We’ve asked our readers to send us their “Tales from the field” to share on this site. The reader submitting the story with the most page views will win $50. Today’s story comes from Gary A. Thrasher, DVM, from Hereford, New Mexico.
T’was the day before Christmas, and all through the house, creatures were stirring….
Twenty miles out of Tombstone, Arizona on a lonely caliche road, two urchins were crying for help. Living “off the grid,” they had no phone. The two had run a mile or two until they found the nearest neighbor, a half-blind 80 year old hermit lady who understood little of the “hijos” excited Spanish. She called the Sheriff and the Border Patrol. The dispatcher tracked me down at a ranch 40 miles away. I had just finished a morning’s work and was hoping to make it to the local feed store for some last minute Christmas Eve shopping when the cell phone caught me.
The dispatcher said it sounded more like a veterinary emergency than a law enforcement problem, had no deputies available nearby, and hoped I’d respond “since there seems to be a cow involved.”
An hour later I arrived at the hermit ladies place, she had forced the two youngsters to stay put until help arrived, stuffing them with Christmas cookies and candy.
By then the 8 year old boy and 10 year old girl had calmed down enough to stop mixing English with Spanish but were near tears, worried that the Border Patrol would pick them up and “get their parents.” They’ve lived in the U.S. all their lives and their parents would have qualified for Reagan’s amnesty but they never finished the paperwork. Their first words to me were, “We’re not mojados!” (Spanish slang for undocumented aliens). I asked, “What’s wrong with your cow?” The hermit lady interjected, shaking her cane at the kids, “You wouldn’t believe the pack of lies they’re telling. You better wait for the sheriff!
The two urchins politely thanked the crabby old woman and eagerly climbed into my pick-up, relieved to be free of the hermit lady. A mile up the road they finally relaxed and started grinning. I got nervous. I thought, …was the old lady right? “What’s so funny?” I asked. “Do you know the story about Hansel and Gretel?” they giggled.
Pulling into their driveway I saw a very late-model singlewide mobile home set on a hillside, its front side on blocks three feet off the ground, its backdoor level with a cement patio on the high side of the hill. A deluge was pouring out from under the trailer, four cow’s feet and legs were dangling through the kitchen floor. Nobody was home.
The girl shouted orders to her little brother, he ran to the well house and shut off the generator, the water eventually stopped flowing. She led me around back to the sliding glass patio door, into the trailer home, and to the site of true “shock and awe.”
Queso, the family milk cow, a 1,000 lb. Jersey – Holestein crossbred, had fallen through the kitchen floor and gotten herself high-centered over a steel floor girder. In her panic and struggle, her wringing and flapping tail flung cow-flop floor to ceiling in all directions. Her flailing head and horns had torn out the kitchen cabinets, sink, and water pipes. Shattered dishes, and dented pots and pan were everywhere. A flock of chickens had followed her into the house and were roosting in every room. It’s amazing how many dropping they leave in a few hours unattended, and for some reason chickens have an affinity for lace curtains, venetian blinds, lampshades, boxes of cereal, bread, and anything else they can get their beaks on. Two-inch deep water was still draining from every room in the house.
Without me telling her, the girl grabbed a bath towel and wrapped it around the cow’s head and eyes to calm her struggle. I asked if they had an ax or a saw and pulled a sedative from my truck. The boy brought a chain saw. I found a tail vein and gave the shot. Even before the cow was relaxed the 8-year-old had the chainsaw running and was ready for my directions. I showed him where to cut the floor and he went to work like an experienced lumberjack. In ten minutes we had a hole cut through the linoleum and plywood floor big enough to drop a cow through. It took us another half hour of pushing, pulling and prying to roll the sleeping cow off the steel girder and through the hole.
Both kids crawled under the trailer to tie a rope to the cow’s feet while I tied the other end to my pick-up truck. I yelled for them to crawl out but they insisted they would make sure her head wouldn’t get caught or her eyes wouldn’t get drug through the rocks. I towed her out from under the trailer and into the yard. We rolled her up onto her chest, washed her scrapes and bruises and waited for her to wake up. While we waited they told me their day-before-Christmas story.
Their parents had gone to Tucson for some last minute Christmas shopping made possible by a winning scratch lottery ticket. The kids were to milk the cow, feed the chickens, clean the house, make tortillas, and start the frijoles for dinner. “Somebody” left the sliding-glass door open while he fed the chickens according to the girl. “Somebody” left the corral gate open after she milked the cow according to the boy. While they were away at the hermit’s house the chickens found the still-open door.
When Queso awoke the girl led her back to her pen, threw her some hay and ordered the boy to get the chickens out of the house. The girl announced to me “Thank you so much for the help, Medico, you are our “white duck” from Hansel and Gretel, but we can’t talk anymore, we have to find some boards to fix the floor, clean-up this mess, and try to fix dinner before our parents get home.” The boy grabbed me by the hand for a manly handshake and asked, “How much does it cost to become a veterinarian?” I offered to help repair the floor, but they refused my offer. They wished me a Merry Christmas. As I drove away they yelled in unison, “God bless you!” It choked me up to return a “Feliz Navidad”.
“Hansel” and “Gretel”, as I call them, were 8 and 10 years old. Would your 8 and 10 year olds run a mile or two to a grouchy stranger’s house for help, feed and milk the cow, feed the chickens, catch the chickens, and know how to turn off the generator, run a chain saw, fix dinner, and try to fix and clean a wrecked house, … without fighting? And not worry about their parents being angry when they got home if everything didn’t go just right? And be thinking about a career to boot?
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