November Hope


The old station wagon bumped and squeaked as Leonard and his mother crossed the cattle guard and started up the dirt road to the pasture. Outside the car, snow swirled wildly about, blurring the bleak white landscape and obscuring the road. Leonard’s mother leaned forward, peering intently into the storm. “If we lose this cow, Leonard, we’re giving up and going back to the city,” Mother stated. She turned the big car off the road, bumped through the field, and came to a stop.

Leonard’s stomach muscles tightened with anxiety. Mother had expressed the same feeling last spring when three newborn calves died one after another, and again last summer when Jiggs, their young white bull, dropped dead in the field. But she might mean it this time. He knew that mother really loved Lucy, a bony Holstein whose hooves had frozen as a calf; afterward she could only limp slowly to her feed and water. Last spring Lucy had given birth to a beautiful, healthy calf. Then a few days ago Uncle Jim had found Lucy floundering in an icy ditch and had pulled her out onto the bank, where she had lain ever since.

Leonard savored the warmth of the car for a moment, then pushed the heavy door open against the wind, which struck his face like a blow. He pulled his stocking cap down over his ears and pushed against the wind to the back of the station wagon. His mother released the latch, and Leonard pulled out an old wooden sleigh. He and his mother lifted a milk can full of water and a covered bucket of grain onto it.

“I’ll take some grain to the calves in the west field and come back for you,” Mother shouted as she turned back to the car.

Leonard nodded, picked up the rope tied to the sleigh, and started across the field. He kept his head down, following the trail to the gate. When he reached it, he could see Lucy’s black spots against the snow. Bales of hay formed a windbreak at her head. Lucy lay motionless, and Leonard wondered if she were dead already. A lump like a jammed-up sob arose in his throat. If only his dad were here, he would figure out some way to get her on her feet. The snow and cold had come too early. It was only November, and they weren’t ready. Since his dad’s death the year before, his mother had tried hard to run their little farm with only Leonard’s and his two sisters’ help.

As Leonard swung the gate open, Lucy slowly raised her head, and Leonard felt a warming relief. He hurriedly dragged the milk can from the sleigh, removed the cap, and poured some water into the pan near her head. The water was still slightly warm, and steam rose into the air. He poured the grain into another pan and hunched down beside Lucy. He brushed the snow from her back and stroked her furry flank. She looked at him with her gentle, unquestioning brown eyes and lowered her mouth to the water and drank. She moved her head toward the grain and snorted, sending a small dusty cloud into the air.

Leonard remembered how beautiful she had been as a calf, how starkly white and black against the green of the pasture behind the house. He remembered the pain in her eyes the morning her first calf was born and how the wobbly little creature had followed her and nuzzled her side for milk. That calf was big now and grazed with the other cows, and Leonard knew that Lucy was due to have another one in the spring. Her munching and swallowing now was a warm and homey sound against the wind that whined around them.

Feeling a peculiar kind of happiness in being near the cow, in hearing her eat, in knowing that she was still alive, Leonard didn’t think that he could stand living in the city. He remembered the long days spent at his grandmother’s house when he just sat on the front lawn and watched the traffic. He knew that kids did things in the city, but to him there seemed to be nothing fun to do. He didn’t want to leave the cows and the chickens and Ralph and George, the two huge labradors, or the wide fields and open sky, the pond, and his tree hut. There had to be a way to help Lucy somehow! After standing up and putting the can and bucket back on the sleigh, the worried boy patted Lucy’s head as she licked up the grain with her long pinkish tongue. Then he started back across the snow to meet his mother.

Later, back at the house, Leonard and his five-year-old sister, Susan, each carried a load of firewood into the house and dumped it behind the black stove. Jenny, his ten-year-old sister, and his mother were setting dinner on the table.

After the family had seated themselves at the table and the blessing on the food had been said, Susan asked, “How’s Lucy?”

“She’s still eating well,” Leonard said. “But if she doesn’t get up in another day or two, I don’t think she ever will.” He turned to his mother. “There just has to be some way we can get her on her feet! How about using the winch on the tractor?”

His mother sighed. “The tractor broke down before we finished the fall plowing. I really don’t know what we’d use. Maybe things are getting too hard for us to handle.”

“I love Lucy,” Susan said. “I’m going to pray for her. She’ll get up.”

Leonard smiled at his little sister, then at his mother. When she returned a faint smile, he felt a flicker of hope. “What about Uncle Jim’s tractor?” he asked.

“Maybe. But he’ll be out of town all week. By the time he gets back, it will probably be too late.”

Leonard ate in silence, still thinking about Lucy. Finally he said, “Why don’t we go down in the morning and try again to get her up? Maybe if we all encourage her, she’ll make the effort.”

The next morning Leonard and his two sisters climbed into the station wagon with their mother and drove down to the field. The gusting wind blew swirls of white snow off the fields here and there as they all helped to feed Lucy. The girls petted her thick winter coat and stroked her nose. After Lucy had eaten, more hay was spread around the cow to help her get her footing on the hard ground. Then everyone encouraged her to get up.

When plain coaxing didn’t work, Leonard found a smooth fence pole and wedged it under the cow’s side. Then he and Jenny found a rock to use as a fulcrum, and they began pushing down on the fence-pole lever while his mother pushed Lucy’s neck. Susan encouraged the cow by talking to her and wiggling her tail. The cow strained to raise her bulk. She kicked, but her legs only scraped against the ground beneath her. Lucy made a last struggle to rise, then flopped her head back down and refused to try again.

Leonard and Jenny lowered the pole. Susan let go of Lucy’s tail and sat down and laid her head on the cow as tears ran down her cheeks. Leonard’s mother sat on the grain bucket and put her chin in her hands.

Heartsick, Leonard looked off across the fields at the Uintah Mountains, their jagged peaks white against the blue sky. In the other direction the fields stretched far to the cedars and sagebrush beyond. He loved the expanse; it seemed to belong to him. He looked at his mother, sitting so forlornly on the bucket, and at his two sisters, gently stroking the animal’s side. “Maybe Susan had the solution,” he said softly.

His mother looked up at him, her eyes puzzled at first, then warm and comprehending. They all knelt on the spread hay, the wind gusting around them, and Mother spoke the words, explaining their need for the cow and how much they loved her. When Mother had finished, they all knelt silently a few moments longer.

“Let’s let her rest a few more minutes and try again,” Leonard said. “Then how about using two poles, one under her shoulders and one under her hips?” He looked at the cow again. “Her legs are more under her than they were when we started.”

He found another pole and a second rock. He and Jenny manned one pole, Mother and Susan the other.

“When I say ‘go,’” he directed, “start pushing, and shout to encourage her.”

“It would help if we had more people,” Jenny said.

“It would,” said Leonard, “but remember how Nephi had extra strength when he was holding onto Zoram. With the Lord’s help, we can do it.” He hesitated a moment, then shouted, “Go!”

The startled cow began to struggle. Mother and the three children pushed, wedging their poles a little farther under Lucy as she struggled. “Up, girl! Up!” they shouted, pushing and straining. The cow snorted and threw back her head and tried to dig her hooves into the ground. With a great heave the animal brought her legs under her, her back end and then her front end rising until she was standing. She swayed, and four pairs of hands steadied her. Lucy took a faltering step on her weakened legs, then another. Then she began to nibble the straw from one of the bales!

Leonard smiled across the cow’s back at his mother. She returned his smile, and he knew that she wouldn’t give up on the farm—not yet anyway. As the family knelt on the hay again in the thin winter sunlight, Lucy’s shuffling and munching provided a pleasant background to their prayer of gratitude.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Phyllis Luch