Monday, December 16, 2013

Alexis as a Milkmaid and Related Matters: a repost

I saw a lot of this sort of thing in my childhood.

For two years of my life, I lived in the San Joaquin Valley. The first of those two years occurred when I was in kindergarten. Then we moved to a suburb north of the San Francisco Bay Area for a year. For various logistical purposes, we returned to the San Joaquin Valley the year I was in second grade. For both of my San Joaquin Valley years, we lived in a house on a dairy that was owned by my aunt and uncle. We attended Catholic School for the convenience of my aunt.  My mom is a proponent of public schooling, especially since she earned the bulk of her income through the public school system, and felt that it would have been and was hypocritical for her to have taken money from the public sector while paying to send her children to a private school, parochial or otherwise, yet she wished not to make life more difficult for my aunt, who was doing her a great favor by providing our before- and after-school babysitting. My cousins attended the local Catholic School, which made delivering us and picking us up logistically much less complicated for my aunt were we to attend the same school as her two children.
The aunt who babysat us, my Aunt Victoria, was also my Godmother. She was and continues to be extremely kind and generous to my brother and to me. Her husband and my Godfather, my Uncle Ralph, was sort of a crusty first-generation-born-in-the-U.S. Azores Portuguese dairyman who, along with his brothers, owned multiple dairies. He had two sons and no daughters, though he had numerous nieces. For some reason he found my outspokenness and opinionated-ness "cute," rather than obnoxious as most adults found it. For that reason, he tolerated me, and I spent much of the time we lived near his dairy amidst his cows. My Uncle Ralph defended me against my many detractors. When his older brother James complained that I needed to spend less time at the dairies because the sound of my voice was upsetting the cows and interfering with milk production, my Uncle Ralph politely told his brother to go to hell. (That particular brother is no longer in business with my Uncle Ralph, though we still run into him at extended family functions. He still finds my voice annoying.)
As a young child, on occasion I was present when decisions were made as to whether or not particular bulls should be castrated or allowed to mature and to be allowed to gain the ability to reproduce. Some dairymen castrate bulls at two to four days of age. Others wait until closer to seven months. Still other bulls will not be castrated at all, although the vast majority will undergo the procedure because the number of viable sperm producers needed is far less than the number of calf-bearing and milk-producing cows. (It's a metaphor for life on a polygamous compound. A limited number of fertile males are needed; it's the females who are key to continued breeding.)

One afternoon, I remember standing around a pen while my uncle and a few of his brothers discussed the relative merits of a particular bull who may have been about four months old. There was no consensus as to how to manage this bull's reproductive status. Manuel said to castrate. Ralph, Frank, Joe, and Fred were undecided. James wanted to let the bull develop his cojones and allow him to significantly help to entertain the dairy's female population. Though my opinion wasn't asked, I characteristically gave it. "Castrate him," I piped in, "or beef him."

The men all looked at me quizzically. Not only was I suggesting to take away this bull's reproductive ability, but was offering as an alternate suggestion that he be turned into ribeye steaks.

"His eyes look crazy," I continued. I don't know if I was in a position to be able to tell at that age, or even now, but it is supposedly common knowledge, or at least folk knowledge among dairymen, that a wild-eyed bull may be more temperamental or dangerous than will be the average bull.

"She don't know what the hell she's talking about, " James argued. "She's five years old [I was actually only four at the time], she's a girl, and she ain't even Portuguese. We're fools if we make a decision based on what she tells us. I know you think she's funny, Ralph, but that don't mean she needs to dictate our dairy policy."

They dispersed, and the bull was left in its enclosure. About two weeks later, someone left one of the latches on the particular bull's enclosure not properly secured. Tony, Ralph's brother James' son, about ten years old at the time, walked past the enclosure. Dairy bulls, for a variety of reasons, are the most dangerous of bovine bulls. It supposedly pertains to how they were raised, which typically would have been individually in pens, and bucket fed by humans rather than nursed for longer by their mothers, giving them less identity to their true bull nature and causing them to think they are humans**, therefore making them more likely to view humans as competitors and more likely to attack them. Anyway, the bull noticed Tony walking past and rammed himself at the first latch, which must have been in a weakened state. The second latch, so placed just as added security, was not even fastened. The bull went directly for Tony, who by this time had his back to the bull and had no clue the bull was even headed in his direction.

As the bull gored Tony in his midsection, a dairy employee, Antonio, and Tony's Uncle Fred both noticed the situation. Uncle Fred came running from one direction with a two-by-four, with which he immediately began pounding the bull, while the dairy employee came from the other direction with a gun, rifle, or whatever it was. I'm extremely ignorant regarding firearms. I know it wasn't a handgun, but I don't know it it was a rifle or a shotgun. Uncle Fred fought the bull off and got it away from Tony, who was then pulled to safety by an older cousin. The employee with the gun then had a safe angle for a shot at the bull, which he took and made. In short, the bull was "beefed."

