The following first appeared in the Tribune on Aug. 20, 2007:
In spring, there were baby kittens and their mothers in Estes' barn loft. In summer, there was soft-stacked hay there. It was great for jumping and rolling in. And it was a good place to hide from my brother and his friend John Austin Estes.
As there were baby chickens up there, I wondered how a hen got into that high place; certainly it was not by the vertical homemade ladder I had climbed! I was concerned because there was no water up in that second-floor loft for the hen.
One day I saw that hen on the ground walking around in circles, eyeing the big open hole at the front of the loft. I waited and watched. When the hen was finally in the right spot, she ran, flapping her wings wildly, and then went airborne, still flapping. She just barely caught the loft boards with her feet and kept her balance. I worried no more about the hen.
Mothers and others convinced us girls it was time to learn stitchery. We were taught to make samplers. We were expected to embroider name, date, location and a Bible verse in tedious cross-stitch.
People say, "Idle hands do the work of the devil." I was helping in the dairy and didn't have time to make a sampler, but those samplers are now treasured as heirloom antiques.
Some farm boys proved their manliness to each other and to some of their dads by swallowing raw hen's eggs! They were secretly proud of having swallowed one without getting sick -- witnessed by some of the guys. Girls weren't supposed to suck eggs, and that was just fine with me. A boy was supposed to be able to down one, maybe more, by the time he was 13 or 14 years old.
Before we started home, Bess walked with us as far as the barn. We watched as she sat down on a one-legged stool to milk her cow. No milk came at first, but when Old Bossy began to '"give her milk down," the sound of milk hitting her metal bucket was "zerpt-zerpt, zerpt-zerpt."
A cow's udder has four handles -- four teats. Old Bossy stomped at flies and switched her tail. Bess would rock backward each time, but she never lost her balance and didn't spill the milk. That's why milk stools have only one leg.
John preferred goat's milk. Nanny goat's udder had only two teats. In late afternoon, the goat hopped up on a narrow platform attached to the side of the barn and waited for John to bring her food. He poured grain into her box, and she licked and chewed as he milked a rusty cup full of milk. He held it in one hand as he milked her with the other.
In many ways, this family lived much like other early farmers in mid-America. However, most families had several children. Bess and John Estes had John Austin.
Sadly, in his teens, John Austin was killed instantly while driving a team of horses in a violent electrical storm. Bess visited his grave at Olivet Cemetery almost every Sunday for the rest of her life. She always went early to arrange flowers for their beloved son.