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Living the Simple Life Status Update…It’s Complicated

Living the Simple Life Status Update…It’s Complicated


Whoever said living in the country is the ‘simple life’, obviously never lived in the country. Country living takes grit, resilience, and emotional fortitude. It has been just over two years since I said farewell to the city limits and embraced my tougher rural side. The transition has been filled with a multitude of learning opportunities for me and I am woman enough to disclose that I sometimes lack grit, resilience, and emotional fortitude. Sometimes, I am just an idiot.

My first faux pas was made with good intentions. Spirit is the resident matriarch horse on the farm. She is a beautiful Morgan Paint, which loosely translated for town folks means she is BIG and looks like Tonto’s horse from the Lone Ranger. Each morning before leaving for work, I would take Spirit an apple or handful of carrots. Her forelock (loosely translated—horse bangs) was always hanging in her eyes. My attempts to use my hairclips to pin it up out of her eyes didn’t go well. She lost every single one of my hairclips. I decided to give her a trim. Spirit ended up looking more like Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber than a beautiful horse. As it turns out, the forelock is important for keeping flies and other debris from irritating the horse’s eyes. Who knew horse bangs were more than a fashion statement??dumb

In addition to the acceptable grooming practices of horses, I have had my eyes open to other farm animal maintenance. If a baby calf gets stuck in her mama cow’s vagina, it is customary to hook chains to the calf and help pull it out. The boy cows don’t have it easy either. If you are unfortunate enough to be born a boy cow and you aren’t given immunity status to continue growing into a bull, a routine circumcision would be a welcome trade for what is in store. The little boy baby cows are rounded up and their little baby cow balls are cut off and tossed into a bucket. Chains in a vagina and a bucket of cow balls…all in a day’s work.

As luck would have it, I am not involved in the day-to-day operations of the farm. It is probably a good thing, because I am a little too emotionally high-strung to be of much use. One of the baby donkeys got stuck in the mud near the pond and drowned. All the Animal Planet viewing in the world did not prepare me for this travesty! While tuning into Animal Planet, I fully expect crocodiles to leap out of the water and snatch up little water buffalo, but this isn’t the Serengeti! We are smack in the middle of America’s heartland. Mother Nature’s bitch-slap is far reaching.

donkeyI don’t cut off baby cow balls or get near the vagina of a cow birthing her young, but I do have animal responsibilities on the farm. I am the caretaker of the barn-cats. Barn-cats are an integral part of country living and I do my part to make sure they are fed, warm, loved and cuddled. According to barn cat protocol, barn-cats are not to be named, as there is a high turnover among the resident barn-cats and thus, I have been advised not to get attached. I seldom follow sound advice (heavy sigh).

LuLubelle was one of the initial barn-cat residents and the beginning of my cat wrangling adventures. LuLubelle was born with a hole in her diaphragm, which resulted in her not being a candidate for spaying. Contrary to popular belief, her breathing difficulties did not eliminate her from lifting her tail for the first Tom Cat who came along. LuLubelle’s transgressions led to a small but robust barn-kitty boom. I had my hands full trying to keep up with finding homes for adoptable kittens, foster mothers for the shitty-kitty moms’ kittens, and keeping up with sterilization for the youngsters coming of age.

LuLubelle tired of the mother (and now grandmother) grind and headed off to take up residence in the solitude of a quiet, not so crowded, barn (this is what I tell myself anyway, because recognizing the fact that she may have been a late night snack for a coyote is just too horrible). Finally, all the kittens had homes, LuLubelle had moved to her retirement home, and our barn was home to one small kitten named, Yellow Cat. My work schedule had been rather hectic and I knew I had several months before Yellow Cat would be mature enough to have kittens, but evidentially some kitties mature faster than others…and now we were suddenly back up to six barn cats.

