I am exhausted. You would think after a lifetime, I would be used to the death of an animal, used to the viscera and bloodletting. Whether it is an animal we have raised, or the rare occasion I have come across a fresh carcass in the wild, I am newly surprised each time at the shock to my senses.
Yet I am mindful of the story Jonathon told, at Jacob’s prompting yesterday, a story ancient in their family history, handed down from parent to child for perhaps thousands of years. Our Bonnie is so like the antelope who taught self-sacrifice to the People, encouraging them to take his flesh for meat and his hide for clothing.
This morning, images of Bonnie streamed through my meditation. I did little to stop them, observing, keeping the breath, holding on, nonetheless.
The memory that has stayed with me today is repeated again and again, as it was frequently throughout Bonnie’s life. At milking time each day, when the crew went to the fields with their pails and stools, Bonnie chose her milker.
The other cows might look up to see who was coming, turn their heads lazily about, eye the laughing, chatty group. Bonnie waited.
More often than not, Bonnie would choose the youngest child, just learning to express milk from a long, knobby teat. When the first drops pinged into the pail, Bonnie would turn her head toward the child and give a gentle snort, then lower her mouth to the grass. Watching, you would swear she smiled.
Sometimes Bonnie picked an older child, or one of the adults. She would have no one but the one she chose. Stepping close to her mark, she would shove her nose into their armpit. Unfailingly we giggled, every one of us, when she pushed that big, firm nose under our arm. Bonnie knew how to tickle. If you held out your hand to pet her, often as not, she would give it a big slurp with her long, wide tongue.
At breakfast this morning, every table buzzed with memories of Bonnie. Each villager had a tale of being The Chosen One. Oh, how Bonnie touched our hearts during her long life!
Usually, we were quiet after milking Bonnie. We tended not to talk about it. When she picked you, it was because you needed comfort, or calming after a row. Today, the floodgates opened, every table raucous with voices, laughter, and tears.
Merilee told of the time Tracey had been sick for three days with stomach flu, her worry that something more serious might be brewing, her exhaustion. When the milkers went out, Bonnie refused them all. Standing at the edge of the village, she raised her head and called in long wailing “Ooooooooooos” until half the village stood watching.
Hearing the racket, Merilee stepped outside to ask a passerby what was wrong. The moment she understood that Bonnie was calling for someone, “I knew it was me.,” she said. “Somehow, way out in the pasture, Bonnie sensed I needed her, needed to lay my head against her hairy side and cry for awhile, suck in her strength.”
Leaving Tracey in good hands, Merilee approached the pasture, where “Bonnie did a little dance! I kid you not! She tossed her head and pranced.”
“What happened next, Mom,” Tracey asked, her chocolate brown eyes wide, though she has heard this story dozens of times.
“Someone handed me a milking stool and a pail. I sat down on the spot. At first, my hands were shaking, I was that tired. Then I laid my head against her warm flank, and the tears started to come. I was so worried about you!
“Bonnie swished her long old tail around and caught me right on the cheek. Some of her hair went up my nose, and I sneezed. She lifted her head from the grass, gave me one of her long, ‘Get on with it already’ looks, and switched that tail again so hard it stung!”
We all laughed. Most of us had experienced Bonnie’s tail.
“I started milking her--Squirt, squirt, squirt.” Merilee mimes the squeezing action, her arms alternately pumping gently, fists squeezing and pulling imaginary teats. “You know, you can’t be upset when you milk a cow. Your hands don’t relax enough to stimulate the let-down. When those first three squirts hit the bottom of the pail, I knew we were going to be all right. You were going to be all right.
“There’s something about the smell of fresh sweet milk, still warm, the fat not yet separated. Comforting.”
Merilee’s voice trailed off and someone else spoke of their times with Bonnie.
Through the exhaustion, through the tears, I feel so blessed today, having had these hours with our friends to remember Bonnie and all she was to us. We will talk of her again. Noah will see to it that more of her stories are recorded.
For all of this, for the bounty of my life, I give thanks.