Nancy was about 11 when she wanted a hive of honeybees of her own.
Chub was teaching her how to install a new queen. She put dry leaves in the smoker, lit them and squeezed the bellows a few times to get them burning. Then she released a few puffs of smoke through the hive opening. Chub used the hive tool and pried off the top cover. Suddenly, big raindrops spatted down into the open hive, and the bees took after Nancy. She got several stings on her face.
The next day, one of her eyes was swollen shut and the other was almost as bad. I consoled her, saying, "Honey, I'll buy your bees so this will never happen again." Squinting from the one eye, she quickly replied, "No!" After thinking it over, she said, "This just proves that it's not all profit." That became a family "sayin'," and a journal entry years later reminded me that farming certainly is not all profit.
On the morning of Sept. 13, 1973, I was talking on the phone with Nancy, saying, "You should see the seven jars of warm wild elderberry jelly on my cabinet." Then I interrupted, saying, "I have to hang up, there's something wrong in the pasture." A steer of about 300 pounds was bawling and going around in circles -- there was something on his head.
I drove the pickup across the branch and to the west pasture for a closer look. Sure enough, there was a tall metal bucket over the animal's face, and the bail was hooked tight over the back of its head. It couldn't see or eat or drink. I recognized it as one of the six rangy ones that had gotten out the day before. We needed rain, and the pasture grass was nibbled to the ground. Fences don't hold rangy animals in those conditions.
Nancy located Mike at work, and I called Walt at the bike shop. They came about 5:30 p.m. to help. It might have been without water for a day or two, but that steer was still full of energy. It started to rain as Mike and Walt took a lasso rope and bolt cutters and we drove to the pasture. They teased each other about which one would catch and hold the steer.
I watched as the two "cowboys" were getting nowhere. The steer was gaunt, with hollow places between its ribs and hip bones. They got him into a fence corner, but Walt failed each attempt at throwing the lasso over the steer's head. The gentle rain became a cloud burst.
When the steer bounded into the fence, Mike grabbed the bucket and wrestled it around but lost his grip. The frightened animal took off in Walt's direction, bellowing into the bucket with every breath. There was something hilarious about two non-cowboys leaping and yelling and laughing while warm rain was soaking them to the skin.
Walt stopped the animal and discovered that Mike had gotten the bucket bail off on one side. Now it was his turn to wrestle. He heaved one direction as the steer turned the other. Off came the bucket. We all screamed with joy, and the surprised steer trotted off to join the herd.
Mike and Walt grabbed the bolt cutters and rope and jumped into the truck cab -- just as the rain stopped. No, in the cattle business, as with beekeeping, it isn't all profit.