Judy knew she wasn’t my first love when she married me, but somehow she has tolerated my other proclivity for going on 38 years now. On a recent quiet Sunday afternoon, I was a bit surprised when, out of the clear blue, she asked, “What was her name, again?”
Dumbfounded, I asked, “Whose name?”
“Your first love?”
“Oh,” I responded, thoughtfully, “It was Annabelle.”
“Was she pretty?”
“What color were her eyes?”
Truthfully, I answered, “She had the biggest brown eyes you’ve ever looked into.”
“And her hair?”
Choosing my words carefully, at this point, I said, “It was mainly red, but it had occasional streaks of black, so I guess you’d call her brindle-colored.” Since I had started my description, I figured I had just as well continue with the details. “She had two stub horns that she kept shiny to the point that they gleamed in the sunlight, a pearly white face, and, in an oddity of nature, six teats that all produced milk the first time she calved.”
I went on to explain that my dad had given me a bred gilt when I turned 7, but when she farrowed a couple of months later, I was devastated. As I did chores the next morning, I discovered that she had eaten all her babies. Deciding that the swine business was not for me, I asked my father if I could trade the gilt for a good heifer. He agreed, Annabelle became mine, and so began my lifelong love of anything to do with cows and the cattle business.
Annabelle was most likely a Hereford-Jersey cross that had obviously been raised on a bottle before Dad purchased her with a group of calves. She was so gentle that both my parents considered her a nuisance, always wanting to be petted and forever in the way when we needed to be working. I loved her and always found time to give her a stroke on the forehead or friendly slap on the rump, anytime I passed by that cow.
Annabelle was a calf-raising fool, never failing to produce a calf every year and, almost always, weaning off the heaviest calf of the bunch. She remained on the farm until I went away to college and my parents sold the farm to semi-retire.
When my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he sold the little farm that he and Mom had retired to, and we moved them into a small house next to us. I told him he could move his few remaining cows to my farm, but he declined, saying it was time. The day we loaded the last of his cows onto the trailer to take them to the sale barn was the only time I ever saw my father cry.
Assuming my father was thinking about his own mortality and the little time he had left, I asked him if he was OK. The old man leaned against the side of the truck with his head lowered, took out his red bandana handkerchief to wipe his eyes and brow, and simply replied, “This is the first time in my life I haven’t owned a cow.”
Crownover farms in Missouri.