Bull Riding

My father was a man who believed in visiting every single person in our small town who did not attend Sunday morning services. He would appear at the doorstep, asking if there was anything he could do for them, ending each visit with a prayer. I was his shadow; standing proudly beside him on every pastoral visit.Some times, my second to youngest brother, Daniel, would tag along as well, hoping to see “cute girls” he could sit with next Sunday in church.

On one particular hot, summer Carolina day, Daniel and I hopped in the station wagon with dad, heading to  McPatterson Farm.Mr . McPatterson raised cows and all types of farm animals. Each time we visited him, he would tell us to “run along and see how many animals you can find”. That was all the invitation we needed to explore hay bales, barns, chicken coops and of course, pet as many animals as we could.  I was either 6 or 7….. and Daniel was at least 9….so exploration went hand-in-hand with getting into mischief…..

We found a huge herd of cows standing near a barn. We crawled through the wooden slats, unnoticed by the adults sitting under the Willow tree, discussing good lemonade, and the Good Lord. The cows scooted away from us, as if they were fearful …all but one.

The lone cow standing there, looked at us with the biggest brown eyes and the biggest horns I had ever seen…. Daniel and I approached very carefully, as the cow just stood there, unmoved by our movements. After a few minutes of petting the cow, Daniel had an idea.

“Hey Jess, you want to get up on top of the cow? Like sit on it ? There is a bucket over there I can use to boost you up there. You want to?” He asked as he pulled a big bucket over to the cow. ” Step up on the bucket, and I will boost you the rest of the way…..”

Now what animal loving, 6 year old, do you know that would not agree to that? I happily climbed on-board the cow,hugging it’s vast, broad neck , with all my might. Even back then, I had a deep love for animals, big and small, so I was not at all afraid of the powerful animal that I sat perched proudly upon……until………well, wait, I am getting ahead of myself.

Daniel was a typical boy and brother.For some strange reason, he thought it would be fun to jump up and down and scream “Run cow, run!” The cow complied by taking off swiftly, beginning a shallow gallop as we crossed over the huge pasture. I clung to the cow for dear life, holding its huge neck with my little arms……until…..hold on, I am getting ahead of myself again.

My father has always been a soft spoken,kindhearted, gentle-spirited man who never raised his voice to any of his children. This day was different.

“Jessi, Jessi, what are you doing? Daniel, Daniel, WHERE ARE YOU?” I heard his commanding voice from across the field. I looked over and saw him and Mr. McPatterson in a full Olympic run towards me, jumping the fence as if they were clearing hurdles.
The cow, stopped as Mr. McPatterson beat his hand on a silver bucket. Apparently, the cow knew the bucket meant food. Mr. McPatterson brought the bucket close to the cow gently whispering, “Easy Leo, take it easy Leo, here boy”, offering the cow the bucket while my father snatched me from atop of the cow.

“Jessi, how did you get up there? You could have gotten hurt. Where is your brother?” he asked as he held me close to his chest with his arms wrapped tightly around me. Daniel appeared from out of nowhere, acting if this whole event was a news flash to him. He told me dad that he didn’t know how I got on the cow or why and that he had told me to stay away from the cows.” Yes, my brother was lying to avoid both the wrath of daddy and the wrath of God.

My father was not about to allow this injustice to go on. He was a man who expected the truth to be told, regardless of how painful, embarrassing or humbling. He knew that someone owed Mr McPatterson an apology for the event and one of us would tell the truth…or else. ( Have you ever wondered what the ” or else ” was that our parents often referred to?)

Once we were all safely seated on the lawn furniture in Mr McPatterson’s yard, he began explaining to us about ” Leo ” the bull. Leo was not a pet, but a very dangerous animal that weighed over 1700 pounds and how we as kids, could have been crushed by him. My father stared intently at us as Mr. McPatterson lectured us about the dangers of farm animals….

I felt the need to explain to him how much fun riding Leo was. I explained how nice of a “cow” he was, how pretty his eyes were but I did think he smelled funny…..Mr. McPatterson realized that we were just little kids and had no concept of the dangers of big burly bulls, nor would we understand his fear for us….

My father decided to take over for Mr McPatterson, stressing to us how we needed to acknowledge our wrongdoing and apologize for the trouble we had caused. My dad was actually angry. Mad. Mad at Daniel and I. Or was he?

I have come to realize this many years later, that dad was not mad at us. He was mad because of the jeopardy we put ourselves in. We were too young to understand that….but my father was angry at the lack of our judgement, not at us. We both could have been seriously injured….but Daniel and I were just goofy kids doing goofy things……

I see this type of “anger” often in my job. I see sons and daughters who are “angry” at the disease process that robbed their parent of the ability to make sound decisions. That anger manifest as the adult child yells at the parent for not understanding what he/she is saying. The anger is not really directed at the loved one, but at the “root” of the problem….it’s frustrating for all parties involved. The adult child can tell the parent to not spit his meds out, explaining in detail how the pills “help”….yet the dementia patient does not see things the same way………frustrating. When young children do not sense danger, or when dementia patients don’t follow the norms of society…the best anyone can do is just keep them save and love them anyway….thats all we can do….

As we prepared to leave Mr McPatterson’s house, Daniel took my hand and nudged me…”Say you’re sorry”.
I apologized to Mr. McPatterson for riding Leo, and thanked him for letting me…all in the same breath. I asked him if he could give Leo a kiss for me and maybe next time I could feed him from the bucket….” Clueless. I was clueless.

Once in the car, my dad began asking questions to Daniel about how he thought is baby sister managed to get on a bull all by herself….. Daniel, looking back at me to see if I was going to be a tattletale…..began telling him how we petted the other cows…how it just happened….he explained how he didn’t mean to scare the “cow”……. My dad just listened and nodded. The truth was all he wanted….and what he finally heard.

Upon arriving home….dad greeted my mom with, “Ask your children what they did today…” Without waiting, I explained every bit of it to her …all about Leo. My dad sat at the kitchen table smiling as I beamed with pride…….

I can still hear his voice today…..

“Ok Bullrider, go wash up for dinner…..” It was official. I was a real bull rider.

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