**WARNING: This is the point in the story, where things take a tragic turn and cat lovers and the squeamish should probably bail out now.**

I found yellow cat with her new brood in the hay manger in the barn. It was early morning and I was headed to work. The light in the barn was dim and she wasn’t really keen on me poking around. I could still see that several of the kittens weren’t cleaned well and I was worried that she was going to be a shitty-kitty mom. I gave her some words of encouragement and headed off to work. Returning that evening, I went out in the barn to check on her. I brought a flashlight so I could get a better look at how the situation was progressing and I was totally unprepared for what I was about to encounter. There were three kittens nursing and two seemingly piled beneath them. I started moving them around to get a better look and I saw what looked to be a placenta, which Yellow Cat should have gobbled down long before this point. Confused by the mangled ball of kittens, I reached in and picked one of the kittens up, and instead I hoisted up four tangled kittens. They were all still attached to one placenta and completely entangled in a web of umbilical cords.

The act of me picking up the intertwined kitten-placenta ball caused one kitten’s umbilical cord to pull off and I couldn’t control the bleeding. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to save that little guy, so I reluctantly turned my attention to the other three still mangled together. With hands shaking, I was able to tie off and cut the cord, freeing one kitten from the mass. The remaining two were in a pitiful predicament. It was obvious that the kittens had been tangled long before they were born. Their little legs had been cinched together with an umbilical cord so tightly and for so long, their little tiny paws hadn’t formed. There was just rotting dead tissue where little paws should have been.

One of the kittens was visibly smaller and looked as if it was already succumbing to the infection that was no doubt raging. I had to get them apart. I went plundering for medical supplies. Running back to the barn, I had discovered that the weaker kitten had died, but was still hopelessly tethered to its sibling. Using every ounce of courage I could muster, I carefully snipped the rotten leg off of the dead kitten. I surveyed the situation; I had one living kitten, which was not a part of the original tangled mess. I had one living kitten that I had been able to successfully free, two kittens that had not survived, and one kitten with a rotten leg, still attached to both the placenta and the severed rotten leg of its sibling. Kitten farming is REALLY hard.

kittySadly, even after a successful amputation and antibiotic therapy, little “Stumpy” kitten wasn’t strong enough to make it. I buried him in a sunglasses case under the tree near the barn, where yellow cat likes to sun herself in the afternoons. Sweetie and Dot are the surviving twin brothers of the ordeal and have grown into a handsome loving duo. Sweetie, Dot, and Yellow Cat have decided to leave barn-living behind. Mama and her two sons have moved into the garage, where my husband has built them a two story insulated and heated condominium. They often join us in the house and stretch out the furniture or curl up in a lap, before retiring to their kitty-condo.

It has been hard for me to convey the situation I encountered in the barn that day, even to my family. When I arrived at the house bloodied, panicked and carrying Stumpy still attached to the severed leg and nasty placenta, my family questioned my sanity (this is not the first time my sanity has come into question). Several days later, my daughter’s friend commented that her throat was hurting and my daughter replied, “Don’t tell my mom, she might cut off your head.”cattwins

I read somewhere that tough old farmers don’t cry, but I know better. This country way of living is still pretty new to me, but I have seen enough to know that tough old farmer also have the biggest hearts. I am not sure if having a big heart is a prerequisite for the job or rather something they acquire along the way. I assume if it is okay to sometimes cry in the barn, perhaps I have some farmer potential. It is probably better to look at my potential as a farmer more objectively and as my dad would tell me, “You aren’t tough enough to make a scab on farmer’s ass” and I am pretty certain he is absolutely, 100% correct.





Phantom Pain


agpaThere are some tragedies which start out slowly, festering and lingering. However, there are those tragedies that lie in wait, disguised as any other ordinary day; springing up without warning with enough force the reverberations are palpable for every moment that follows. August 26, 1966 was an ordinary day for my grandparents, until suddenly it wasn’t.