As for Tony, he lost a kidney but you would never know from looking at him today as long as he has his shirt on and his scar is not exposed. He should be cautious because he lacks the spare kidney which most of us have, but his life is a normal agricultural life. He went to Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo and partied just as hard as did the next aggie there, and there are many hard-partying aggies there. Because his father is no longer in business with my Uncle Ralph, I don't see him so often, nor do I see his father James so often. James presumably still finds my voice very grating, but since the assets were split, since he's no longer in business with my Uncle Ralph, and since it's no longer his cows whose milk production with which I am interfering, he probably doesn't care all that much about my voice. I suspect he wishes he'd taken me a little more seriously, though, the day I stated my opinion that the young bull's eyes looked crazy.

Not only did I learn of castration and insemination. I learned the requisite swear words in Spanish, Portuguese, and English, and I learned when not to say them if I knew what was good for me. I also picked up a few bovine- and sometimes human-related veterinary and medical terms. One day in kindergarten one of my classmates' mothers had planned to bring her newborn baby to school to show to the children, which was probably a foolish thing for her to have done under the best of circumstances with all the germs we carried. She was unable to come, however, due to a malady related to breast-feeding.

"My mother can't come to school today," the kid announced. "She has mastitis." The mother probably would have preferred that her son keep the specifics of her malady to himself, but kindergartners aren't known for their respect of privacy --  their mothers' or anyone else's.

"No way! " I answered. "Your mom can't have mastitis."

"She does so!" he countered.

"My uncle's cows get mastitis," I informed the kid. "Is your mom a cow? If she really has mastitis, it has to mean she's a cow," I told him with the logic of a four-year-old who felt that she knew just about everything there was to know on the planet and beyond.
Catholic schools in rural areas are essentially tiny, isolated communities. Everyone shops at the same places, worships at the same church, sends their children to the same school or schools, and sees the same few doctors. If a feud over anything ensues, there's little to do by way of getting around it. Soon it was known by all students in the K-8 school old [and their parents] that Alexis Rousseau had called David Goularte's mother a cow. Even my aunt and uncle knew, though they initially didn't enlighten my parents because they saw no point in my being beaten when I hadn't done anything intentionally wrong.

The first sign of trouble came when, at mass the following Sunday, my family took seats next to to my Aunt Victoria and Uncle Ralph, who happened to be in a pew directly in front of the Goularte family. Almost immediately, all seven Goulartes, including the new baby, packed up their rosaries, purses, diaper bags, and all the rest of their paraphernalia, and moved to a spot in the church that was as far away from us as they could possibly relocate while still remaining inside the building. In retrospect, I'm surprised they didn't traipse up to the choir loft, except that lugging those massive mastitis-inflamed boobs up the stairs might have been a bit difficult for Mrs. Goularte. Most women would have stayed home from mass if suffering from something as uncomfortable as mastitis, but the Goulartes were devout Catholics with a reputation for attending church when suffering from bouts of diarrhea, chicken pox that had not entirely crusted over, and early stages of labor. Baby Goularte number six was very nearly born in the church.

My parents looked at each other in a puzzled manner, then apparently gave the matter little more thought. My Aunt Victoria and Uncle Ralph, however, knew the back story. They spent the rest of the mass trying to contain their laughter. When my Uncle Ralph went forward to received the Host, Mr. Goularte was receiving the Host at the station directly adjacent to where my Uncle Ralph was doing the same. Apparently even being related to me by marriage made my Uncle Ralph a Capulet to Mr. Goularte's Montague status, or a Hatfield to a McCoy if one would prefer. Mr. Goularte gave my uncle a look that typically would have been reserved for such action as my uncle himself having referred to Mrs. Goularte as a cow, and not merely his kindergarten niece having done so. My Uncle Ralph caught the sneer aimed in his direction. He tried not to laugh while the Host was being delivered to him, which caused him to choke. He sputtered his way back to his pew, with my Aunt Victoria firmly hitting his back, wondering if she should attempt a Heimlich maneuver. (It wouldn't have been easy, as Uncle Ralph neither then was nor is now is a small man.) My uncle eventually successfully swallowed and quit coughing.

At the conclusion of the mass, my aunt and uncle decided they should let my parents in on the "secret" as to why the Goulartes hated us, since everyone else in the church seemed to know. My mother wanted to punish me, but my dad said they needed instead to explain to me that some illnesses can be contracted by both cows and humans, and that, regardless, it would never be taken as a compliment for a person to refer to another person's mother as a cow.

My Aunt Victoria told me just last week that Mr. Goularte started to bid on a heifer at an auction, but immediately ceased with his bidding when he learned it was my cousin Philip's heifer for which he was competing. It seems the feud lives on. I suppose the only thing that would make it worse would be if David Goularte and I were to fall in love. Such is not all that likely to happen, though, as David Goularte only dates bimbo sorority girls with IQs significantly lower than his, and, while I do not know his precise intelligence quotient, I do know that it took him three tries to pass the high school exit exam.

** Obviously, even animal psychologists can only surmise as to the reasoning behind bulls' actions. Who can know what, if anything, is really going through a bull's mind as he attacks anything or anyone?

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