(Originally published May 2, 2014 on my blog on my original website.)
Excerpt from Keeping Secrets —
“Come on, old woman.” Mary ignored the cow’s bawling and tugged the red milking devon by the rope into the skinny dirt lane leading up the hill to her house. She untucked one end of her white scarf from her bodice and wiped the perspiration from her forehead, then dabbed her neck. The occasional northern breeze offered only minimal relief against the heat and no relief against the mucky, rank smell rising from the cow’s muddy hooves and legs.
Mary raised her eyes to start up the hill towards home. Halfway to the house, Amon Cayle and several of his children turned around. She stopped. Why in the world would that man be here?
Blossom bumped into her back. Mary scrambled her feet, but just as she regained her balance the cow’s tongue slid up her cheek. She shoved Blossom’s slobbering jaw sideways, being careful to avoid the curved horns.
The girls giggled. Amon cleared his throat in silent reprimand.
Mary tucked the ends of the scarf back into her bodice, then forced her legs forward.
Blossom, like other cows in the American colonies, was a red milking devon, one of the oldest and purest breeds of American cattle in existence. Brought from Devonshire, England, to the then English colonies in the 1600s, they were used for milk, meat, and as draft animals (for work). Their milk was especially good for making dairy products. The glossy red coat ranges from deep mahogany to chestnut, while the horns are white with black tips. By nature, they are calm, gentle, intelligent animals that are not afraid of hard work. It was difficult not to turn them into pets, as Mary McKechnie and her girls certainly make of Blossom.
Blossom is indicative of so much of our history that we, not only as a nation, but as humans have lost. In fact, we’ve lost not only ideas and traditions, but “things,” including animals, as well. In the years preceding the American Revolution, this cattle was found on every farm in colonial American from Maine to Florida. By the 1970s, however, there were only 100 purebreeds in existence. That’s not only hard to imagine, but it’s heartbreaking. At this time, thanks to the conservation efforts of several groups starting in the 1980s, there are 600 pure breeds on record. Seventeen of these live at Williamsburg, Virginia, and are a part of their domesticated breeds program.
For Mary McKechnie, the thought that red milking devons would someday be nearly extinct would have been laughable. Besides, she was too concerned with feeding her girls and keeping Blossom in her corral.
“Having trouble?” Amon’s dark eyebrows drew together.
Is that all he could think of to say?
“She is old and gets more stubborn with age,” Mary said. “We never use to have trouble with her leaving, but after our other cow died last spring she has done nothing but get out to find company.” She pushed a damp curl dangling near her right eye back into her coif and then started towards the frail weathered barn to the right of the house.
Amon fell into step beside her. “How did she get out this time?”
“I don’t really know. We fixed several weak areas in the fence last week, and we moved the rope higher so she couldn’t pull it off the post.”
Why was her voice shaky? And why was she rambling so?
“Does she go somewhere specific?”
Now why did the man ask that? For that matter, couldn’t he smell the beast?
“To your bog. There is a patch of sweet clover she likes.”
“The bog isn’t the safest place for a cow, Sister Mary.”
“I am well aware of how dangerous the bog can be, Brother Amon.” Why was the man here? It wasn’t to discuss her wayward cow. She shoved the animal into the corral. Once she was rid of Amon, she would come back and clean the mud from the animal’s legs. She pulled the natty rope over the top of the gate.
“Believe me, I am trying to keep her in, especially since I think she is calving.” She bent over and shoved a rock three times the size of her fist in front, then turned back around to find the quartet watching her.
“Sister Mary, this is my daughter Elizabeth. And this,” he said, chucking the toddler’s chin, “is my daughter Abby.” He reached behind his legs and steered a small boy out by his coal-black head. “This is Thomas.”
Mary’s knees weakened so she had to lean against the fencing. If it hadn’t been for the cow’s rough tongue nuzzling her cheek yet again, she would have fainted. She tore her eyes away from the boy and forced them back to Amon’s face. That wasn’t much better. The man was better looking now than in his youth. His round face had chiseled around the cheeks and jawline, and his eyes had taken on a deep cobalt color. She had to fight the dizziness in her head.
Apparently, Blossom is not going to be Mary McKechnie’s only problem.