COUNTY AGENT GUY
Summer vacation has arrived, which means that schoolchildren are busily honing their math and spelling skills and assiduously practicing their cursive, especially the capital letter Q.
Ha! Just kidding! The average school ager is doing everything he or she can to forget everything they have learned during the past school year. It’s their sworn duty after all those months of having phrases like Pay Attention and Apply Yourself hammered into their skulls. Summer is a season for inattention and misapplication.
I understand that a popular summertime fad nowadays involves parents arranging play dates for their kids. This feels wrong. It’s like throwing a bunch of ingredients into a bowl and telling them, “OK, go ahead and make yourselves into a souffle.”
We had no need for such things when I was growing up on our dairy farm. The hayloft of our barn gave my seven siblings and me countless hours of unstructured fun.
One of our favorite haymow activities was constructing kid-sized tunnels from bales of hay and straw. It took a lot of attention to detail and we really had to apply ourselves during the constructing process.
The resulting bale tunnel networks were masterworks of forage-based engineering. They included secret cul-de-sacs where a kid could hide and chimneys that enabled speedy escapes during heated games of tunnel tag. We thought of everything.
Our parents could always tell when we had been playing in the bale tunnels. Thanks to the tufts of hay and straw caught in our clothing and hair, each of us had been transformed into pint-sized versions of the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. To this day, the mere thought of a burning broom gives me the heebie-jeebies.
As with many dairy farms, ours was home to an ever-changing cast of cats. This meant that we constantly had to pay attention.
The cats were given leftover milk. In return, the felines were expected to eradicate vermin such as rats and mice and traveling salesmen. We petted and named all of our barn cats, but soon learned to pay especially close attention to the mother cats.
We might notice that a particular mother cat had begun to sport a small, telltale bulge. Over a few weeks’ time, the bulge would grow and grow until the mother cat resembled a furry, four-legged cantaloupe.
One day we might observe that the mother cat had become suddenly svelte. She had transformed overnight from a creature that was so rotund that it could barely walk into an animal that was slim enough to slip through the spokes of a bicycle wheel.
As soon as we realized that the mother cat had given birth, the race was on. We knew that we had to find her nest of kittens as quickly as possible. If the kittens weren’t petted and properly acclimated to humans, they would grow up feral. Plus we would be deprived of innumerable hours of playtime with the funny little fur balls.
Mother cats can be extremely cunning when it comes to hiding their nests. We would scour all the forgotten nooks and crannies of every shed on our farm during our search for the new baby kitties. We would occasionally pause and hold our breaths, paying close attention as we listened for the telltale “mew” of newborns.
Upon discovering the nest, the kittens would be held and petted and named. Guesses would be made regarding their genders, but this was never our strong suit. If we later learned that we had guessed wrong, “Bob” would simply be changed to “Roberta.”
Every so often, there would be a mother cat who was uncommonly clever at hiding her nest. One summer, a mother cat successfully concealed her babies from us for several weeks. By the time we located them, the kittens’ eyes were open. When we put our hands into their nest, we were greeted by a chorus of ferocious little hisses and spits. We had found them none too soon. Any later and it would have been like trying to tame a horde of Tasmanian devils.
The devious hiding place the mother cat had chosen was a secluded corner at the end of one of our very own bale tunnels. The kittens had been right under our noses all along. It was obvious that we needed to work harder at paying attention.
All too soon, summer would draw to a close. Autumn would bring a return to the inflexible schedule of classes and the rigid rigor of wearing shoes. The unrelenting grind of the classroom would resume and it would again be pounded into my head that I needed to pay attention and apply myself.
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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