Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Margie Gray loved animals. I remember one of her brothers telling me a story many years ago about how when Margie was a little girl, for lack of anything else being available to adopt, she would rummage and dig in the cool, mossy crevices of the spring above the family's cabin until she found a box turtle to make a pet of. Not a lot of pet potential there I would think, but I suppose when you're a little girl in the middle of the country off Lee's Creek, you made do.
The photo at the beginning of this blog piece is my favorite of my mother. Hands-down. I don't know what touches me most: her fashion magazine look against a backdrop of borderline poverty, the countenance of absolute rapture that emanates from the two pooches, or the other-worldly glow of my mother's face as she seems to divine the innocence and unconditional love from her pets, routing it up through her heart and out her eyes. Eyes that seem to have found something farther down the road.
No one has the perfect life but some fare better than others. Margie Cashion was barely into her teens when her mother passed away after a long, tough illness. The decade of the Great Depression colored her childhood in ways that I'll never know. World War II found her moving to Louisville with her sister Hazel and finding employment at Bowman Field. She met my dad on a blind date during a visit back home, fell in love with a recently discharged soldier, married and built a life.
Folks I knew always said that if there was reincarnation, they wanted to come back as one of Margie Gray's pets.
Fast-forward forty years and my mother found herself in the role of a farmer. A cattle farmer of all things. And there was the rub. Being an unapologetic animal lover made life tougher than it had to be on a cattle farm. It didn't help that she named each and every calf that was born. Or that she bottle-fed all the calves that found themselves rejected by their mothers. Or the innumerable nights that Margie Gray doctored and nurtured a sick cow or calf back to health.
Bonds are great until they must be severed.
So, you see, sale days were particularly tough. Getting the calves loaded wasn't the problem. When the truck and trailer arrived, she simply called up her babies. I can still hear her voice: "Come on, babies, let's go. Come on babies." And here they would come, crowding onto the trailer as calmly as if they were going on a field trip.
No, the problem came when the trailer pulled away with a crunch of gravel and clouds of dust and rolled down the drive to begin the trip to the sale barn. My mother grieved. She grieved as deeply and as long as the cow mothers did.
My dad passed away in 2001 and my mother held on as long as she could. But the time came that the herd had to go. Geri and I came down from Nashville that morning, to lend moral and emotional support as much as anything else. When the buyers arrived, the cattle were herded and loaded. It was a long, grueling process and my mother shed a tear for each animal as it was loaded on a trailer. Unfortunately, it wasn't a clean sweep, and there were a handful that managed to slip away into the woods, and no matter how hard anyone tried, they couldn't be coaxed to load.
The next morning, the buyers arrived armed with more men...and horses...and ATVs. And for twelve hours they tried to catch a half dozen head, four cows and two calves. It was a loud and anguished day. Lots of yelling, cursing, screaming. ATVs tearing through the woods like giant hornets. Men brandishing lariats on horses attempting to corner animals half as agile but twice as determined not to be cornered. The whole sweaty crew left that evening with nothing but dusty clothes and sunburned necks to show for it. Said they'd be back the next morning with more horses and more ATVs.
That evening, as the sun was setting behind the woods and filling the sky with a soft strawberry glow, my mother walked out to where the pasture met the woods and called. Her voice carried lightly on the breeze.
"Come on, babies, let's go. Come on babies."
And, one by one, they ambled out of the woods and into the paddock she had readied with hay and water. Once they were in, she closed the gate.
My mother always said the farm was never the same without cattle. She said that they kept her company after Dad died. And that it felt good to have something out there living and breathing on all those stretched-out acres. She said she liked hearing them and being able to look out her windows or back door and see them. They were really nice company, she claimed.
And I sometimes think maybe that was what that pretty, well-dressed young woman was seeing all those many years ago, in that rough scrabbly yard with the two pups pressed reverently against her. I think maybe she was seeing her future and that her future would contain lots of creatures needing her. Lots of innocent four-legged guys and gals needing a true and steady advocate. Lots of creatures in search of a soothing voice, a kind touch, and a strong and loving heart.
If they were fortunate enough to cross paths with Margie Gray, they found all these things and more, I believe. And were happier and better for it.
As was I.