Hollow Tail–a riding shotgun story

Instructions for treating a cow with hollow tail were not given at UGA School of Veterinary Medicine. However, it was certainly addressed as a condition a veterinarian might hear about along with such things as hollow horn, troughitis, and Miss-a-Meal Colic in horses. All humor aside, farmers had through the ages had to figure out their own remedies for whatever ailed their creatures. For the most part, Charles learned to ease around these “old farmers’ tales” with gentle suggestions that this or that new methods had been discovered and would work much better. But there did come a time when Charles perceived the importance of seeking aid from a self-appointed hollow tail expert. The memory of that occasion came back to him as he read the obituaries recently.

Charles reads the obituaries both in Thomasville Times daily and in the weekly Cairo Messenger. There are two reasons for this practice.

He became committed to reading the obituaries regularly because of a “raking over” by a client one day. Ever the cheerful one, Charles arrived at the Tyus farm to treat a cow, hailing Mrs. Tyus with a wave and “Good morning!” Opening his black bag and chatting as he did, he asked, “Where’s Mr. Tyus today? Gone into town maybe?” Whereupon Mrs. Tyus began to weep. “Doc, don’t you know? He died last week.” She then proceeded to let him know she thought it was pretty shabby of him not to keep up with things any better than that.

Charles determined he would try never to be so unfeeling again.

The second reason he keeps up with obituaries is to try to know who is kin to whom. His longtime partner, Gene Maddox, somehow always knew the relationships of everyone in Grady County and beyond. He could readily list a person’s cousins, ex-wife and relatives, along with ancestors and occupations. The knowledge of all branches of families was a great source of help when he left veterinary medicine to go into politics. But Charles, too, wanted to be able to keep up with family connections. Studying survivor lists in the obituaries helps a lot.

So when he read that an old friend and client had died he listed for me his survivors as well as those relatives already deceased. And right quick when he read Babe’s name, he remembered the hollow tail scene.

The cow was down,  Jersey heifer, expected to become the family’s milk cow. “A cow down” is a medical condition with various causes and remedies. When a call comes to treat a cow that is down, the possibilities range from grass tetany in the spring to pneumonia to malnutrition to mysteries galore, including poison and other dire causes. Of course a common problem is related to calf delivery but that wasn’t the case with this one.

Charles had already given this “down cow” the shots he perceived she needed, including IV calcium. But he couldn’t offer much hope for survival. She was pretty low and not showing good signs of response. Babe wandered up to join the onlookers just as Doc said the chances weren’t good for this little cow.

“Looky here, Robert,” said Babe to the owner, “we could do a hollow tail job, you know. Iffen Doc’s through, of course.”

Charles, grabbing a good opportunity by the horns, said “Sounds like a good idea, Mr. Babe. (The nickname “Babe” had stuck with this fellow from childhood, but his gray hair demanded of Charles the respect of “Mr.”) “Why don’t I stay on and watch?”

This was where Mr. Babe began hedging. “Well, now, I don’t know about that, Doc. I ain’t done one in many a year.”

Charles looked at Robert, the owner. “What do you think? Want him to try it?”

Robert looked a little dubious but Mr. Babe was his neighbor. So he nodded.

Mr. Babe stuck his hands in his pockets and shuffled in the grass. “Don’t even have my knife with me.”

“No problem,” said Charles. “You can use mine. I have a nice sharp scalpel.”

Mr. Babe had turned very shy. “Guess I’d better not,” he said. Then, brightening with a new idea, he said, “Why don’t you do it, Doc?”

“Well, I don’t know.” Charles looked around at the gathering of neighbors now watching expectantly. He saw Robert grin and give him a nod. “Ok, then, if you’ll give me step by step directions, we’ll just kind of do it together. So, I guess, Miss Eleanor, we’re going to need some salt and pepper. Right, Mr. Babe?”

This request was to let Mr. Babe know Doc wasn’t completely ignorant when it came to hollow tail.

Mr. Babe’s shoulders visibly relaxed. “That’s right, Doc,” he agreed.

So that’s how it was that Charles palpated the tail, located the area at the end of the bone and the beginning of the twitch. Mr. Babe agreed he’d gotten the right spot.

By then Miss Eleanor arrived with salt and pepper.

“Now you got to make the cut, Doc,” instructed Mr. Babe.

“You sure you don’t want to do it, Mr. Babe? No? Well, is it all right if I trim the hair away?”

Mr. Babe nodded.

“All right if I smear some alcohol on the spot?”

Another nod.

“Okay, here goes.”

The audience was quiet as the inch long cut was made. Charles commented to all that he saw the hollow and Mr. Babe grunted his assent. Then there was a shifting and a sigh from the crowd as Doc sprinkled the wound with salt and pepper.

“Okay if I wrap it in gauze?” asked Charles, well aware that usually the wound would be wrapped in a piece of sheeting or whatever was available.

Mr. Babe nodded, then said, “That’d be good.”

“Okay, then,” said Charles when the deed was done. He stood up, scratching his neck. “We’ll see how she does, Mr. Robert. Thanks for your help, Mr. Babe.”

They shook hands with each other and with the owner and Charles told Robert he hoped all went well. “Call me if you need me,” he said as always.

Several weeks went by.

Charles happened on Mr. Babe at one of the country stores. In those days, the 1970’s, the country stores were lively on many crossroads throughout the county, ready for the farmers and others who needed their soda break, some conversation, a gas refill and even a few groceries. Charles often stopped at whichever one was along his way mid-morning or afternoon, whether Hollingsworth Store, Portavint’s, Powe’s at Pine Level or Ward’s at Pine Park. He could use a lift after a hard calf delivery and he greatly enjoyed dropping in on neighborly conversations.

That day he asked Mr. Babe how the hollow tail had done.

Mr. Babe shifted in his chair and then hung his head. “Doc, she died. First one I ever lost.”

Charles laid a hand on Mr. Babe’s shoulder. “Well, it wasn’t the first I lost and probably won’t be the last. We do the best we can but we can’t win them all.”

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Old country store now closed at Calvary, Georgia

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