Sullen – that’s how we called it. Their walk. Their eyes. They was creatures to be pitied. They didn’t like being put out to pasture in the rain, but it was great fun for us. Even, maybe especially, ’cause we weren’t supposed to be out in the rain.
Thanksgiving was just another day at the rural orphanage. Eugene thought it was a great day for a hike; Rudy agreed. He was the leader, and after we snuck away, he led us across the muddy cornfields to the nearest farm.
“Scotch’s cows are still out!” shouted Eugene. He always called people by their name. The rest of us called Scotch “Old One-Thumb,” on account of his havin’ lost one of his thumbs in a baler a few years back. Except Ginny. She called him Mr. Scotch. Mean as the whiskey that bore his name, he didn’t take kindly to kids messin ‘round on his farm.
When we got to old One-Thumb’s pasture the rain was fallin hard – heavy drops pelting down into our bones. We was all a-shiverin, but this was prime weather for what Rudy had in mind.
“You take them ones over there!” he called, and Ginny, turning at a dead run, threw herself into the shoulder of the nearest pathetic-looking creature. Staggering, it moo’ed and fell with a groan.
“First cow goes to Ginny!” Rudy called.
The words hung there…petrified by the appearance of Old One-Thumb.
His good hand snatching Ginny’s ear, he growled menacingly, “The rest of yous get on outta here!”
Instead of going home, we followed Ginny and Old One-Thumb across the mud, over the cattle guard, to the summer kitchen where he set Ginny a-peelin potatoes.
“All right, you lil’ varmints, shuck that corn and peel them beets, or old One-Thumb’s gonna tan yer hides!” We jumped. He knew what we called him.
Vegetables cleaned, he set us sweeping and mopping. Our heads hung in shame. We knew we’d done wrong.
Bout the time the chores was done, a clang tore through the air and “Come N Get It!” Shuffling to the dining room, we stopped at an amazing sight.
A feast like we hadn’t never seen! Turkey. Roast beef. Corn-on-the-cob. Beets. Potatoes. Troughs of gravy. Cornbread. Honey. Old One-Thumb was feedin us a banquet fit for a king!
Old Ma Scotch started quietly, “Heavenly Father, we miss our children terribly. Thank you for bringing us these dear guests to share in the abundance of Your table. Amen.”
Eugene stepped forward and almost whispering said, “Sorry we tipped yer cows, Mr. Scotch. We shore didn’t mean no harm.”
“I know it,” he replied. “What say we jest forget about that and enjoy these tasty vittles before they’re cold? Take a seat and dig in now, ya hear?”
Once our appetites were satisfied, we rose from the table and helped Old Ma Scotch clean up. Thanking them, we left, heading towards the home.
It was snowing now, but it didn’t seem quite so cold. “Why don’t y’all git up here in the rig?” Old One-Thumb, from his pickup, called, “This weather ain’t nothing to be out walkin in,” as the engine coughed to life.
Arriving back at the home, he said, “Maybe y‘all can have Christmas with us too.” Cold and wet, we grinned. We were going to be in trouble for sneaking out, but we were happy.
“Don’t forget to look cold and tired,” he smiled. “They’ll go easy on you if you look…….”
That’s how we called it.
– Eric Prelog