Always a place for strays at home

I was the oldest of four kids, which made me sort of a trailblazer who did all the new or experimental stuff first — good or bad, often bad.

When I finished the eighth grade at our country school, my parents faced a dilemma. The nearest town (that had a high school) was 50 miles from the ranch. My parents dealt with the problem the same way many ranch families did in those days (40, 50, 60 years ago).

Rather than board me with a family they hardly knew in town, they moved my mom and us kids to a house we owned in our home town during the school year. We all hated that arrangement — specially my dad — but that’s a familiar story in ranch country. Many families had that same problem.

Our town place wasn’t that bad. The town had probably a thousand residents. Our place was out on the edge and had a few acres, a barn, pens, a fenced pasture, room for my menagerie.

I’ve always been the one who brought everything home that appeared to need a place to stay. We had a squirrel, a baby lamb, a bunch of chickens, some rabbits, a Shetland pony, three regular size horses, a milk cow and her calf, a parakeet, several cats and various other animals that sorta came and went.

The river ran through our place, and we had a fence on the side toward town. Big, old cottonwood trees made the area beside the river a great place for animals and people, especially youngsters who lived in town and had BB guns that needed shooting.

That would have been all right, but the kids crawled over, under and through the fence, so it often ended up with holes or gaps in it. Some of our animals — especially the milk cow — invariably found the hole and decided to check out the green grass on the other side.

Dad thought about putting in a gate, but the kids would have left it open, making the situation worse.

If my horse got out it wasn’t a problem because I had him trained to come to me when I whistled, no matter where we were. I always had a chunk of cottonseed cake or other feed in my pocket for him.

The milk cow was another story. If she had stayed close by the river, everything would have been fine. But nooooo, she had to check out the town. She wandered into people’s yards, investigated their clotheslines and flowers and generally made herself at home.

My mother was often embarrassed by a call from our local city policeman saying, “Your milk cow is down here on Main Street.”

If we were in school Mom would have to bring the cow home. She usually went afoot and hated it because folks enjoyed shouting clever little remarks like, “Offering milk extra-fresh today, are you?”

When she made us kids bring the cow home and fix the fence, a little animal needing a home often followed me, so I didn’t mind that chore too much.