Hey, Jack,” calls Grandpa through the open window of the rusty old farm pickup. “I’m looking for help with spring calving. Want to be my cowhand?”
“Sure,” answers Jack, sitting on the rail fence of the station where he had gotten off the train a few minutes before.
“You’re hired, climb in!” calls Grandpa.
As Jack jumps down off the rail, his man-size boots raise a cloud of dust. Rushing to the truck he throws his duffle bag into the back, stumbles and falls. His knee skids in the gravel. “Ouch!” he cries. Red-faced, he picks himself up and shakes the dust off his jeans. As he climbs into the truck, his right foot hits the door, making a loud clang. Grandpa says with a chuckle, “Looks like someone’s feet have grown since I last saw him.”
Jack glares at his feet and says under his breath, “I hate my big feet.” The last thing I want anyone to notice is my feet, so what’s the first thing Grandpa noticed — my big feet! I wish I were normal with small feet. These feet make me feel like a freak and they make me look like a klutz! How can a 12-year-old boy have size 12 feet? At this rate, by the time I graduate from high school, they’ll be a size 18!
At the ranch, Jack follows Grandpa, dreaming about the size eight boots he fit last year. Only a freak grows so fast; is that what I am? With his head down, Jack carefully places each foot, watching out for things that might trip him. “Oomph!” He bumps into Grandpa.
“Sorry Grandpa,” apologizes Jack. “I didn’t see you stop. I was watching my feet”
Grandpa looks up, flicks his hat, and says, “You need to watch where you’re going because you never know what you might run into on a farm.” Pointing toward the cow, he added, “Molly is a heifer and looks a little uneasy. We can check her on our way back from our herd check. If she smells the ground and is constantly walking, it’s a sign of early labour”
Jack races toward the barn. In his haste his right foot hits his left, causing him to slip into a cow pie. YUCKY, YUCKY! He wrinkles up his nose and says, “Dopey big feet!”
Grandpa roars with laughter, pulls an old rag from his pocket and says, “Here, use this.”
Jack grabs the rag and wipes off the large gobs. His fingernails have brown stains. Jack wishes he sad soap and water. With his fingers apart, he turns to Grandpa and asks, “How long before the calf is born?”
Grandpa looks at Jack over his glasses and says, “A normal birth takes about 30 to 60 minutes. Let’s go to the house, so you can scrub your hands. We can have lunch while we wait.”
Buttering his bread, Grandpa says, “Now I’ll tell you what to expect as Molly gives birth. When a cow stretches out and begins to push hard, what looks like a big ball will appear. That ball is actually a bag that contains the amniotic fluid. This bag breaks and the feet appear.” The word “feet” rings loudly in Jack’s ears. “Sometimes the feet are large. Often this means a large calf and maybe problems.” Grandpa rises from his chair and adds, “It’s time to check Molly.”
Trailing Grandpa to the barn, Jack thinks about his big feet. Grandpa opens the barn door and checks Molly. Under his breath Grandpa mutters, “Large feet and they’re upside down. Molly’s calf is backwards.”
THE BIG PULL
Taking a deep breath, Grandpa says, “Usually, breach calves die. No time to load Molly and go to the veterinarian. You’ll have to help me with Molly.” Grandpa attaches a chain to one of the calf’s feet and then another chain to the calf’s other foot. He passes Jack the opposite end of the chains and says, “Grip firmly and plant your feet against the stall. Keep your arms straight and pull steadily as Molly pushes. I’ll direct you.”
Jack’s heart beats quickly as he braces his heels and spreads his toes over the solid steel frame of the supporting wall. He thinks, “If only my muscles were as big as my feet.” He silently prays, “Please, Lord, help me to do all the right things to save Molly’s calf.”
With outstretched arms, Jack pulls hard but steady. He hears the stall creak and then sees it flatten from the pressure. Jack’s feet slowly slide forward, and with a thump, they come to rest on the solid steel frame. Big feet cover a large area, he observes with joy. “I hope I can hold this grip long enough to help Molly. I’ll try my best.” Jack’s arms shake, as he pulls. He hears Molly’s deep breathing, as she pushes hard.
Jack is edgy and slightly jerks, but keeps his feet in place. With each tug, Jack sees the calf inch outward. His arm twitching, and wavering, as Grandpa says, “Slow and steady, Jack. Soon we’ll be done.”
Jack’s shoulders are tight. His feet ache, and he feels weak, as he sees the calf’s upper legs, then and the buttocks pop out. Molly throws her head back and pushes hard. “I can see the front shoulder coming!” Jack shrieks.
The calf plunks out! It’s slippery, wet, limp, and motionless. Jack jumps forward, gasps, and asks, “Is it dead?”
Grandpa flings the calf up and over the gate. Clear, slimy fluid runs from the calf’s mouth. “I don’t want him to breathe any fluid into his lungs,” explains Grandpa. “The vet tells me it’s the fluid that drowns the calf.” Grandpa pounds the calf’s ribs. The hanging calf flops to and fro. Jack trips as he moves from one foot to the other. He catches the gate to break his fall. With a lump in his throat, Jack asks, “Is Molly’s calf going to be okay? How can I help?”
“Not much you can do,” Grandpa says, as he continues to pound the calf’s ribcage. “If the fluid drains before the calf takes that first breath, he’ll live.”
Jack watches the calf for any sign of life. Please, Lord, please, he prays, “There! What was that?” he cries, “I think I saw an eye blink!”
Grandpa snatches a straw from a bale and tickles the calf’s nose. The calf shakes his head, sneezes and gasps
Jack’s heart is thumping and he squeals, “Molly’s calf is alive! We did it Grandpa!”
Stroking the new baby, Grandpa says, “Yes, now let’s give Molly time to mother her baby.”
Walking away, Jack hears Molly softly moo. He looks over his shoulder, and remarks, “I think Molly is welcoming her baby.”
Grandpa smiles, pats Jack on the back, and says, “Thanks to you and your big feet, Molly has a live calf. A lad with little feet wouldn’t have been able to hold his ground. Today your big feet were a bonus.”
Jack, feeling a little taller, smiles, looks down at his feet and says, “I guess having big feet isn’t such a bad thing after all.” †