7: The Dangdest Thing

7: The Dangdest Thing

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

The Dangdest Thing

Doing the right thing has power.

~Laura Linney

“You’re wasting your time. It’s going to die.” My father crossed his arms and glared at Mom.

She poured milk into the baby bottle, screwed on the lid and said, “Yes, I know.”

Earlier that day Mom had taken me shopping at Phillips Department Store, the 1960’s equivalent of a mall. On the walk home we’d taken a shortcut through the Omaha stockyards and noticed a newborn calf alone, bawling pitifully in one of the pens. Now as we prepared to go back, my father scowled.

He worked innumerable overtime hours on the Post Office docks. On this rare day off he needed to tackle his enormous honey-do list. The prospect of caring for their three toddler sons while his wife fed a doomed calf galled him.

Mom touched Dad’s arm. “Honey, even if it’s meant for slaughter, it isn’t right to let it suffer now.”

Dad rolled his eyes and stomped out of the kitchen. Mom tucked the bottle in her back pocket, took my hand, and we headed out the door.

I skipped at her side, elated by our rescue adventure. “I’m so glad we’re going to save the calf.”

Her grip on my hand tightened, but she walked on without answering. I slowed down and tugged at her.

“Mom, it’ll be okay, right? We’ll save it, won’t we?”

My mother stopped and sighed. She reached down to brush the hair from my forehead. “No honey, we can’t save it.”

I pulled away, tears welling. “But we’re going to feed it. It has to be okay.”

Mom cupped my cheek with a gentle hand. “We can’t save it. But we can help it now.” She captured my gaze. “It’s important to always do the right thing, even if you can’t change the outcome.”

She clasped my hand again and we headed to our task, somber now.

When we arrived the 250-acre stockyard teemed with activity and a smell that carried for miles. Even my familiarity with that odor didn’t prepare me for the stench inside the holding pens. Our calf huddled in the corner of one.

A stock handler rode over as we climbed the manure-splattered rails. “Ma’am, what are you doin’?” he called.

We perched on the top rail and Mom held up the bottle. “We’ve come to feed the calf.”

The cowboy shook his head. “Its mama birthed him then went into the slaughterhouse. That little feller ain’t gonna make it.”

Mom allowed his horse to nuzzle her hand. “I realize that.”

The cowboy pushed his Stetson back and asked, “Then why bother?”

She reached out, stroked his horse’s sweaty neck and said, “Because it’s hungry, and feeding it is the right thing to do.”

The man leaned back in the saddle. “That’s the dangdest thing I ever heard.”

She petted the horse without replying. Whether it was her determination, her evident appreciation of his horse, or her good looks, he finally shrugged and said, “Suit yourself.”

He trotted away and Mom and I slipped into the enclosure. We avoided the fly-laden piles of manure and crossed to the calf. Despite its feeble struggles, Mom upended the bottle and slid the nipple into its mouth. She guided my hand to the bottle and steadied the shaky calf. It caught on quickly, and stared at me as it guzzled the milk. Elated, I stroked its damp coat with my free hand.

The calf drained the bottle and plopped down, content. Mom smiled. “Let’s get home before Dad pulls his hair out. We’ll come back tomorrow.”

The next day we hurried back, but found the pen empty. Mom’s shoulders drooped. I buried my head against her side and wept. “It’s gone. It’s dead.”

While she comforted me our cowboy cantered over. “Ya’ll looking for that calf?”

I lifted my tear-streaked face. Mom nodded.

“It’s the dangdest thing. A farmer stopped by yesterday after you left.” A huge grin crossed the cowboy’s face. “He took the little feller home to raise. Guess feedin’ it was the right thing to do after all.”

That day Mom did more than save a calf’s life. Her actions impacted mine forever by imprinting the importance of doing the right thing. Her model has produced a legacy that’s been passed down to three generations.

And it all started with feeding a hungry calf.

It’s the dangdest thing.

~Jeanie Jacobson

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