Monday, August 12, 2013

Strange Names and 4AM Feedings

I grew up on a small farm.  From 1974 till I ventured out on my own, my life was filled not only with typical animals like pigs, cows, goats (had the 4H Club's reserve grand champion doe), horses, chickens, ducks, rabbits, cats and dogs.  There were some atypical critters too, like an intact skunk named PePe LePew.  (Not very original, I know, but God bless the Looney Tunes) or a whitetail deer named Buckshot, who thought he was a goat.

As a matter of fact, every animal that ever came to live at 7-S Dairy Goat Farm was given a name that suited the specific type of animal, like a pet pig named Pork Chops or a steer named Kobe (yes, as in Kobe beef), or the animal's particular personality, like a grumpy little calico cat named Sweet Pea, her nosy sister Curiosity and their wall climbing brother SureFoot.  Their mother was a street tough feral tortoiseshell named Mugsy.

There was a duck named Harry.  Harry kept us well supplied for several years with duck eggs, because we found out quickly Harry should have been Harriet.  Harry was a domestic white Peking duck, but her man was a beautiful flashy mallard who left every fall but came back to her every spring for about 5 years.  He had a bit of the wanderlust in him.  We had a pet domestic turkey named CT (which was the initials of a neighbor lady with whom CT shared some personality quirks).  That turkey was a better 'watch dog' than any of the dogs we ever had on the farm.

Some of the more unusual names were held by the myriad of cats we had, starting with the very first litter of kittens found in the barn when we moved to the farm in 1974.  Their names were Spike, Tike, Ike and Mike.  Unfortunately, they all got distemper and quickly died.  That little group of kittens started a lifelong love for all of my family with cats.  Even my hard as nails eldest brother softens in the presence of a tiny ball of feline fur.  He was the reason we acquired Moey, which was short for MoTopus Brown.  MoTopus was a combination of
Mont Alto Campus, where she was found in a drainage culvert at about 5 weeks old.  Brown obviously came from her coloring, because that was what my then 3 year old nephew called her.  When Mom and Dad went to visit, and my mom saw that little kitten, my nephew lost his pet, which didn't bother my sister in law at all.

We had cats with regal names like Ebony and Alexander.  There was a gray cat named Rebel and another gray cat named JR (Johnny Reb).  We've had JoeJoe and Bandit, Muffin and Sugar (an all black cat with a very bad attitude), Penny, Tabby, Hickory 1 and 2, Sparky 1 and 2, Garfield, Chance (who is actually DL Chance as in damn lucky chance) and Belle.  My heart belonged to a gray/white/orange tri-color domestic shorthair cat named Sniffles, named after Sniffles the Mouse from the cartoons we watched as kids.  She and her littermates were born under my bed early one morning in 1981.  Some names were not very creative, like KC for Kitty Cat or Callie for a calico cat.  Callie had a son, Ug, which is short for Ugly (my sister named him, not me) and another son named Skunk (yes, he was black and white, with a stripe).

Our dogs didn't get such interesting names, to name a few: Susie; Penny; Freckles; Tramp; Kye; Sandy; Tessa and the latest canine is Diamond.  There were several other dogs, but I am more likely to remember the names of the 75 or 80 cats that were in residence on our little farm, before I would be able to remember the names of all the dogs.  I'm a cat person, and will always be a cat person, much like my mom.

My entire family has a huge heart when it comes to animals of all shapes and sizes.  My one nephew, Jordon, has even tried to rescue baby possums and baby groundhogs.  Neither do well with basic human handling and it is hard to watch a big, burly guy cry because the baby animals couldn't survive no matter how he tried.

Now, don't get me wrong, the farm animals like pigs and cattle, were raised to eat.  It was a horrible irony the first time we sat down to supper to eat pork chops from Pork Chops.  Each spring, after the goat kids had gotten big enough, my dad would take them to a local auction, where they were sold primarily to local Greek families who made them the featured presentation at Easter dinner.  For a batch of rough and tumble farm kids, we hated when Daddy had to make that trip to auction.  Sometimes we got to keep some.  We had decent sized herd of goats for a long time.

The only animal we raised that my dad even refused to eat was the deer, Buckshot.  He had been brought to us as a fawn, because my dad was one of the area's game wardens.  (We called him 'the bunny fuzz'.)  The people who brought him to us thought that his mother had abandoned him, when truth is , she was probably hiding in the shadows not far off, watching, as the humans passed by.  Anyway, Buckshot (I know, an awful name but what do you expect from a family filled with hunters) lived in an appliance size box in our kitchen for several weeks while he gained strength enough to be able to live in the barn with the goats.  That's why he eventually came to behave like our goats, but then our goats tended to act like dogs.  They followed us everywhere when we were in the pasture, playing.

When Buckshot was about a year and half old, and had already sprouted the first buds of his first set of antler, he got his head caught in a keyhole hay manger and broke his neck.  Unfortunately, it didn't kill him.  My dad waited for a agonizing day till we could have the veterinarian come to see if he could help.  He couldn't.  So my dad made the decision to put Buckshot down.  Not being one to waste good venison, and knowing we would never eat our pet, Daddy gave the meat to some family friends who needed the extra as much as we could have used it.  For several years after, anytime those friends visited with a mincemeat pie in hand, my dad would ask if it was made with beef or venison.  If it was made with venison, my dad would not eat any of it...and mincemeat was always one of his favorites.

Growing up on a farm, large or small, is an amazing experience.  It is hard work, but it is fun.  We had chores, morning and night.  During the winter, when the goats had their kids, it was the human kids who got up at 4AM to bottle feed all of the little ones.  I can remember huddling under the heat lamps with the babies, trying to keep warm in a barn during below zero temperatures.  I even dozed off there a time or two, but that was usually because I hadn't slept well, being an insomniac all of my life.  Baby goats are great cuddlers.

Would I change anything about how I grew up?  Probably, if I'm honest.  But then again, growing up like I did has made me the stubborn, determined, driven woman that I am today.  So maybe I wouldn't change anything.  Having such a variety of life surrounding me at all times has allowed me to appreciate the fragile strength of every creature here on this Earth.  It has provided such wonderful lessons in all that it is good and bad about being alive.  Yes, there have been years where that delicate balance between the beauty and horror of living has so overwhelmed that I withdrew from really living.  That was my mistake, and it isn't one that I will make anymore.

There is too much in this world to marvel at, too much to see and be amazed.  I don't want to be tied to the contract of fear that has bound me for so long.  I have taken steps to stop that, and it allows me to finally feel some semblance of peace, like those quiet naps under the heat lamps in our barn.  Life, with all of it's creativity, beauty, and wonder, is meant to be lived.  Maybe it is time I grab the bull by the horns, and hang on.

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