“Anyone want to go with me to count cows?” My father would ask as he stept into the house and looked around to see who might be there.
I grew up on a farm. A few times during the year, my father would come into the house and ask this question.
“Yes!” We would all respond, but he only chose one of us four kids. I was usually working on some task my mother had assigned me, so I was seldom able to accept my father’s offer. But, when I could, it was a special time. I seldom was able to spend time with my father until the summer I was 13, then he put me on a tractor and taught me to farm with him. I didn’t like the machines, their noise, the oil, grease, and gasoline that was involved with them, but I had learned to comply, and I knew he needed help, so I did. That ended when I was 16 and he was killed. Though I didn’t like the work, those are some of the best memories of my childhood.
To count the cows, we would ride in a pasture on a tractor with dad driving. He would drive until he found the cattle, then would drive more slowly, or even stop, and count the cows. He asked the child to count along with him, or separately, and compare our figures. He knew how many cows there should be, and if we didn’t find them all, he would continue to drive until we found, and counted them all.
I remember one time, when a cow was close to giving birth to a calf, and we had a difficult time finding it. When we did, it was lying on its side – still. Dad was concerned. He walked over to the cow to examine her. Was she all right? What was wrong? Did she need help in giving birth?
The answers to those questions were: She was not all right. He could not tell what was wrong. Yes, she needed help giving birth – and we were too late – by mere minutes. The cow, with its unborn calf, was dead, but still warm.
That was a significant loss, a double loss, we could do nothing about. We were too late. This taught me the importance of checking on cattle when they might need help. Counting cows was an important job.
I never knew what specifically caused that cow to die, but we continued to count cows regularly. Once in a while, my mother would go with dad to also count cows. The rest of us thought nothing of it. We knew they were counting cows. Or, at least, we thought we knew.
Several decades later, I was a grandfather by then, the subject of counting cows came up in a conversation with my mother.
“Oh,” she commented. “When I went with him, we didn’t count cows.”
“Really?” I was surprised. “What did you do?”
“Didn’t you notice that I always took a blanket with me?”
Away from the kids, in private, they had something else on their minds besides the cows!