Orphan Survival Stories Index |
I WAS A "COW" BOY
I was not sure exactly where I was heading that day. At 14 years of age, I had no family and no place to go. All I knew for sure was that I was an orphan all alone in this world, that it was cold and I needed a place to stay.
I cannot even remember now, exactly where I was at that time. If I am not mistaken, I was somewhere in Florida or Georgia.
"WOW!" I said as I read a sign stuck in the dirt along the side of the road.
"HELP WANTED. NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY," read the large, hand-painted sign.
I walked up the long quarter-mile driveway and knocked at the first house I came to.
"Can I help you?" asked the large man that opened the door.
"I'm here about the no experience job.”
"Have you ever worked on a dairy before?"
"No, sir. I have never worked anywhere before."
"My name is Don. What kind of jobs have you done?" he asked.
"Just criminal kinds of stuff."
"Criminal stuff? Are you a criminal?" he questioned.
"That's what the reform school told me," I said looking down at the ground.
"What did you do to be sent to the reformatory?"
"Just running away from the orphanage and that kind of stuff."
"That was all?”
"I did steal some cigarettes one time, but that was a long time ago when I was a kid."
"Do you know anything about working on a dairy?”
"I know about cows and stuff like that."
"What do you know about cows?"
"You squeeze them on the bottom and white milk comes out."
"Well kid, I guess you got the job," said Don.
We walked over to an old, white shack. He said it was mine to live in for as long as I worked at the dairy. Then he gave me a pair of old, rubber boots and some gloves.
"You got any belongings?" he asked.
"What are belongings?"
"Things," he said.
"Things?" I repeated.
"Stuff, clothes and money?" he said waving his hand over his head, pushing his hair out of his eyes.
"I ain't got any clothes and stuff, and I sure ain't got any money," I advised.
He pulled out his wallet and handed me $5.
"Walk down to the store and get yourself some food. There are pots and pans in the cupboard. I'll take this from your salary."
He walked out the door.
"At 4 a.m., I will be knocking on your door so be ready," he yelled back at me.
I walked to the store and purchased a package of hot dogs, a loaf of bread and a bottle of catsup. I returned to the old shack, got a pan of water and boiled the hot dogs on the stove. This was the first time I ever cooked for myself and I was a good cook too. Only one of the hot dogs split on the side, so I knew I was going to be a good cook person. Then I walked around for a while in my very first house before going to bed.
"UP AND AT 'EM!" yelled someone as he began beating on my front door with his fist.
I jumped out of bed and my heart was racing 50 miles an hour. I stood up and looked around the room wondering where I was.
"Get a move on! Get those rubber boots on and get them cows into the barn," yelled the stranger.
"Four a.m., cows, milk? What the heck is going on here?" I thought.
As I dressed, it all came back to me. I was a man now. I had a job, a house and hot dogs to eat. I had to go to work to make money. I walked over to the window and looked outside. I saw no need for my rubber boots when it was not raining. I locked my front door with my very own key and walked toward the large barn.
"Open that gate and run those cows into the barn," yelled one of the two men standing in the darkness.
I opened the gate and then closed it behind me. Waving my arms into the air, I ran around behind the herd of cattle so they would move into the barn. I may not have been the brightest kid on the block, but it took me very little time to understand what those rubber boots were for. I had always thought that stuff on the ground at diaries was just mud that did not smell very good.
We had to milk the cows twice a day, every day, seven days a week and work from sun up to sundown. After the first few days, I was almost dead from exhaustion.
The next morning, I got up and walked out to the barn about 2 a.m. The boss had bought several dozen donuts the night before, which I had taken to my house for supper. I stood by the fence eating a donut when a black and white cow walked right up to me and stood there. I pulled off a piece of donut and held it out. To my surprise, she walked right up to me, gently took it from my hand and ate it.
After that incident, that cow would always be waiting for me each morning when I came out of the small shack house. I made sure that I kept plenty of donuts at all times, so that she and I could share breakfast together.
I had noticed that she had a large, black, heart shape on her side, so I named her ‘Big Hearted Betsy.’ I would take one small bite of the donut and then give the rest to her. We did that every day that I worked there.
I was in the barn about two weeks later when the boss-man yelled for me to come over to his house. When I arrived, he sat down at his kitchen table and said, "Bad news kid."
"What kinda bad news?”
"Things are bad around here. Got to close the dairy in about a week," he told me.
"Cows are giving good milk, Don," I said.
"Lot more to the damn dairy business than just the milk," he replied shaking his head.
"Do I lose my shack?"
"Afraid so kid. You finish out the week and I will pay you then. You were a hard-working criminal kid, so I'll give you a little something extra at the end of the week," he said as he laughed aloud and turned his back toward me wiping his face on a handkerchief.
I walked out of the office and returned to the silo where I finished shoveling the sour hay stored there. Later that afternoon, I saw a bunch of men driving up in an old pick-up truck. They began taking a bunch of tools out of the back of the truck and carrying them to the far end of the barn.
