More Than Just Mush

By Jeanina Bartling

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    Annie frowned, seeing what was on the table for supper. She stamped her foot and declared, “Again, Mama!”

    “Yes, Annie. Mush again. Come now, sit down and be glad for it. Our stomach walls would touch were it not for the mush.”

    Annie pinched her lips together and sat down next to her older sister, Marian.

    After supper the mush felt like a cold stone in Annie’s stomach as they gathered around Pa. Annie usually loved Pa’s quiet, deep tones as he read from the Bible or the Book of Mormon. But tonight’s chosen scripture, the third chapter of Habakkuk, bothered her when Pa reached verses seventeen and eighteen:

    “Although … the fields shall yield no meat [fruit]; …

    “Yet I will rejoice …”

    Annie just had to blurt out, “Pa, does that mean that we should be glad even if there’s nothing but mush to eat?”

    “That’s right, Annie.” Pa smiled gently at her.

    “Well, I like what David said better.” Annie found the place in the old family Bible and pointed.

    “Let’s see, Psalm Eighty-One, verse ten.” A slow smile spread across Pa’s face as he read, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.”

    With a little laugh, Marian said, “He’s done that, hasn’t He—filled our mouths with mush!”

    “David didn’t mean mush, Marian!” Annie objected. “I just know that he didn’t!”

    Later, in bed, Annie couldn’t sleep. She turned onto her side, thinking about Heavenly Father and mush. Surely Heavenly Father loves us enough to give us more than just mush, doesn’t He? Pa had talked about a mysterious stock market crash. He had said that the crash and now the long drought were why there wasn’t enough food or jobs. But, Annie wondered, why did Heavenly Father let it be so?

    Restless, she got up and looked out the window. Her tiny bedroom above the kitchen looked out on flat, dry eastern Oregon ranchlands that seemed to stretch forever. Above, the sky was alive with twinkles. Annie stared up at the silver-spangled blackness, mulling over what Mama repeated often these days:

    “Trust grows in sunshine, but—what’s best—

    It blooms in darkness when at rest.”

    “OK, Heavenly Father,” Annie said resignedly as she knelt by her bed, “I’ll go along with Mama and Pa and Marian. Maybe You know something that I don’t, so I’ll try to trust You more. I’ll even try to like mush a little bit.” When Annie finished her prayer, she stretched out under the quilts and drifted into a deep sleep.

    Scraaaape! Scraaaatch!

    The strange scraping sound wakened Annie. Drowsily she heard the screen door slam and Pa’s voice, “Git, Bossie! Go along now.”

    Wondering whom Pa was talking to, Annie jumped up and pushed aside the curtains. “A cow!” she cried.

    Trotting away toward the road was a jersey cow. Larger than most jerseys, she was yellowish brown, and one side was splashed with a darker brown, as though someone had splattered her with paint.

    Annie stretched, then pulled on her clothes. As she slipped on her dress, she again heard the strange scraping sound. Looking down, she saw the same cow scraping her horns against the back porch post. The screen door slammed as Pa came out again, this time briskly slapping his pants with his hand. With a startled swing of her head, the cow took off down the path. Annie rested her hands on the sill and leaned out, watching the cow trot off. Her udder was swollen with milk and swung back and forth as she trotted.

    Minutes later, Annie joined Marian and her parents in the kitchen. “Where’d that cow come from, Pa?”

    “I imagine she belongs to some rancher. Because of the drought, they’ve had to turn their stock loose to forage for themselves. Poor critters.” As he shook his head sympathetically, the familiar scraping sound came again.

    They all went out onto the porch and stared at the big cow. She stared back dully. Then, lifting her head, she drew out a long, sad Moooo.

    “Pa, she wants to be milked,” Marian said. “Look at her full udder.” She took a step toward the jersey, then stopped as the animal swung her head, brandishing sharp horns. A hoofed foot stamped in the dust, raising dust swirls in the already hot morning sun.

    “I’ll milk her! Then we’ll have cream on our mush. Won’t that be good?” Annie’s voice was excited. She looked appealingly at Pa. “Can I, Pa? Please. She’s come here, asking.”

    “Annie, part of her looks like she wants to be milked, all right. But her horns and that look in her eyes say, ‘No one better bother me.’”

    “Let me try, Pa. Please. If she doesn’t want me to, she’ll just leave.”

    “All right, Annie. Go ahead and try, but I don’t think she’ll even let you near her.”

    Annie slipped into the kitchen and grabbed a large pot and a stool. Carrying them cautiously, she walked slowly toward the cow, who stood watching her. The cow’s front hoof pawed at the dusty ground, and her tail switched away a fly. Annie hesitated, her breath catching in her throat. The cow really didn’t look too friendly. Then she thought, Cream on ourmush! I’ll bet this cow is from Heavenly Father.

    Annie took another slow step. “There now, little mama,” she crooned. “We’ll soon have you feeling better.” With slow, steady movements, Annie positioned the pot under the cow. Soon steady streams of rich, warm milk were filling it to the brim.

    Just as Annie finished, the cow flung her head and took off, her sharp hoofs barely missing the pot of foaming milk.

    “Wow!” Marian breathed. “Annie, you sure were brave. She really isn’t too tame.”

    “Let’s go have our mush with cream, Marian!” Annie exulted.

    After Pa said the blessing, Annie added her own silent thank-you to Heavenly Father.

    Early the next morning, Annie was again awakened by the scraping sound.

    Oh! You’ve sent her again, Heavenly Father! Annie thought as she drew in a quick breath. She flew down the stairs, snatched up the stool and pot, and raced outdoors.

    “Oh, Bossie dear, I’m so glad that you came back. We loved the milk you gave us yesterday. Do you belong to Heavenly Father, Bossie?” Talking gently, Annie was soon filling the pot again with Bossie’s creamy milk.

    Each morning, all through the hot, dry summer, the cow returned. And each morning Annie’s young, strong fingers milked her. Mama gave the cow some of their precious water to drink each morning as partial payment for her cream and milk.

    The days grew shorter and cooler. One day a long downpour sank deeply into the thirsty ground. Soon Pa found work, and once again they were able to buy a variety of foods to eat.

    One afternoon a rancher rode up to the door. “Good morning, Ma’am,” he said to Mama. “I’m rounding up the cattle that I had to turn loose a while back. I’m missing one—a big jersey with a splash of dark brown on one side. I wonder if you’ve seen her?”

    “Oh my, yes!” Mama said. “Is she yours? We’ve wondered whom she belonged to. She’s been coming every morning for months. My Annie’s been milking her, and—”

    “Nope, can’t be her, then, Ma’am,” he interrupted. “This cow will hardly let a husky man milk her, let alone a tad of a girl. She’s a mean critter.”

    “Well, this cow’s skittish, all right. But she apparently lost her calf and was heavy with milk, so each morning Annie has been milking her. We don’t know who has been milking her at night.”

    “Well, I just can’t imagine her being milked by a little girl. But maybe I’ll drop by and have a look, anyway.”

    The next morning the rancher came as Annie was still milking the cow.

    “Well, I’ll be switched!” he declared. “That jersey’s one and the same, as sure as can be.” He walked slowly around the cow as Annie finished milking her. “Yep, there’s my brand, all right. But say, little girl, you’ve been doing something few have ever done.” With that, he led the cow away down the road.

    Annie watched the cow go and smiled at the thought of Heavenly Father’s goodness. Thanks, Heavenly Father, for filling our mouths with more than just mush.

    Illustrated by Phyllis Luch