June 6th…“AS A LITTLE BOY, WHERE WAS A FUN PLACE TO PLAY ON YOUR FARM?”
A new kindle of kittens could be heard meowing above the scuttle hatch that went upstairs to the haymow in our barn. (For you young readers to grandpa’s stories here, the word haymow is pronounced with a “cow” sound, and not the the “hoe or moe” sound like when you mow your lawn. The term comes from a German word that means a stack or pile of hay. So, in essence, there can be a haymow out in the middle of a field, if that’s where the mow (or pile of hay) is at.) Now, back to the story.
From the time I was old enough to hang onto the wooden wall ladder’s rungs, I thrilled with every chance I could to climb up that barn wall ladder, through the haymow scuttle hatch and into the gigantic expanse of our barn’s haymow. Our father, Russell, grew and harvested Alfalfa (also known as Lucerne) crops and his machine would bale them into rectangular bales (kinda like big, green plant material “bricks”) that were used to feed our cows and other livestock during the long Winters in Minnesota. About three-fourths of the length of the haymow was used for storing those gazillion bales clear up to the rafters of the barn roof. The remaining one-fourth of the haymow was used to store the rectangular bales of golden yellow straw which were used for giving a soft floor covering to our livestock for a clean “bed” to sleep on each night. Straw was the term used to describe the remaining plant stalks from the golden fields of oats that our hard-working farmer father grew on our farm. Oats were another type of feed for the many animals that lived there with us on the rich lands of southern Minnesota.
Sometimes, as I’d crest the top of the haymow ladder and enter that realm of the barn, I could hear the ever so faint meows of a new batch of baby kittens that had just been born into this farm world.
Our dad LOVED to have the largest population of cats that he could, there in our barn and other farm buildings. I can still hear Dad say, “I love all the cats we can get on this farm because they truly EARN their keep for us by hunting and killing off all the mice and rats they can find!! Dogs? They just bark and eat, so only one dog at a time is allowed on THIS farm.” Our father had a very large and shallow, white porcelain bowl that was the designated “kitty cream cauldron” (my description). It was located at the corner by cow stall #15 on the way to the milk parlor. Every morning and evening, Dad would call out loudly, “HERE KITTY, KITTY, KITTY!!!” Cats would come from all over that barn AND even from outside to gather around the perimeter of that “milk heaven” as Daddy opened up a “Surge” milker and poured that bowl to the brim with warm, fresh milk right from the cow. Pretty soon, the spaces around the bowl were occupied, so late-coming cats would crawl over the backs of other feline friends to get at the milk. Those tardy cats usually got their heads drenched with the pouring fountain of milk from Dad’s milking machine. They didn’t mind at all, though, cause the neighboring cats just began to lick the heads of their buddy till all the milk was gone off of that furry noggin’.
While the Winter winds howled outside the barn, there in the coziness of the haymow, I’d use my keen young ears to discern what direction those tiny meows were coming from in the soft straw bales. Pretty soon, I’d eventually come upon the nest and see their momma kitty softly growling to warn me to stay away from her new babies for a while. The amber glow, from the barn lights down below, illuminated the mother cat as she lay on her side. Her litter of furry babies were lined up to her tummy and nursing with vigor! Each one had found a nipple to nurse from and it was precious to watch those itsy bitsy kitty feet massaging mommy’s tummy, back and forth, to bring more milk for each little one to enjoy. Both Mom and Dad had trained us children to respect newborn kittens and their protective mother cats. We were only to LOOK and NOT TOUCH the tiny ones until their eyes had opened completely and they had gained some strength from their mother’s milk. If we picked up the kittens too early, our human scent would be on them and some mother cats would reject the little kitten and leave it to die.
On another visit to that same nest later, I’d see those kittens go from wobbly-footed to frisky and fun. NOW I could hold and play with them without worry. There, nestled within the sweetly-scented straw bales, I’d get settled and just sit there, for what seemed like hours, as the kittens would get accustomed to my human presence and begin to freely play with each other.
Ohhh the antics and cavorting that those little balls of fur could get into. “Hide And Seek” seemed to be a popular kitty game as one kitten would be around the corner of a straw bale and wait for an unsuspecting brother or sister to come sauntering by…..then, that sneaky lil stinker would JUMP on top of the “victim” with a happy pounce and they’d roll in the straw in wild abandon as they enjoyed their play fighting.
Such happy and furry memories take me back, once again, to a little boy’s gentle adventures of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.