The Nursery by Ken Harris ©February 2008
El Monte, California, Spring, 1959. We lived in El Monte, California, the very first home we owned, with our dogs, cats, horses and daughter, Patricia, who had been born the previous December. On Star Street. Our neighborhood had modest homes, large yards, sewers, mail delivery, trash pickup. Most people would qualify the area as suburban.
And yet, many people had horses living in their back yards. At the foot of Star Street lay easy access to a trail that could take you all the way to Long Beach and the Pacific Ocean. A bachelor had built a large barn of hollow tile concrete for his horses near that access. The barn had a “hay loft” with a card room and a wet bar. I don’t know if they rode horses much, but there were people always hanging around. We could sometimes smell and hear the residents of the nearby dairy.
And our neighbors, Okie Levingston and his wife, Doris. kept a back yard full of own quarter horses, a cow or two, goats, chickens. If it mooed, clucked or baaed, it probably lived in the their back yard.
So many animals took up a large part of the Levingston’s time, energy and income. Doris said that many times she would blow the family cash on feed for the animals and then check the barn to see if the chickens had laid any eggs for supper. Also, the animals made it hard for them to get away and do anything.
This became a real problem for Doris because she wanted the two of them to visit her parents in Tulare, a farm town (city now) in Central California for the weekend. She asked if we would mind their animals for them.
We had no problem with that. Feed some people hay and the others mash and don’t get the meals mixed up. No big problem. We would have to milk Willa Mae, but we could do that. We had given them Willa Mae to raise their two kid whose mother had died, but they were weaned. In fact, everybody was weaned. No problems there.
Piece of cake, we told her. The two of you go off on your weekend, drink beer, tell lies, have a great time, we told her. And so they did, leaving at o-dark-thirty on Saturday morning, long before we were awake.
When we went over to the Levingston yard, after feeding our own animals, to an enthusiastic chorus of animal sounds, and we began to feed. But we noticed one new little kid, one we had never seen before, black with drooping white ears. And this one wasn’t weaned. The way she looked at the hay, it might as well have been from Mars. She had no clue about what to do with it.
Joanne had milked Willa Mae already and she went back to our house for one of Pat’s nipples. I enlarged the business end with my pocket knife, and slipped it over the mouth of a Coke® bottle filled with Willa Mae juice. The kid eagerly attacked the bottle although frequently butting my hand that held the bottle, trying to make the milk flow faster. She thought my hand was an udder and I just wasn’t releasing milk fast enough.
She finished her bottle of milk and I looked up to find myself surrounded by other admiring young animals, including a rather large calf. They had all been weaned, sure enough, but they weren’t really enthusiastic about it. They made “me next” sounds, but we scattered them back to their yucky hay.
When the Levingstons returned we told them what happened. It turned out, they had told us the truth. Their animals were all weaned. However, a “friend” who didn’t know they would be gone that weekend had dropped the kid off in the wee small hours. I guess he had a goat he didn’t need and thought to himself, “I’ll drop it off at Okie and Doris’. They like goats.” You’ve got to be careful of friends like that.