The Day My Mother Swore

By Elizabeth Donaldson
Special to the Times

I enjoy reading Kim Jo Bliss’ column in the Fort Frances Times as it brings back memories of living on a small farm with my mother and three siblings and a variety of animals. Back in the 1940’s many people lived on similar farms trying to make a living and although I realize now how very hard it was for my mother dealing with everyday life, I consider I had a very good childhood. My mother, a widow, was the daughter of one of the earliest settlers of the area and had been raised in a very strict Methodist household whose values she adhered to and tried to instill in us. No bad language was heard in our home.

Although those times were very different and many relied on horse power, some things do not change as the nature of the animals remains the same to a large extent. Our lives revolved around the care of our animals horses, cows, pigs and poultry. I think that most people who have lived on a farm can remember incidents of pure unwillingness or stubbornness in animals. Most will also remember wild chases of cattle who have perhaps broken through a fence and are where you do not want them.

My grandfather had built one of those big two storey barns with hay lofts where those more daring than me walked the big beams. It was a wonderful building even though there were problems with the foundation. There were stalls for horses and cement gutters and metal stanchions for the milk cows. I like the way that the cows would file, in usually led by Daisy the boss cow, and each go directly to their own stall where they would be locked in. The younger ones went into pens. The animals were usually well behaved in the barn but not always outside. We knew them all by name and could walk among them without fear.

I am not even sure now how many cattle we had in our herd but I know that at times we were milking five or six cows and there were calves and young cattle. One fall afternoon we had to get all the cattle inside although I don’t remember why. The doors were what are called Dutch doors, with a top and bottom part. The door to the cattle section was wide open ready for that cattle to come in. My mother had us all stationed in strategic spots and the herd was fenced in. We got them started up to the doors with the cows leading the way. All of a sudden they turned and wheeled and spread out. We got them all positioned again with my mother telling us to be careful not to scare them – just take it easy. So far so good but when they got to about the same place they all turned tail and scattered again. I don’t know how many times this happened but with much running and yelling and arm waving we were ready to quit but we had to get them in. My two older brothers had suggestions but my sister and I just wanted it to end. One more try with the same result. All of a sudden we heard my mother say “Damn cows.”

We all were so shocked as we looked at each other. Our mother had said a swear word! Never in our lives had we heard even a mild oath from her. It took a herd of stubborn cows to extract that from her and I guess anyone who has dealt with cattle would understand. We all remembered ‘The day our mother swore’.

As I recall the cattle went into the barn when it was turning dark.