Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Growing up, every summer would be spent visiting different elderly relatives and being free labor. I'd spend a couple of weeks with Grandma E who taught me all about Slim Whitman and baking bread and rolls, smoking meat, and gardening; then I'd go across town (Canadian, TX) to spend a couple of weeks with Grandma D who, by God, would turn me into a proper Southern Lady. Bless her heart. And then my brother and I would head to Archer City Texas for the entire month of July, staying on Granny and Granddad's homestead. In July, the only thing between Archer City and Hell is a barbed wire fence, and it's usually down.
Granny and Granddad were actually my great-grandparents, Grandma E's parents. They had a large rambling farmhouse that had seen 7 kids, 19 grandkids, and more greats than they could count. They called us greats "boy" and "girl" and left it up to us to figure out who they were addressing. We got pretty good at it.
But I was pretty much a city kid compared to my cousins, and life on the homestead was full of new experiences, both wonderful and terrifying. It was where I learned fried chicken didn't come from a bucket, eggs didn't come from the grocery store, and animals REALLY liked to fuck. Cattle, sheep, horses, dogs, cats, that's pretty much all they did. All of the time. The goats, however, were the most memorable.
By the time I was old enough to help with chores, Granny's eyesight was pretty much gone. Often, I served as her eyes, her little snitch. "Child, what are those boys up to? I'm not hearing them working." And I'd dutifully fill her in on their fuckery and shenanigans. That was about the only thing she needed help doing. Everything else, she'd figured out.
Most of my chores were simple woman's things, helping with laundry and cooking, tending the chickens and gathering eggs, and milking. I've milked both cows and goats. I prefer goats for several reasons, mostly smaller teats and nicer personalities. Granny had a billy and four nannies, and she doted on every one of them. Each wore a leather collar with a bell on it, each bell with it's own tone so she could tell who was where. You'd hear the gentle ringing of the bells out in the pasture, and know who was out there. I got pretty good at telling them apart by my second summer. The billy didn't have a name, but his was the deepest tone. Lana was the oldest nanny and had a tenor, Veronica had an alto tone, Betty was soprano, and Vivian was just a touch higher. When they'd frolic you could hear the chimes ringing merrily, but there were other times....
I'd notice Granny would get a sly little grin when the bells would sound a certain way. Deep notes and one of the higher notes, in harmony and rhythm, getting louder and faster, and then suddenly stopping. She'd chuckle and I'd shoot her a questioning look she couldn't see. "Ah child, sounds like he got some Lana this morning (or Veronica, or Betty, or Vivian, did you notice the goats were all named after glamorous movie stars?)." There'd be a break, then deep notes and one of the other higher notes. And so on and so on. She never explained, I never asked.
And then I was coming back from the barn and stumbled across the billy and Vivian, going hard at it, bells ringing in that familiar rhythm and light dawned in the forest. Oh! Oh my.
Now every time I hear bells ringing, I think of a horny old goat and his harem in Archer City, Texas. Talk about Pavlovian conditioning.