I was 4 years old and had been sent to stay over-night with my Aunt Edith in the city.
I don’t know where my Dad was. He was never a player in this story. But, my Mother, my sister Joanne and my big brother Jim were there on the farm taking care of business.
Time came for the regular evening chores and the cattle needed to be fetched in from the pasture.
Now it seems that along about milking time, cows like to head toward the barn to be relieved of their load of milk. That is, when milking time arrives coincidentally with sunset and the onset of twilight. Not so this time, the cattle were way over in my Grandfather’s pasture in what we called “The Thorns.” But the cows were blocked from coming home.
The Thorns were separated from our land by “The Bars” or a make-shift gate in the fence made up of a few wood poles about 12 feet long and supported on the ends by double fence-posts with slats between to create a ladder effect. The Bars led to a lane cleared out of the woods along the North edge of the 12 acre field. The lane led to the ravine that turned right, Southward to a lane leading to our barnyard.
About half way from the Bars to the corner was an old wind-fall Butternut tree that had fallen some years before from the woods toward the lane and the top-most branches had plugged up the cow-path leading past it.
On this late summer afternoon, Mom, Joanne and Jim walked diagonally from the barn, across the 12 acre field, crawled under the fence and into the lane. The cows were all gathered at The Bars waiting to be let through to come to the barn for milking.
Jim took The Bars down and drove the cows through then closed the gate.
The cows all knew where they were going so Jim told Mom and Joanne to take the short-cut back across the field to save them some steps.
The two girls crawled under the fence again and began their walk across the 12 acre field. Slowly, hand in hand, with Joanne stopping to pick a few Black-eyed Susans along the way.
The idyllic afternoon was shattered by a scream! Then another! And another!!
Mom had no idea what was going on! She could only envision that something terrible had happened to Jim!
“Jimmy! Stop that screaming! You’ll burst your throat!” she screamed back.
“EEEEYYOOWWWW!!” The scream came back!
Down across the few steps she had gained across the field, under the fence, across the lane, and into the brushy woods she went, calling to Jim all the while! “I’m coming, Jimmy! I’m coming!”
The brush was tearing at her arms and slashing at her face, but she kept on going.
EEEEYYOOWWWW!! The screams kept coming.
But now they were getting a little more distant! Mom was losing ground. She could not think what had happen to her 9 year-old boy! Only that some great bird had picked him up and had carried him off! It was all happening so quickly! She would have to go and get help!
Quickly she turned and retraced her steps back through the brushy trail, across the lane, under the fence and across the 12 acre field – running as fast as she could! She could see the barn in the distance!
There was an old Elm tree in the lane leading down toward the corner of the woods from the barn and when Mom passed the old Elm, she could see the chicken coop in the barn-yard.
Jim watched Mom and Joanne duck down and crawl under the fence and start up across the 12 acre field. Then he turned his attention to the cows that he had made himself responsible for. He picked up a stick as boys will do and began hitting trees and brush as he walked by.
Then he heard the first scream!
The interesting thing is, when HE heard the scream, so did the cows! And, as soon as they heard it, the entire herd bolted for the barn!
Jim, so scared he could scarcely swallow his own spit, grabbed one of the flying cow’s tails and went along for the ride! As he tells the story, “some of the steps I was taking behind that cow must have been 20 feet long! But I arrived at the barn at the same time the cows did!”
You can imagine the emotional rollercoaster Mom was on when she saw Jim on the roof of that chicken coop. Had he spoofed her? Was this some kind of a bad joke? Never mind that! – My boy!! – He’s alright!! Thank God!
We learned later that what they had heard was a panther that had been lurking around the farms in the area and had been seen by several of the farmers. The big cat and apparently been sleeping at the up-rooted end of the old Butternut tree and his sleep was interrupted by the little kid and his cattle passing by the treetop. That cat simply wanted to let everybody know!
In fact, he was so vocal about it that my Grandfather and Grandmother had left their house and had headed down the road, running toward our house, fearing that my father was beating one of us children mercilessly!!
That night when my Mother went to bed, she laid there quietly thinking over the events of the day and being quite thankful for the outcome, thanking God for taking care of them.
She wondered, “What gave Jimmy the presence of mind to grab that cow’s tail as the herd began to stampede?’
Just at that moment she heard what she said was, “a little rustle” over in the left hand corner of the room. She looked, “and there in the corner stood and angel, dressed in white with golden hair, shoulder length. He had a gold sash around his waist, tied off and hanging down on the right side.”
He was 9 feet tall!
How do I know? The ceilings in that house were 9 feet high. Mom said that he reached all the way to the ceiling! That’s how I know!
He smiled at her, nodded his head and disappeared.
She smiled, too, said “Thanks, Lord, and fell asleep.
I learned a bible verse when I was about 4 years old: “The angel of the lord encampeth round about them that fear Him and delivereth them.” (Psalm 34:7)
I’m glad I learned that verse when I was four!
And, I’m glad he does!