As I’ve mentioned many times, my father was a dairy farmer who loved nothing more than getting dirty and being dirty as a direct result of hard manual labor.
After I had left home and moved to Los Angeles, he phoned me one day. “I need some help this weekend,” he said. “Can you come out?” He had purchased some cows and needed to transport them from their current home to the family farm.
This particular Sunday afternoon in August turned out to be the hottest day of the year. Well into the low 100s. And he decided that we should hook his trailer to his pick-up and get his new cows at the hottest hour of the day.
The cows were in an open, grassless field and they clearly had no interest in taking a road trip. The recalcitrant ruminants ran from one end of the field to the other and back again with me literally in hot pursuit. Every time I’d get them near the trailer one of them would panic and lead the others in a mad dash in the other direction. A great cloud of dust rose over the pasture. I was drenched in sweat. And I was hating every single moment of the experience.
We eventually got the last cow halfway into the trailer before she dug in her hooves and refused to move forward and put her head into the stanchion. My dad and I joined forces and tried to push her into place, but a Holstein dairy cow can weigh 1,300 pounds or more and our best efforts were inadequate for the task.
What happened next is probably illegal today. It would probably be considered animal abuse. My dad said, “Tail ’er.” I had heard him say those words hundreds of times in my life and always dreaded them.
Let’s define the term. It consists of grabbing the tail and pushing it straight up in the air so that it sits at a ninety degree angle to the cow’s spine. Cows don’t like it. No, they hate it. Their tails were not meant to bend in that direction. Bend it all the way up and the cow is immediately but temporarily immobilized. It must hurt like hell, because if you bend it, let’s say, halfway up, the cow immediately moves forward to lower the angle of the tail and alleviate the pain.
I did as instructed. I grabbed the cow’s tail and bent it upward. She immediately lurched forward into the trailer.
“Hold ’er while I close the gate,” he said.
Again I did as instructed. Picture, if you can, bovine anatomy and my adjacent position. There I was leaning in and holding the cow’s tail straight up in the air, leaving me staring directly into the abyss, into the south end of a northbound cow, into what can accurately be called the tail end. If you know what I mean. It’s not the kind of view you’d pay extra for.
My dad stopped lifting the gate of the trailer to enjoy a hearty laugh at my expense. Apparently he was amused by the look of disgust on my face.
“What’s the matter with you,” he asked as he gasped for air between belly laughs.
“I didn’t go to college,” I told him, “to sweat and get dirty.”
He dropped the gate of the trailer and laughed even harder. It was, he thought, the funniest thing he had ever heard. He really couldn’t comprehend how his son had turned out to be so unlike him.
And that brings us to today’s misadventure.
I feel a responsibility to warn anyone who considers visiting the Barossa Valley that Dr John Rutter cannot be trusted. If you were to visit and you were to meet the wily old physician, do not fall victim to his charms. He is unworthy of your trust.
“What are you doing on Tuesday,” he asked me a few days ago. “Want to go with me to get some firewood?”
In my mind, getting some firewood meant driving over to a yard where a massive supply of firewood has been pre-cut and stacked in a convenient pile. I assumed a burly lad clad in a red plaid shirt would amble out of a ramshackle office and carry that pre-cut wood from the pile to John’s trailer. My job, in my mind, was to be nothing more demanding than observing and pithily commenting. No sweat would be broken. No soft, delicate hands would be blistered. No pain would be endured. No lightheadedness would be experienced.
But no, that is not what the words “Want to go with me to get some firewood” mean in RutterWorld.
I got my first clue that John may have misrepresented the morning’s endeavors when I arrived at his house and we were joined by Paul, the neighborhood jack-of-all-trades and the toughest, strongest son of a bitch you’re ever likely to meet. Hmmmmm, I wondered, why is Paul coming along to pick up this load of firewood? We drove several miles out of town and instead of turning into a lot piled high with neatly-stacked firewood, we turned off the highway onto the merest suggestion of a trail and didn’t stop bouncing over rocks and ruts until we were well in the woods.
The Doctor parked his 4-wheel drive. Paul jumped out and began loosening up his lithe muscles. Next thing I knew the doctor had eyeballed a once stately but now dead eucalyptus tree and pointed it out to Paul who then grabbed his chainsaw and began felling the monster. As soon as its trunk crashed noisily to the ground he began cutting it into smaller chunks that were still too heavy and too cumbersome to easily tote to the trailer.
Yet without saying a word, The Doctor made it clear that that was exactly what I was expected to do. Since Paul was either completely inconsiderate or completely incompetent, the trunk fell to the low-side of the path, requiring me to carry the firewood uphill to get to the trailer.
The doctor stood to one side, barking out instructions as if he were the czar and Paul and I were the lowliest of serfs.
Paul kept cutting. I kept loading. John kept supervising. It took two full trees and two full hours before the trailer was filled to the doctor’s satisfaction.
The entire experience reminded me of the cow herding experience of my youth. There were no bovine buttholes involved, but there was definitely one horse’s ass.
And all I could think was I didn’t go to college to sweat and get dirty.
ONE ADDED NOTE: I usually say the posts here at JimandJamie.com are 98% true. But in interest of full disclosure, I must admit that this one is only about 75% true. Everything is accurate except the part about John barking orders and doing nothing. The man is 87-years old and had open heart surgery 30 years ago and his cardiologist just warned him not to engage in any strenuous activities — not even gardening. Despite all that, John was hefting logs like a man half his age. I had to continually bark at him to stop working so hard.
ANOTHER ADDED NOTE: There may be one other thing that isn’t true. Paul is neither inconsiderate nor incompetent. Nicest guy in the world and there is nothing he can’t do.
Next up? Log splitting.
Yes, many of the pieces of wood are far too heavy for John and Margaret to carry into the house or even to fit in the fireplace. So Paul will be coming over with his maul and wedge to split the logs into manageable pieces.