needed to be kept cool – the milk house. Fast forward 80 years into the future, and it was still standing strong to see my generation. Unfortunately, in our time, it was mostly a useless building. Well, maybe to some – but for a few farm kids, it was the perfect CLUBHOUSE!
Us kids had that old milk house perfectly decked out. There was an old, black and white TV, rotting our basement that we lugged out to the clubhouse. Clearly, you can’t have a totally cool clubhouse without a bit of technology. This TV probably weighed about a 100 pounds, complete with a hanger for an antenna and two knobs that you could dial in the only four stations that were available in the world of rural nothingness. I think there was only one station that actually came in, mostly fuzzy.
Do you remember when your parents specifically told you NOT to do something?
Well, I remember Mom telling us NOT to watch soap operas on television. So… of course, that is exactly what we did behind closed, clubhouse doors. The words ‘young and restless’ described us exactly, so I guess there is no surprise why that was our favorite soap.
We eventually grew out of the clubhouse, but The Young and the Restless was always a part of summer vacation. For one hour a day, my sister and I were basically unavailable. Dad knew it, and rolled his eyes because of it, but as long as the chores were done – he didn’t complain too much. . . except for this one time.
The credits were rolling at the end of another unmissable episode of ‘who was having an affair with who’, when Dad and my brother walked into the house, after running some errands. Dad blankly asked me, “Where are the 4-H cattle?” He was referring to our three show steers. Awaking from my soap opera daze, wondering what would happen on tomorrow’s episode, I half-wittedly answered, “They’re tied to the bunk, I just watered them.” Dad looked at my brother, like I was suffering from a stint of amnesia.
We all walked out to the small bunk where I left three steers, happily eating. It was a scene from a ghost town. All of them – GONE! There was not immediate panic. Cattle get loose – not really a big deal. We just needed to take a few minutes to look around. They probably wandered down to the lot to be with the rest of the cattle, or maybe for a bite to eat in the pasture – the grass is like green-gold to them. After about thirty minutes of searching on the farmstead… panic started to set in. Dad’s otherwise, laid back disposition was beginning to diminish.
The questions started to elevate in tone, and fired off in rapid, machine gun format. “When did you tie them UP? How long were you in THE HOUSE? Did you tie THEM UP GOOD!” Cattle DON”T JUST DISAPPEAR! DID YOU HEAR ANYTHING!”
I didn’t have a chance to respond to any of the questions before the next one was asked, but the last one caught my attention. Did I hear anything??? ”Dad! Hear WHAT!?! – the cattle walk away???” The frustration was evident, as was Dad’s dwindling patience.
When emotion-fueled panic takes over logic – clearly, there is nothing left but over-thought, paranoid, conspiracy theories.
Dad was short, “Yes! Did you hear anything? Did anyone pull into the driveway?” I instantly knew where Dad was going. Hey, it happened in the Ol’ West – it could happen to us…CATTLE BANDITS!
“Three steers just don’t disappear – DON’T tell me a few thousand dollars just WALKED OFF THIS FARM!” Dad said. “What were you DOING! Did you HEAR a truck pull in the driveway!?!” I clearly explained that I was only the house for an hour watching, The Young and the Restless. Dad instantly interrupted me, and we’ll leave out his comments after my explanation of where I was. Dad went on about the cattle bandits, and how I could possibly miss a truck/trailer taking the cattle – when something caught my eye.
It was my saving grace. In the distance, a little pile of brown glistened in a sea of green grass, in the form of a clue – a fresh pile of POOP!
We were on to something. Unfortunately, the pile was a little too close to the road. We walked a little further, and looked down the road, hoping that we were wrong. There, in the further distance…another pile of poop – ON THE ROAD! In the world of farmer, there is no worse feeling than the animals out on the road. We followed the steaming, piles of clues for about a half-mile down the road, when suddenly the trail went dry. Thanks to an early morning rain, we picked up three sets of hoof prints in the muddy ditch, leading into an open field. The tracks made some circles and then just ended. No poop. No leads. The trail was cold.
After a long hike, standing in the middle of the field with nothing left to follow, the frustration was taking its toll , especially on Dad. We walked that entire field. They were gone. ”HOW IS THERE NO TRAIL! THIS field is MUD!” Dad yelled, pacing back and forth. We stood out there for another 45 minutes, just hunting for another clue. ”Did Aliens just ZAP them away!” Dad yelled, sarcastically.
It was hopeless. The field was surrounded by fence and dense forest preserve. If they did get passed the fence and got into the woods, they were as good as gone. After Dad’s sarcastic alien comment, we knew the hunt was over. As soon as we started to walk out of the field, we heard a slight rustling noise. There was something in the thick brush.
There they were – all laying down, completely camouflage, behind a broken part of the fence… totally chillin’ - chewin’ their cuds, taking in the great show. Those steers were watching us the whole time – yelling, pulling our hair out, in the maddening search for a single, fresh poop clue!
So the great steer hunt had come to an end. We knew that a rain shower had come in earlier that morning, which had allowed us to pick up muddy, hoof prints. The short rain shower came in after I had tied them to the bunk. The rope halters shrunk when they got wet, causing the knots to slip – ultimately leading to the great escape. Case closed.
The moral of this story is clear – don’t rule out the obvious… because you never know when a cattle bandit might be lurking!