Part I – I Was Born on an Amish Farm in the Middle of Winter

Mr. BeanI was born on an Amish farm in the middle of winter.  I divided my time during my first six weeks between playing with my siblings and nursing when I could.

Sometimes my mother wasn’t around, and the six of us youngsters pushed each other aside to drink the trickle of cow’s milk that dripped down from the metal pipes carrying it away from the cows, away from us.  There wasn’t much milk, but it at least sometimes it quenched our thirst.

One day an older cat wanted the milk I was lapping from the pipes.  He rushed toward me and I lost my footing and fell.  I—with all of my 3 pounds—jumped on his back, expecting him to tussle playfully like my brothers and sisters.  He had other ideas, though, and bit off a chunk of my ear.  I learned to be wary.

Over time my stomach became swollen and filled with worms.  I was always hungry, and I became sickly and quiet.  The barn was icy cold, and the wind crept through the cracks.

One winter day a man and woman came to the farm.  They looked different from the people I had known—no long skirt, no hat.  They spoke with the farmer.  The farmer’s little boys found me and delivered me to them.  The woman told the boys that the kitten was going live in a house.  The boys, wide-eyed, said, “Nooo!”  “Yes,” she said laughing, “and the kitten is going sleep on a bed.”  “Noooo,” they said, and squinted at her as if she might be crazy.

To be continued
For Part II: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2013/09/20/part-ii-i-was-born-on-an-amish-farm-in-the-middle-of-winter/

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He Wasn’t Much of a Hunter

He closes the door of the red pick-up truck, repositions his gun over his shoulder, and sets off into the woods.  Despite trying to ease his weight onto the twigs and leaves, toe first then heel, his footfalls snap and crackle and echo through the pre-dawn forest.

A doe lifts her head from foraging, her button-black nose twitching with scent-taking.  With noiseless ease, she lopes off, her white tail high.  A groundhog stands on the crest of his mound-home squinting into the distance, his forepaws tucked up to his heart, his teddy-bear ears angled forward.  He squeaks and retreats inside his burrow.  A flock of quibbling sparrows wheels off into the sky.  Only the cat remains.   She is motionless except for the white tip of her tail.

The hunter walks on, pausing from time to time, looking around, then moving on.  The cat follows, unnoticed, at a distance.

When the sun has climbed well above the horizon, the hunter sits down on a large, sunny rock.  He opens a thermos of steaming coffee, crinkles flat the wax paper covering his sandwich, and munches thoughtfully, his head angled to the side.  Sun-warmed and drowsy, his shoulders relax and he closes his eyes.

The cats comes closer, soundlessly.  She sits a few feet in front of him and looks up.  The hunter opens his eyes and startles, then feels foolish.  He mutters something about cats—he’s never liked cats.  He glares at the cat and looks into her gold eyes.  She holds his gaze evenly.  He sighs, then he breaks off a small piece of cheese from his sandwich and tosses it on the ground.  The cat eats it and looks up expectantly.  The man breaks off a larger piece and holds it out to her.  She gracefully leaps onto the rock, and with one paw on the hunter’s leg, she gingerly takes the cheese from his hand.  The hunter slides his broad palm down her back, then offers her the rest of his sandwich.

After a while, he gathers his things, slings the gun over his shoulder, and sets off.  The cat jumps down and follows.  Twice he looks back over his shoulder.  He opens the truck door and sweeps his arm wide in a welcoming gesture. The cat jumps in, settles herself on the passenger seat, and washes her face.

Two seasons have passed since I found my hunter.  He wasn’t much of a hunter, really—I could read that much in the way he moved.  It was plain to me that he wasn’t really interested in hunting as much as he was playing a role.  It was also plain to me that he thought he didn’t like cats.  Most people who give cats a chance find they like them after all.

These days I wait by the window for my hunter.  He comes in with a blast of cold air.  I jump down and wind my way around his legs.  He stoops to pet me and says a word or two.  Then we pass a companionable evening in silence.  His gun is in the attic, tucked away forever.

 

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Frank Sinatra

Why they named me Frank Sinatra, I am not sure.  The neighbors laugh every time they say the name.  From what I understand, Frank was a singer.  Perhaps they named me because of my voice.  I wouldn’t say it’s mellifluous, like the birds that live at the borders of our pasture, but to my ears the intake breath sound of Hee and outflow breath sound of Haw have a nice, solid sound, like large farm machinery scraping across the floorboards of the barn.  I like that.  It makes me less lonely for my kin.

I do have a friend.  He’s a horse who shares the pasture and barn with me.  His name is Fred.  No last name.  Wherever he goes, I follow.  Mostly he doesn’t mind, but sometimes he swings around toward me with flattened ears, so I back up a few paces.  A little later, when he’s not paying attention, I sidle up and stand near him.  I’m quite a bit shorter than Fred, but I feel that my being near him somehow adds to my stature.

We came here from different places—here being this roomy pasture with a barn, and a man and woman who live in the stone house.  Fred traded hands many times.  He made friends at the first few places, but with each subsequent trade he kept more and more to himself.  He told me, What’s the use in making friends when humans can decide at any time to send you somewhere else?  Horses have no choice.  We’re compliant, and we withstand all sorts of things.  But that doesn’t mean that our hearts are resilient.

Fred came here five years ago.  I don’t think he or I are going anywhere.  That’s the feeling I get from our people, and I’ve overheard them talking about letting us live out our days here.  Still, Fred keeps himself a little apart from me, just in case.  Once in a while, Fred touches my neck with his nose and I bow my head in gratitude.

The man and woman take him on trail rides now and then.  Sometimes I go along, led by a long rope.  I like the change of view and I’m happy not to have all that saddle and gear strapped to me.  We go down to the end of the pasture, out through the gate, across the cool stream, and up into the woods.

Unlike Fred, I wasn’t so much as bought and sold as shunted from one place to another.  Children at one barn rode me a few times before becoming bored with me, so I went to another place where men in straw hats and suspenders and women in long, dark dresses worked me hard.

I pulled some contraption across a field, back and forth, back and forth.  I wasn’t fast or strong enough to suit them, and more than once they lashed my back harder than necessary to get their point across.  I strained and tried and sweated, but it was never good enough for them.  They believe that animals were put on earth by god for their use.  Never once did they touch me with kindness.  I closed my mind to it, but I never got used to it.

Eventually they stopped working me and brought in a broader, stouter donkey that pulled whatever they strapped to him.  In the pasture, though, he always stood with his head hanging low, his eyes half-closed.

I was sold at auction to the man and woman I live with now.  They coaxed me into the trailer and then out of the trailer, down the ramp, and into a pasture of tall, sweet grasses.

I kept waiting for things to unravel—for the food to become meager, for a command to pull something far too heavy, but it never happened.  Gradually I came to trust them.

Sometimes at night the man and woman sit on their porch playing wooden stringed instruments.  The woman sings.  Her voice is like a wisp of wind spiraling up into the sky.  Sometimes I’m inspired to sing along with her.  When I do, Fred stands nearby and listens attentively to the sound of our voices in harmony and the kind, kind laughter of the man.

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