Most of the critters on our farm had their place in the whole scheme of things, but less so in our hearts. Cows, pigs, and chickens were part of the farming operation; sources of income and food for our large family.
We learned respect for the miracle of life by witnessing calves and piglets being born. We “oohed” and “aahed” when the baby chicks arrived each spring.
Many cats roamed the farm. Good hunting, our meal scraps, and sometimes the treat of fresh cow’s milk kept them content and underfoot. Literally. Open the back door to the house or head to the barn and you were likely to be mobbed by a bunch of hopeful cats and kittens.
I sometimes picked kittens from new litters to name and tame. My younger brother would name new calves and somehow keep them straight.
Most of the farm animals remained nameless though. They came and went and life on the farm carried on. There were a few noticeable exceptions however. The closest we came to indoor pets were our dogs. They were allowed to come down in the basement, through the outdoor entrance, when the weather was uncomfortably cold or hot. They would sleep on a rug at the bottom of the stairs that went up into our house.
Skippy and Sam are the two dogs I remember. They would accompany us on walks and bike rides, announce the arrival of visitors coming down our driveway, and sometimes intrigue us with a find they would bring home. They also had a specific job when we caught pesky gophers in traps set the night before. If you have to ask what their job was, you don’t really need to know.
Skippy was Sam’s dad and was with us for a number of years. I recall a gentle and protective dog. Sam seemed more playful and inquisitive. He mysteriously disappeared in the spring of 1981, when my parents bought another farm and my brother and his wife took over the dairy operation. Sam was supposed to accompany us to the new place, but went missing just as we were moving. It was an added sadness for me, at 15, as we left the only home I had known.
Here is Sam:
And we did have a pretty special cat that was around long enough that all of us in the baker’s dozen knew of her fame. Jumbo was a stray kitten discovered by my sister and her boyfriend near a ballroom where local dances were held. They brought her home and she stayed for many years. I don’t know how she got her name, but it stuck.
She was a prolific mama cat and had more litters than I can count. Here she is in her later years:
Jumbo, Skippy, and Sam left their marks on our memories and our hearts. They weren’t just farm animals, they were family pets.