Old Brindle, lone provider of the family milk supply, should have been in the barn that night for a light snow had already covered the ground. However, it had been a drought year and feed was scarce, so Mom left her out to graze in a field of cornstalks at the bottom of a long hill. The straggly stalks were practical, if less than palatable, feed and the cow nibbled happily upon them finding nourishment. That night, as Brindle grazed in the fields, a slow freezing rain began and morning found the unfortunate cow on a cornstalk reef in a sea of glassy ice. Port, in the shape of the barn, was at the top of the hill.
It was Saturday. Mom enjoyed the leisurely breakfast with us children before briefing us on our duties to be accomplished by the time she returned. She buttoned a heavy denim jacket snuggly around her near two hundred pounds without bothering to remove the coverall apron she always wore over her house dress. A scarf tied over her head, big cotton work gloves, and overshoes prepared her for her chilly outside work. Mom loved the outdoors in any weather and she was the tough mid-western farm type who asked for help from no one, doing the house chores only when there was no one else to do them. We thought little of her staying out for hours.
Milk bucket in hand, Mom inched her way up, over, and down the hill. Ice storms may delight a photographer, but this frosty beauty is lost on the farmer whose problems are multiplied many by them. It was, indeed, lost on Mom as she slipped and slid down the hill toward the cow. Her gloves clung to the ice coated wire as she opened the gate and at this time, Brindle usually came to meet her. Using the leaning corn-stalks as stepping stones, Mom made her way out into the field calling.
“Here, Brindle, Soo-oo-ook, Bossy.” As she went Hoarfrost covered, Brindle's shaggy winter coat and it gave her a parka-clad appearance. Her big brown eyes appealed for Mom to do something, but she did not budge form the spot.
About an eighth of a mile of barbed-wire fence led up the hill from the gate straight to the barn. Mom put her milk pail over her arm so she could work her way hand over hand along the fence. This helped her conquer the first steeper third of the hill. The rest was easier as she needed only to be careful. At the barn, she exchanged the old milk pail for an old battered one that she filled with ‘nubbin' ears of corn, a tasty treat reserved for Brindle at milking time. A hand axe was thoughtfully tucked under the other arm. Cautiously Mom made her way back to the steep part where she set down the bucket of corn and reversed the climbing process to the bottom.
With the axe, she began the slow work of cutting steps in the ice. An hour of this labor got her up the steep and again at the bucket of nubbins for which she now exchanged the axe. Planting the big overshoes firmly in each step of the new stairway, Mom was soon backing at Old Brindle. She held out an inviting yellow nubbin. Old Brindle rolled her eyes and stretched her neck. Even by sticking out her long gray tongue, she could not quite reach the tantalizing morsel. However, Mom's cajoling words and tantalizing motions with the tidbit were more than the hungry cow could resist. She took the first hesitating step and the next was easier. Keeping just out of reach, Mom trolled her to the steps and began the slow ascent. Patiently, she encouraged the shaky cow with endearments and promise of feed until the last step and the steep part of the hill were surmounted.
The worst was over. Mom breathed a bit easier now. Then she spied the axe where she had left it after cutting the steps. Best to take it along; it might be needed again on a day like this. Both hands must be free for the trolling of Brindle, so she put it under her arm. Brindle was impatient for the promised breakfast and sensing an unguarded second, she made a lunge for the corn. Fearful of losing her bait, Mom jerked the bucket away. The sudden movement was a bad mistake. She realized it in the split second, but it was a great deal longer before the full results settled to a complete stop. The nubbins lay scattered nearest to the scene of the fatal jerk. The old bucket had finished its erratic course halfway down against the fence. The axe angled off in another direction; the added momentum Mom gave it as she fell had propelled it all the way to the bottom of the hill. Mom came to a step not far from the axe that held little attraction for her now. Brindle, having weight and mass, attained the greater speed as well as distance. Unhurt, though likely in bovine-trauma, she skidded to within ten feet of the spot that she had taken her first doubtful steps.
At the house, we three off-springs were lazily going about the various weekend chores. Mom's absence was not conducive to speed. Although it was nearly noon, when eleven-year old Edith finished the breakfast dishes, Dow, aged thirteen, had done his few chores and was getting out his skates anticipating a great day with excellent ice conditions all over hill and dale. I, having attained the advanced age of fifteen, had my mind mostly on Saturday night as I dreamed through some cleaning assignments.
By previous arrangement, Mom agreed I could go to a party at a girlfriend's home in the village where I attended high school. I had also gained her more reluctant permission to have a boy friend call for me on Saturday afternoon to take me to the friend's house. I felt this, a great accomplishment since this boy was the best dancer in our group, in addition to his having eligibility of having an uncle who owned a model A convertible! Even when I arose to the ice-coated surroundings on the morning of Saturday Night, I had no doubts that Wayne could make it over the four-miles of rolling hills. All I had to do now was take down my pin curls and spend the next three hours getting ready for the big event.
Just then, the door burst open and so did my dream bubble. Mom's disheveled appearance illustrated her brief account of what she had been doing for the last four hours. Undaunted except for bruised knees and ego, on her way back to the house she had thought of another way to rescue Old Brindle. The tone of her voice as she outlined her plan invited little protest. Mom had enough doing it herself for that day. Furthermore, this method would get another unpopular chore done at the same time.
For heating the big house we had an iron monster down in the basement that gobbled up truckloads of soft local coal, favored us with meager heat, and then involuntarily regurgitated even larger loads of ashes and cinders. These paved the roads and paths around the house, and there was still, there was a big heap of them waiting to be carried out. Mom had decided that we must make a path of ashes from the cornfield to the barn. Edith was to fill pails in the basement. Dow and I were to transport and dump, to pails at a load, on the site of the path. Mom would arrange them into a suitable path for Brindle's security as well as make sure that no one quit before the job completed. Being a teenager, I accepted the orders with less compliance than the others.
“My Hair! My Date!” I moaned, though I knew, it was of no use.
“You're not going anywhere until Old Brindle is in the barn.” Mom said, “Besides, he couldn't make it over these roads, so forget it!” The firm finality in Mom's voice erased any remaining hope for Saturday Night. We put on old clothes and went to work.
For the next two hours, a spiraling ash cloud marked each end of the project. An unplanned path formed between the basement and the barn where the wind blew the ashes from our buckets. Our clothes, faces, and hair became the same reddish-gray color. Each succeeding pail of buckets got heavier. I lost my hairpins and my hair came down in a straggling mess. I was sure Cinderella never had it as bad as this! Brother Dow found he could skate with a bucket of ash in both hands, thus made two trips to my one. Every trip lengthened the path by only a few feet until it reached the barn at last. By that time, Old Brindle needed less persuasion to follow the yellow nubbins to shelter. The rescue was completed. The ash in the basement was gone. Tubs of hot water made us all recognizable again. By some kind of miracle and tire chains, the convertible arrived (fortunate for me) three hours later than expected and with clean, though straight hair Cinderella went to the party after all.
Author Notes: Memoirs of Paternal Grandmother, and was Annexed with permission.