Grammy and Grandpappy had fifteen youngins of their own, so I had a mess o’ cousins. Most of the boys looked the same, with straggly dirty blonde hair and mean squinty eyes. We girls was better. We looked different from one another by our hair color and size of our bosoms.
Grandpappy moved lots of us to a run-down trailer park near the railroad tracks. Him and Grammy lived in a doublewide next to the meadow ‘cause they kept a milk cow. As neighbors moved out, more of our kin moved in. No matter the trailers was abandoned ‘cause they was old, we was a family that stuck together. Pretty soon our kin took over every useable trailer in that danged weed-infested field. The poor folk thought we was rich.
Everyone who visited asked to go see the rest of them empty trailers. I sneaked and seen ‘em already and they was empty, except for some mattresses the hobos left behind. When I asked why my uncles always brought their girlfriends around to inspect those old trailers when they went out on dates, Grandpappy said, “They just want to bless our new home.” Then he’d slap his knee and bellow till his eyes watered and he started to coughin’. He never let me go see with the other people and got downright nasty when I tried. “You stay put, li’l girlie,” he said. “There’s time enough to learn about life.”
My daddy was a jack-of-all-trades and him and Grandpappy joined some of them trailers so’s you could walk from one to another without goin’ outside. When friends come over for some honky-tonkin’, those old trailers would rock and once the rotted tires exploded on one of ‘em.
Effie May was my closest cousin. She was older ‘n me. The boys said she was built like a cow. Sometimes when they headed off to the trailers, they said they was gonna go milk the cows. Like it was a dirty joke or somethin’. Effie May hung out with the boys a lot. She said they was her kissin’ cousins.
One day, Effie May whispered to me, “They calm my yearnins, ya’ know?”
I didn’t know. I saw her and cousin Wilma Lou, who my momma told me to stay away from, go in and out of them abandoned trailers on the other side of the park with a bunch of boys time and again. Effie May was awful smart, said she knew how to be of service to folks. She always had money. But me? I didn’t want to be nobody’s servant. Me and my momma was close. I was blonde-headed like the rest of my kin, but my hair picked up some of my momma’s red. I liked her the most, better ’n Effie May, ‘cause Momma explained things to me.
As we kids was growin’ up, I guess Grandpappy thought he still had to feed the whole brood. One day after Grammy gave away the old cow that dried up, he come home with another.
“I’m tired of sittin’ around all day shaking the cream to the top of that jar just to make butter,” Grammy said.
“Well, we cain’t afford the store-bought stuff yet either,” Grandpappy said.
Johnny Jeb was one cousin always up to no good. He used to squeeze the cow’s udder so we could drink when we got thirsty while we was playin’. He’d squirt us just to be mean. We was lucky Grandpappy never knowed what the soggy stains was on our clothes and why leaves stuck in our hair ‘cause sometimes after getting pushed in, we swam in the creek with our clothes on and he couldn’t tell the difference.
“You grandkids are dirtier ’n my own ever was,” he would say. “And to think you live better off today.”
Some of my aunts and uncles took a broom to their kids for coming home dirty. My momma just smiled and poured water into the old tin tub, throwed me a bar of Grammy’s lye soap, and said, “You soak good now, Darlin’.”
Grandpappy couldn’t figure out why the cow didn’t give much milk. He was attached to Bossie, his latest cow, and instead of getting rid of her, he brung home another.
Johnny Jeb loved that. He taught cousin Bobby Zeke to squirt and they had milk fights in the meadow. When the rest of us got to laughin’, we all learned to squirt.
Grandpa got a third cow just so’s he could get enough milk together for all our families every day. Anyway, between the three, they kept the weeds down real good. But it stunk some and the boys was put to scrapin’ up the cow-pies and tossin’ ‘em into an empty field. Us girls stayed away from them dung fights.
Later on, when I started thinkin’ about boys, I looked in the mirror to see what they was awinkin’ at. My bosoms finally growed like Effie May’s. My kin said I wasn’t bad looking and my hair always shined like sunlight.
“Why’d you s’pose that is?” I asked my momma one day.
“Musta’ been all that fresh cream you got in your hair when you was a kid,” she said.
I never knew she knowed. I have a right smart image of my momma now that I know she let us kids enjoy the fun we had back then. I looked at her real hard ‘cause I admired her more all of a sudden. Her brassy hair was so shiny.
My daddy said I matured real nice. He always paced around lookin’ at me like I was the chunk of gold that was gonna make him rich or somethin’. I wondered if him and Momma would let me go honky-tonkin’. Effie May said she could tell me how to take care of my yearnins.
Grandpappy's Cows has appeared in Gator Springs Gazette, in print and online, and in The Voice.