It was the worst late-spring storm I’d seen in a while. I was on the highway heading home after a long week of college classes and I fought to keep my little car on the road. Water sheeted across the windshield despite having the wipers on full blast. As I neared home, soft hail began to coat the edges of the window and collected on the edges of the road. Despite it being mid afternoon, the sky remained dark. At last I approached our turn-off, and with grateful relief hurried to park my car in the familiar little garage.
I grabbed my purse and book bag from the passenger seat, and hesitated at the garage door. The storm had intensified. Frigid air howled against the old boards. I pulled my coat close and made a mad dash for the basement door of the humble Sears & Roebuck farmhouse I shared with my husband. The sloppy ground nearly slid me into the basement door.
I tumbled inside and breathed a sigh of relief. Made it. I paused to listen; the wood furnace crackled away but the upstairs remained unusually silent. It was possible my husband was out feeding the cows across the creek. I started up the stairs.
The front room was warm and dark. I paused on the threshold to let my eyes adjust. I nudged the basement door shut, and the recliner across the room creaked.
“Honey?” I asked softly.
“You’re home. I’m glad.” He sounded sleepy. I rounded the corner into the living room and found him curled up in a couple blankets.
“You look like you’ve had a rough day,” I said, setting my bags down on the couch.
He nodded and stretched. ” Rough night, too. How are the calves?”
“What calves?” I hung my coat up on the coat rack.
He blinked at me. “You didn’t see them?”
I shook my head.
“They should be down in front of the furnace.”
I gaped at him for a moment before hustling back downstairs. As I rounded our workbench toward the furnace, sure enough, I saw four fuzzy, black bodies in various states of slumber stretched out across a multicolored mat of old towels.
Four little Angus calves. In my basement.
My husband’s hand squeezed my shoulder. I hadn’t heard him follow me. “I hope you don’t mind,” he said as he quietly approached them and began rubbing their sides and checking their vitals. “They were just so cold, this was the only way I could think to warm them up.”
“By all means,” I said, squatting down to pet the nearest one. “No problem at all.”
* * *
I didn’t know much about cows in the beginning other than they were big, docile, and tasted good between two sides of a bun and slathered with ketchup. My family had been removed from the farming lifestyle for a couple generations; Grandma’s father had homesteaded in the harsh but beautiful prairie of northern Canada, but the family had moved into town when she was young and never gone back, choosing to run one of the first 24-hour gas stations there instead. As a consequence, while she maintained her respect for the humble office of the farmer and instilled it in her children, they still became city folk. And so I grew up knowing very little about life in the country.
Until I was five years old, that is. When my Dad’s duty term in the Army was up, we elected to move to the mountains of northern Idaho, where Grandma had a few acres and some horses.
This is an installment from my serial, “A Baby in the Basement: My Life as a Cattleman’s Wife.” Catch up via the Serials page.