I never thought some of the best experiences in my life would include cow manure and walking barefoot through a pasture.
I was a ‘city girl’. I can remember driving down a dusty road lined with corn fields and tall silos on either side. Dad pulled to a stop. A man was in a corral. Dad introduced him, “Girls….this is my cousin, Bud.” I don’t think he shook our hands because I have a vague recollection of a long, long glove and a cow. The in-between details are a little fuzzy, which, in all honesty is probably a good thing.
Bud became Mr. Wiley to me–what does one call their dads cousin? I was certainly not allowed to use an adults first name. His daughter, Susan, became my best friend. Details have faded a little bit with time but some things are crystal clear. Mr. Wiley had kind eyes, just like my dad. Mr. Wiley was a gentle-man. He was a tireless dairy farmer when I spent time with him. He worked hard and expected that we did too. Staying at his house over the summers meant early morning calf feedings. To quiet the calves you had to let them suck on your fingers while the other girl prepared the bottle. We shoveled feed out of bins. We climbed silos. We trooped through the pastures, me picking my way gingerly at first but than brazenly I learned to walk, barefoot, not bothering to walk around the manure but straight thru it. My feet were softer that summer then ever before. While on his farm Mr. Wiley treated me no differently then he did is own daughters. He expected us to work but he let us have fun. He showed us how to do some farm chore and then went on his way while we got it done. He also treated us to the community pool and ice creams afterwards. He was also the one that saw the light on as Susan and I read way past bedtime.
Silos. I remember my Dad helping Mr. Wiley do something with a silo once. It was night–dark night–far away from any city lights. Cars were pulled up to shine lights on the silo while the 2 men did whatever they were doing at the time. I don’t remember much else but for some reason, that circle of light and that silo stand out. Seems as if there were also some climbing of the silo. Vividly I remember red overalls, a striped shirt and sliding on a silo roof. In my memory my slide was stopped by a pocket. I don’t quite know if it’s a real memory or an exaggerated pre-teen memory but I have a recollection of having to climb down the silo with Mr. Wiley at the top, my Dad below us and being mortified thinking that my ripped pocket might be showing my underwear. To a pre-teen that was a big deal. I am sure a lot of my memories are a combination of fact and some girlish fiction but aren’t most memories.
I remember Mr. Wiley milking the cows. Large, vacuum like tubes went on each udder. When the milking was done you slapped the cow on the flank and it ambled on down the ramp while another ‘girl’ took her place. Mr. Wiley taught me how to help. He also showed me how to hand milk a cow. It’s not a skill I’ve had to use since but at least I can say it is something I’ve done. Afterwards, Mr. Wiley would let us go into the milk room where he would give us each a glass of cold, cold fresh milk. I hated milk before and I hate milk now but that summers milk was like nothing I’ve ever tasted. Warm milk straight from the cow….uh…not so much.
Mr. Wiley yelled at me once. He was nursing a sick calf and Susan and I didn’t move fast enough getting the medicine. He yelled at us, loudly and sternly, but then he held that sick calves head in his lap. I just remember a dark barn and some sort of homemade IV and Mr. Wiley talking softly to a calf that later died. He wasn’t yelling when he gently but matter-of-factly told us that the calf was going to die. I still feel sad and somber when I remember standing there. Susan crying because her Dad was mad at her but me understanding, somehow, that he wasn’t mad at us…he was mad at fate and worried for a little calf that didn’t survive the night.
As an adult I didn’t see Mr. Wiley that much but our paths still crossed occasionally. He was as kind to my children as he used to be to me. He was never without a smile, never without something to say.
There are people in your life that you don’t forget. I won’t forget Mr. Wiley. He was Hendrix formally, Bud informally but to me he will always be Mr. Wiley. His face was weathered from years of sun but his eyes never stopped being kind. They crinkled a bit more in the corners then they did when I was young. He smiled easily. A southern expression, he’s just good folk always applied to Mr. Wiley. He was my dads family but he was also my dads friend. They shared memories. He was a man of character, a man of kindness and just a good, gentle soul. I love my memories of Mr. Wiley. I love Mr. Wiley.
Mr. Wiley. Hendrix. Bud. He died last night. I am sad for his family–his wife, daughters and grandson. I am also very sad for my dad who lost a friend. I am sad that he is gone but awfully glad I got to know him while he was here. Mr. Wiley, you will be missed.