"What's all them tools gonna do?" I hollered at one of the men.
He said not a word. He took his finger and ran it across his throat like a knife, and then he laughed. I did not think anything more about it, until I got up the next morning. I did not see the big, silver milk truck, which always came to collect the milk.
I walked out of my shack and did not see ‘Big Hearted Betsy’ at the corral fence. I was surprised when I saw all the cows were already in the barn and that they were in the stalls. I stuck the donut in my front pocket and headed toward the barn at a very fast pace. I wanted to know who was doing my job, when it was mine to do.
All of a sudden, a strange man grabbed me by the arm.
"Where you headed kid?"
"Someone’s' doing my job and... "
The man grabbed me again, turned me around and pushed me out the barn door.
"You go on back to where you came from. This ain't a place for a kid.”
"But I work here for Don and I got to help milk," I yelled.
"Ain't any milk'n around here no more," said the large man. "We’re getting ready to slaughter."
"What's a slaughter?"
"Going to turn them into meat steaks."
"YOU MEAN KILL'EM ALL?” I yelled.
"That's life kid. Get use to it," he said as he turned and walked away.
"You ain't going to shoot them? Are you?"
He stopped, turned around and walked back toward me.
"How old are you, boy?"
"Fourteen, I think."
"Okay, you want to know the truth?" he said looking directly into my eyes.
"They line them up and hit each cow in the head with a sledgehammer, and then they cut their throats."
I just stood there in a state of shock.
"But these here are milk cows, not meat cows," I replied lowering my head and looking down at the ground.
"All cows are meat cows, kid. Got to go and get it done.”
He gave me a look of concern and walked away.
Again, I just stood there in shock. As the man disappeared, I walked into the barn and found ‘Old Betsy’ among the herd. I released her steel bar and backed her out of the stall. She followed me out to the corral. I hugged her neck and then I took the donut out of my pocket and gave it to her. I turned around, walked out of the corral, went back to my shack and began packing my few belongings. When I walked back out the front door, Betsy was standing where she always stood every morning since I met her.
"MOOOOO," she bellowed.
I slowly waked back over to the fence and reached out to pet her for the last time. Lying on the ground was one small piece of donut, which she had not eaten.
"MOOOOO," she bellowed again.
I reached down, picked up the small piece of donut and held it out to her, but she refused it. I pushed it toward her mouth again, and again she refused to eat it.
MOOOOO," she cried as she slobbered and shook her head back and forth.
"I can't do it," I told her.
"MOOOO," went her sound again.
I took the small piece of donut and raised it to my lips. I opened my mouth, inserted the one bite of cake and began to chew. I swallowed the piece of donut and just stood crying. Old Betsy snorted, turned around and started walking toward the barn. She never looked back and finally disappeared into the large doorway.
I grabbed my small bag of clothes, my gloves and my rubber boots. I walked over to Don's house and knocked on the door. When the door opened, I held out my gloves and boots.
"I don't want to work here no more," I told him.
"Come on inside," he motioned with his head.
I walked in and sat down at the kitchen table.
"What do I owe you?"
"Can I have a cow instead of money and maybe that extra that you were going to give me?" I asked.
"And just what are you going to do with a damn cow?" he questioned.
"I thought I would make her like my horse."
"Look kid, I am going to save you a lot of grief. Just take this money and forget it," he ordered as he handed me an envelope.
"They’re going to kill all the cows anyway."
"Get your butt out to my truck and I'll carry you out to the highway," he said and pointed at the door.
I got up from the chair, walked out the door and got into his truck. He drove me down the long driveway to the road and told me to get out. He spun around and headed back down the driveway to the barn. I stood there for about 30 minutes and then I turned and slowly started walking down the highway.
Several miles down the highway, I began to hitchhike. Many cars passed before a truck finally stopped and offered me a ride. Little did I know, it was one of the men who had slaughtered the cattle.
"Did you get any meat?" asked the man.
"I don't want any meat.”
"I got some in the back if you want some.”
I looked out the back window of the truck and saw 10 or 15 packages of meat wrapped in shiny, white, plastic paper. We had driven for about 10 miles when the man told me he had to turn off at the next crossing.
I’ll just get off at the corner," I said.
"Well, I got to pee anyway. Watch my truck and I'll be back in a minute," he said as he ran off the road and out into a wooded area.
I walked to the back of the truck and looked at the packages lying in the back. I reached out and felt of one of the packages, but jerked my hand back when I felt its warmth. I saw that one of the packages had a note stuck to it that read, "Mark, Lilly phoned and said for you to please pick up some bread, milk and donuts on your way home." I removed the note from the package and stuck it on one of the other packages. Then I took the package that had the note attached to it and threw it into the bushes along the side of the road.
Several minutes later, the man returned. I thanked him for the ride and he drove away. I walked out into the bushes and picked up the white, shiny package. I got down on my hands and knees, and dug a deep hole in the hard ground. Then I buried Betsy next to a tree, right by the big ditch.