Through almost fifty years of veterinary practice, Charles brought home some mighty interesting things. I never knew what he might have in his hands or his truck. If he’d been to Barry Lee’s on a late afternoon call he’d often have a pound of butter or a dozen brown eggs. If he’d been to Mr. Ready’s on a September day he might have an exam glove full of grapes. From any number of generous farmers and their wives he might bring tomatoes, peas, potatoes, onions, corn, squash, cabbage, greens. But one of the most unusual loads he brought home was a paralysed cow.
Former governor of Florida, Leroy Collins, had a herd of thirty or so cows on a modest parcel of land in Grady County and would call for a veterinarian from time to time to castrate calves or give inoculations. He was very tenderhearted, Charles said, and couldn’t stand to watch when the calves were being cut, would wander off to inspect a fence or something while they did their work. He was in his eighties probably, a tall slender elegant man who spoke, as one might imagine, with authority. There was no doubt he expected his requests to be filled.
One day he called and Dr. Maddox responded. Governor Collins said he had a cow who had calved and was no paralysed. Dr. Maddox gave her shots and said normally a cow with nerve damage following calf delivery would get up in several days but it could be weeks or even months.
A week later Governor Collins called and said the cow still wasn’t up. Dr. Hall, our bright red-headed veterinary employee straight from Auburn, went to help. He saw the cow up and gave her more shots. He reported that the cow was find, just couldn’t move. One night Charles told us at the dinner table that Governor Collins had called again and this time he was the large animal veterinarian on call. He told us how Governor Collins instructed him by phone to “Come down and euthanize that poor cow and dispose of her.”
“So is that what you did, Dad?” asked William slathering butter on hot homemade bread.
Charles reached for another fried pork chop and cut into it before he answered. “Not exactly. Well, see, I got there–just while ago. It was late and I had nobody to help me. The cow looked bright-eyed so I sat her up cow fashion with her feet in front. She looked good. I mean–sure, she’s losing some weight and her hide’s sort of skinned up. But, really, she looked good. So I gave her an anti-inflammatory shot and pumped her up with vitamins, refilled her watering tub and checked that she could reach her food, and left her there.”
“Did you call Governor Collins?” I asked.
“Oh, sure. I told him not to give up on her yet. At least give her a few more day.”
The next time I heard about the paralysed cow was about a week later when Charles drove into the barnyard with her. He and Noah, a big strong dark-skinned fellow who worked for us then, had managed even in a slippery light rain, to pile that cow on a little low two-wheeled trailer and bring her home.
“Did Governor Collins give you the cow, Dad?” quizzed William as he tried to help sliding her off the trailer.
Charles didn’t answer until the three guys had managed with great groaning and maneuvering to move her to a nice place under a pecan tree. Our pasture was already dotted with ten half-grown calves which Charles had taken on his half of a payment for a veterinary bill. He set the cow up “cow-fashion,” as he called it, and then leaned against his truck to catch his breath.
Taking off his hat, he ruffled his sweaty hair. “Governor Collins called and asked if I knew of a farmer who might want to fool with this cow. I told him most farmers didn’t have time to nurse one this long. But I’d see what I could do.”
Charles was the farmer who took the cow. He nursed that cow so tenderly. Well, someone who works with small animals might not perceive his actions as very tender because it takes a lot of energy and oomph to move a cow from one side to the other twice a day. He’d hold her by whatever handle he could, sometimes with William’s help, and he’d heave-ho. He’d set food and water in her reach. He sprayed her to keep insects away. And he talked to her. For six weeks.
The day that cow walked, Charles really was jolly as he told us about finding her down the far side of the pasture grazing as if it was the most normal thing to do.
When Charles tells this story he says he never charged Governor Collins for “disposing” of his cow, but neither did he report that he kept her himself. He just wanted to see if he couldn’t nurse her out of that paralysis. And, he says with a sheepish grin, when he took her along with those calves to market, he didn’t make a penny above the cost of the feed they’d all eaten!
For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. Psalm 50:10