Some stories that have passed down through the generations are diluted over the years and since this occurred before I was born, I will retell the events as they have been told to me by my parents, both who played integral roles in the day’s events.
It was late summer in Missouri and I know without anyone saying so that it was hot and humid. It was four-thirty in the afternoon and my dad was bush-hogging at my grandparent’s house. Bush-hogging consists of clearing away tall grass and brush from a field by pulling a ‘bush-hog’ behind a tractor. My grandpa had walked out to the field to warn Dad of a large hole that was obscured by the tall grass. Grandpa was about 100 yards away from where my dad was clearing when the blade from the bush-hog came loose. The blade rocketed through the tall grass just as my grandpa took a step right into its trajectory. As if his leg were made of warm butter, the blade sliced through-shattering flesh, muscle, tendon and bone. In an instant, his right leg was clinging to the rest of him by a narrow piece of flesh and a scrap of his pants.
Unbeknownst to my dad, who was unaware my grandpa was in trouble, Grandpa yelled out for help as his life blood gushed into the earth around him. My mom was in the house and heard Grandpa’s cries for help. She looked out and saw him lying on the ground. She ran to him and found him struggling to get his belt off so he could make a tourniquet. She flipped completely out as each time his heart would beat his severed femoral artery would spray them both with his blood. He grabbed her and told her to calm down. He needed her help. He told her to run to the garage and get him a rope. She ran.
When she returned with the rope, my dad was at Grandpa’s side. The missing blade had eventually caused the bush-hog to rattle and shake. After stopping the tractor, he realized that something was wrong. Dad found a piece of binder twine (thin tough rope used to secure hay bales together) and he made a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. In order to get it to stop, Dad had to ratchet it up tightly…very tightly. My mom remembers, “When your dad cinched it up, I will never forget the sound your Grandpa made. It haunts me, that sound. But it stopped. The blood stopped. Your dad saved his life.”
The neighbors called the ambulance and it took Grandpa to a local hospital. My Grandma had about a dozen bouts of hysteria and in the end Grandpa lost his right leg above his knee. He spent 14 days in the hospital. During his hospital stay, a wheelchair ramp was built for him to access his house. Upon his discharge, he was given a set of crutches and a short lesson on how to use them. That was the extent of his physical and occupational therapy. He used the wheelchair ramp a total of one time on the day he came home from the hospital. He used his crutches and eventually a prosthetic wooden leg. Two years after his accident, he returned to work at the lead mines. He wasn’t allowed to go down into the mines with his wooden leg, but he worked topside.
I never knew my grandpa as a two-legged man and it never occurred to me that his wooden leg was anything but normal. Grandpa only completed the sixth grade in school. But he was gentle, humble, wise and tough as nails. He taught me more about history than I ever learned in a classroom and wove outrageous tales that I swallowed hook line and sinker. He made me laugh. I made him laugh. He was a World War II hero, but he never told anyone. We found out after he passed through the Veterans Administration. He had an abundance of humility, which is a sign of a true hero.
The part of the story that pains me the most are the months immediately following his accident. It was the phantom pain–the excruciating nerve pain experienced in an amputated body part. The man who fought valiantly for his country, attempted to make a tourniquet for his severed leg, walked away from his wheelchair ramp, and returned to work after his tragic accident—suffering from a pain so intense that it left him writhing in the floor.
I often wondered about this mysterious pain inflicting such torment through a piece of a person that is no longer there. As my parents relayed the details of this tragic day and memories spilled into more memories, it became evident that Grandpa was a part of all of us. His legacy lives through us. Although the memory of his grit, wisdom and integrity live on in our hearts, he is still a physically missing piece of our lives. Although time dulls the sharpness of the pain the dull ache of loss lingers. I guess we all experience a kind of phantom pain when the physical presence of those we love is severed. Sometimes I wonder what pieces of me will linger in the hearts of those I love when I am no longer here.

Some tragedies linger and fester. Some tragedies blow up in your face without warning. But there are those tragedies, like that hot day in August 1966, which are something entirely different… an interlude to life well-lived; just a small piece of a beautiful soul.