Many of my childhood memories involve the barn. As an only child until I was 7, I was my Daddy’s shadow. My favorite playmates were the barn cats and their kittens. I especially remember an escapade that I had while playing with the kittens in the barn.
One bright summer morning, Daddy drove our horses, big black Smoky and bay June to the cornfield to cultivate. Mama, with her dark auburn hair combed back from her face, was busy in the house making a batch of her delicious bread. Grandma and Grandpa, who lived in half the farmhouse, were working in their garden. With all the adults busy, I was left to entertain myself.
Remembering the newest batch of kittens, I skipped to the barn. I knew they were in the box stall used as a “cow maternity ward” because I found them while Daddy was milking the cows. Every night while Daddy was milking cows, I had been playing with the kittens.
As it was summer time, the barn door was open. I ran straight to the 7-by-11-foot box stall, turned the handle, opened the door and dashed to the manger. Although I was only 4 years old and small for my age, I had no trouble crawling into the low wooden manger filled with sweet-smelling new hay. Then I reached down in the corner and found the four warm, furry kittens nestled there.
One by one, I picked up each kitten, cuddled it and gently stroked its soft fur. Their tiny eyes were just starting to open. I held each one to my face and talked softly while I tried to choose names for each. I called the calico one with the orange and black spots scattered across its white fur Patches. I chose Mittens for the black one with the white feet and tummy. I named the tabby one Tiger. It took longer to think of a name for the gray one, but I finally decided to call it Sammy. They were not big enough to purr but they mewed softly as they licked my fingers with their rough, sandpaper-like, wet tongues in search of something to eat.
I spent the morning happily playing with the kittens. Then Silky, the black and brown broad striped mama cat, returned from her morning of hunting and ready to feed her babies. I had often played with her so she knew me and didn’t mind that I was playing with her kittens. I carefully placed each kitten back in the nest. Silky washed her babies, then purred to them as they nestled at her side and nuzzled her tummy in search of dinner.
Watching them eat reminded me that that I was hungry, too. I climbed out of the manger, dashed across the golden straw-covered cement floor to the box stall door only to discover that I couldn’t open the door When I entered the box stall I was in such a hurry to reach the kittens that I didn’t notice the door close behind me. The box stalls didn’t have door handles on the inside so the cows couldn’t bump the handle and open the door. Above the manger, the only window in the box stall was cemented in place.
Realizing that I couldn’t open the door, I quickly forgot the fun of playing with the new kittens and burst into tears. My little voice was only loud enough to be heard by the barn animals. Daddy was working in the field far from the barn. Mama was listening to the radio soap opera “Ma Perkins” as she prepared dinner. Each of them thought I was with the other one, so neither of them was listening or looking for me. At noon, when Daddy went in the house for dinner, they realized that I was not with either of them. Thus two frantic young parents began hunting for me.
Mama searched our part of the house and went to ask if my grandparents had seen me that morning. Daddy went outside to look for me. When he reached the barn he heard my wails and knew exactly where I was. He ran to the box stall, opened the door and scooped me up in his arms. After giving me a big kiss and reassuring hug, he reached in his back pocket, took out the big red hankie he always carried, wiped my tears and told me to blow my nose.
In my Daddy’s arms, wrapped with his gentle touch of love, my tears and sobs quickly subsided. I knew I was safe with Daddy and he was my hero. Although a slim man, standing only 5-foot-7 with dark, wavy hair, that day he was a giant in my eyes.
What he did, after drying my tears and calming my fears, was just as important as rescuing me. Daddy taught me how to escape from the box stall by climbing into the small grain bin by the door; then grab the bar above it; grab the second bar; climb over the bars; and drop to the floor. He coached me through the steps several times until I had enough confidence to climb out if he wasn’t there. What a feeling of triumph came over me when I realized that I could do it all by myself.
After learning to climb over the wall, I often practiced my new skills while Daddy did the chores. It was like having my own jungle gym in the barn.
Not only did Daddy teach me how to escape the box stall, he also taught me to seek alternative solutions to other challenges I would encounter in life. That was one of his many lessons on looking for solutions to problems and not giving up.