Jerry stared down at me, his soft brown eyes letting me know that he was friendly.
Tom, who was almost as big as Jerry, lifted his head and peered at me across his long expanse of muzzle, a haughty look in his eye. He hadn’t made his mind up yet.
They were two of the biggest horses I had ever seen, and they operated all of the equipment on Uncle Eric Hare’s dairy farm in Amherst, N.H. There wasn’t a tractor in sight.
It was the mid-1940s and the first summer that my brother, Jay (age 12); sister, Susan (age 3); and I (age 16) had experienced real country living.
Jay and I had spent part of a couple of vacations at a summer camp in the Catskills, but it was not the same. Here we had chores to do, one of which was to see to Tom’s and Jerry’s daily grooming.
Early the first week, Eric sent me to back Jerry out of his stall. I was about halfway in when Jerry inhaled a big gulp of air, his stomach expanded and there I was — mashed against the stable wall.
“Uncle Eric,” I yelled. “Jerry won’t let me get by!”
“Just punch him in his stomach, and he’ll move,” Eric yelled back.
“You’re kidding,” I thought, but I followed orders. Jerry exhaled and let me by, probably enjoying a good laugh at my expense.
You are probably wondering how a Brooklyn boy is related to a dairy farmer in New Hampshire. I don’t yet know the entire story, but what I have learned is that cousin Deborah Hare’s grandmother, a free African American woman living in Massachusetts, purchased the New Hampshire farm. She married and grandson Eric eventually took over the family farm and was operating it with the help of his aging father and a hired man.
Eric’s sister lived in Brooklyn, and on one of his visits he met Katherine, my mother’s younger sister, They fell in love, got married and Aunt Katherine gave up Brooklyn for life on a farm. But that is another story.
What’s important is that this was my first taste of country life. Being surrounded by trees and wildlife is decidedly different than living amidst concrete and asphalt — and is something that all city kids ought to experience.
To us, milk came in glass containers. We vaguely knew it came from cows, but this was our first up-close experience with the warm udder of a lactating bovine.
The only live horses we had seen pulled wagons up and down Lafayette Avenue. In those days, one could purchase just about anything from a horse and wagon.
But Uncle Eric had real cows and horses, and it was great to meet them. They all had names, we discovered, and by the end of the summer we knew every name, along with their personal idiosyncrasies.
Jay and I slept in the small guest house across from the big red barn. Adjacent to the barn were pastures where the cows grazed during the day. Electric fencing kept them safe.
Eric had a bull calf named Trojan who quickly bonded with us young humans. In the morning, he would wait for us to get up, his head poking out between two boards in the pasture fence. In good weather, when we had finished our chores, we would tie a rope around Trojan’s neck and take him for a walk through the fields and down one of the dirt roads that seemed to be everywhere.
Bonnie, the Hare’s collie, accompanied us to make sure we got back home. We were a motley crew — two city kids, one dog and one bull calf exploring what was wilderness to us.
Years later, we found out that when Trojan grew up he had to be put down. Because of us, he had no fear of humans, and a friendly 2,000-pound bull can be dangerous. He affectionately rubbed up against someone and almost injured them.
On the other hand, I am sure Trojan made many good meals for someone, but I’m equally certain that I wouldn’t have enjoyed them.
Where I come from, you don’t eat your friends.
Ken Wibecan is a retired journalist. Once an op-ed and jazz columnist, later an editor of Modern Maturity magazine, these days he and his two dogs enjoy the country life in Peru. He can be reached at email@example.com.