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Growing Up With Jiggs

Juanita suggested I tell about my early childhood growing up on a farm in Missouri. I was born at the Cowdery family farm near Adrian, Missouri. Adrian is a very small town. I was one of the New Years first-born babies. I was born February 11th. That lets you know how small Adrian was. It still has not grown any. Every time a baby is born someone leaves town.

My mother and father divorced when I was 7 months old. After that, my grandparents raised me until I was twelve. We lived on a farm without electricity, telephone, or any motorized equipment. We used horse and mules to till our land. We grew all our own food, except things like salt, sugar, and spices. About twice a month we'd hook up a team of horses and take some eggs, cream, chickens, or maybe some grain to town and exchange them for things we couldn't grow on the farm.

My grandparents had no formal education and could not read or write. I remember times when grandpa would have me sign his name and he would then put an X as witness to the document. Even though he could not read or write, I considered him very intelligent and a person with high integrity and standards. My grandmother taught herself to read and write. That may be why I started in the first grade when I was four years old. I remember explaining to grandma and grandpa what I was learning. ( I sort of helped them with my homework.) Even though we were poor I remember a happy and carefree childhood.

We had a border collie dog named "Jiggs". Jiggs was very smart and a good work dog when it came to herding the cows and pigs from the field to the barnyard. Jiggs would only bring in to the milk barn the cows that we actually milked. He never brought in the bulls or steers. He would always cut them out and make them stay in the pasture.

Grandpa had a new John Deere wagon with a spring seat that was the latest comfort in wagons for the time. It was the same green and yellow colors that became the standard for John Deere equipment in later years. He was proud of that wagon and for Christmas he made me an all wooden wagon and painted it the same colors. I knew he thought I was special when he did that. One afternoon I took Jiggs and my homemade wagon to the calf pasture just west of the barn. I found my Grandpa's lariat rope (the one I was told to never touch). I tied one end to my wagon and the other end to Jiggs. Then, I got in the wagon and sicked Jiggs after a yearling calf. He took off!! It was the fastest ride I had ever had in my wagon.

We were going along a fence when a jack rabbit jumped up right in front of us. Jiggs became more interested in chasing the rabbit then chasing the calves. He really picked up speed and I was really having fun . . . until the rabbit went under a barbed wire fence. Jiggs also went under the fence. My wagon and me were too big to fit under it. We hit the fence full bore. When I woke up, Jiggs was licking my face. I picked myself up and decided that having Jiggs pull me in the wagon was just too much variety for me.

I was untangling the rope from the wagon and the wagon from the fence, when a yearling calf wandered over to see about all the commotion. She gave me another great idea. I started petting and making friends with her. Then, I slipped the rope over the calf's tail. I even put a half hitch around it for good measure. This didn't seem to bother the calf so I tied the other end of the rope to my wagon. I took a good grip of the handle and jumped in. All this time Jiggs was just watching and wondering what this was all about. I yelled at the calf and told Jiggs "sick'em". Jiggs started to chase the calf. The calf didn't seem too concerned until the rope tightened and he realized that the wagon was also chasing him.

The calf was much bigger, stronger and faster then Jiggs.. I was comforted in knowing that a calf wouldn't become sidetracked by any stupid rabbit. We made a big circle in the field and I was having the wildest ride ever. Then I noticed we were heading toward the barnyard. I forgot that I left the gate open. The calf was running all out and when she turned and headed for the gate.

When the calf got to the gate, she made a sharp right turn and ran for the safety of the barn. I almost maneuvered the sharp turn but hit the gatepost instead. The next thing I remember was Jiggs licking my face again. I looked around and there wasn't a calf in sight! The collision with the gate had ripped the tongue and front wheels off the wagon. As I started picking up the pieces I noticed at the end of the rope where the calf should have been, there was only a little over two feet of bloody tail. I took the rope with the tail tightly attached and limped to the barn. Once inside the barn I noticed this wild-eyed calf with a missing tail. I made a decision right then to deny any knowledge about the calf. I then tried to get the knot untied from the tail. After a while I realized that I was going to need a knife to cut the tail out of the tight half-hitch knot.

I walked into the house (trying not to limp), where grandma was peeling apples for canning. She asked how come my hands were bloody. I stammered for a while and finely confessed that I must have gotten blood on my hands from my nosebleed. She seemed to buy that but asked how I got a nosebleed. I told her that the wind had blown the barn door closed and that the door hit me. She said she, "couldn't recall any wind". I quickly grabbed an apple she had peeled and started to eat it. She told me to go wash my hands and not to eat any more apples she had peeled. After I cleaned up, I came back to the kitchen. While she had her back to me, I grabbed the knife and put it into my pocket. When she turned around I grabbed another apple and said I had to check the chickens as I had seen a hawk flying over near the chicken house.

I went to the barn and retrieved the rope with the tail still attached. I found my way over to the hog-pen where I could sit in some weeds and try to cut the tail out of the rope. I was deep in thought and didn't hear anything. But, I noticed a shadow beside me. I looked up and there was grandma. She had missed her knife!! This just wasn't my day.

Grandma grabbed me and marched me to the house and paddled me good. I yelled real loud and then she quit. She warned me that when grandpa came in from the field he would probably kill me. When grandpa came in from the field that evening he took me to the woodshed and whipped my butt good. My screaming and hollering didn't impress grandpa like it did grandma. After he tired, he told me that if the calf died, he would bury me in the same grave with the calf. I believed him!

As more punishment, I had to follow the calf around all day and swish the flies off, as with no tail of its own it could no longer do that. It took some time before the calf would let me get close enough to do any swishing. Most of the time, when I saw some flies on her, and would try to get close, she would run away from me. She just didn't trust me. But, the running seemed to keep the flies off her anyway. After a while, we got the calf in the barn and attached a short rope to her tail stub and she did learn to use it as a real tail. We had put salve on the end of the stub and that also kept her from getting an infection. I named her "Bob", because of her bobtail.

Christmas 1936, Grandpa gifted "Bob" to me. About two years later, "Bob" had twin heifer calves. The next year she delivered another female calf. About that time my mother remarried and was trying to get my three brothers and I back together. My grandparents were having some health problems and they moved into town. My Uncle Earl and his bride moved onto the farm. He asked me what I wanted to do with my cows. We made a handshake agreement that I would leave the cows with him, and he would feed them in exchange for keeping the proceeds from selling their milk. Also any future calves we would divide equally. In 1946 I returned to Missouri and found that I had a herd of 9 producing cows and 2 younger heifer calves. My uncle had bought himself another farm and I sold my herd to him for $750.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All ...

John & Juanita

 
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