Summer with Gracie

January 20, 2008
By Katie Wachholz, Shoreline, WA

My flight landed at Central Wisconsin Airport at 9:15 AM. Since I was young, I had been the last off the plane, always escorted by a flight attendant because I was flying alone. I had been doing this for years, taking two planes to get to Wisconsin, yet they still insisted I have a flight attendant with me at all times because I was an “unaccompanied minor.” Only one more year, and then I could truly fly alone.

I trotted down the jet way, trailing behind a tall African American woman who was leading me to my grandparents. She didn’t seem to care that I had been flying since early morning, and had two huge bags slung over my shoulders. Her walk was brisk, she didn’t speak much, and it didn’t really seem like she wanted to be escorting me. Oh well, soon I would be in the arms of my grandparents, and it wouldn’t matter. As we came around the corner, I saw what I had been waiting for all year, my grandparents with open arms. I dashed over to them and hugged them tightly. It had been a year since I had last saw them, and I missed them!
Grandpa grabbed one of my bags and walked with Grandma and I to the baggage claim. Since it’s a small airport it took no more than five minutes to grab my two bags and head out to the car. I carefully lifted my suitcases in to the trunk, and then threw my smaller bags on top. We climbed in and headed for home. I was tired from having to get up early to catch my flight in Seattle, and so for most of the car ride I slept, dreaming of what was awaiting me in just under an hour.

I was shaken awake by the familiar rumble of gravel under tires, and I knew we were near. I awoke quickly, and eagerly looked out the window to watch as we turned in to our final destination, Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I grabbed my bags out of the trunk, as my grandpa went to the back of the garage to grab the house key always “hidden,” under and empty milk jug. He clumped up the back stairs to the door; he knew I was eager to get in and get settled. The door swung open, and I rushed in, the aroma of homemade chicken noodle soup mixed with warm cookies hit me like an avalanche, but in this case, a good one.

I unloaded my bags, savored that oh-so-familiar delicious soup, and joined my grandparents in the living room for the local news. As I popped M&M’s in to my mouth one by one, I thought to myself, “This is what I live for. This is what all the hard work at school is for, the long nights of homework, and busy weekends. I am here to relax, get away from all the drama, and purify myself in preparation for the upcoming school year.” I finished off my candy and said goodnight to my grandparents. I kissed each of them and then headed off to sleep in my mom’s creaky old bed. It took me a while to get to sleep because I was so excited I was finally here, and because I was curious what the next day would bring.

I woke up the next morning to the sound of a tractor grinding by on the gravel road. I jumped out of bed, slipped on shorts and a tank top and pulled my hair back, slipping my running shoes on as I left my room. I strode out to the kitchen to grab a waffle, and then told Grandma and Grandpa I was going out for a while, to explore, and see what had changed since I had last been there. I strolled down the road, looking at the neighboring farms, and waving to the people I recognized. When I reached the T in the road, I took a right never having gone that way before. There weren’t any farms for a ways, only fields, so I decided to start jogging.

The rhythmic crunch of the gravel beneath my feet was like music to my ears, and to some the smell of manure would be sickening. To me it was just another sign Wisconsin was welcoming me. I trotted down the road until I came upon an old farm. It didn’t look like anyone lived in it, except for the small herd of cows roaming around. I trudged through the tall grass, my breathing starting to slow. I stood at the fence looking around the pasture. All the cows looked well-fed. When I tuned my head to look toward the other end of the field I was startled by a cow that had silently come up and was practically standing right next to me! I stumbled back and stared at the cow, wondering why it hadn’t run away when I let out my startled squeak. I slowly approached the cow again, and saw that it was a female, not much older than three or four years old. She was a Holstein, mostly white with some black spotting on her right thigh, and black ears. She had a large stomach but a bony back. She had a sweet face, a sweet look in her eye.
I reached out my hand, wondering if like a dog she would sniff it and know I wasn’t going to hurt her. I knew that cows were not very tame around here, so I was surprised when she sniffed the air around my hand and moved closer. “Should I reach out and pet her?” I thought to myself. That would be silly and dangerous, so I decided to leave it be for the moment and jogged back to the house.
When I came in, Grandma was on the phone, but she pointed me in the direction of the kitchen, letting me know there was food waiting for me on the table. I mouthed my thanks to her and sat down to eat my lunch, all the while wondering if I should go back to the old farm and visit the cow again, or just stay home and not bother with it. By the time I was finished with my lunch I had made up my mind that I was going to go back out again. I hurried out the door and down the road, back to the old abandoned farm. When I came racing down the road, the cow I had met earlier started to gallop along beside me, her heavy udder swinging from side to side. When I slowed down, so did she. When I quickened my pace, so did she. When we reached the end of the pasture I watched as she turned away from me to get a drink of water from the trough.
I had been waiting patiently for a few minutes, spinning around on the ball of my foot grinding circles into the gravel, when the cow sauntered back. She “mooed” in my direction as if saying, “Hey, you.” I swung around to face her. It seemed as if she remembered me from earlier because she stood closer than she had been before stretching her neck just over the barbed wire fence. I felt brave and walked up to the fence, stopping just inches away from her. She stayed where she was, so I knew she couldn’t be that afraid. I tentatively reached out my hand. She seemed all right with it, so I patted her side. I pulled my hand back quickly in case she was alarmed, but she didn’t seem phased at all. She went on chewing her cud as I continued to stroke her bristly coat.
Over the next few days the cow and I became closer. I named her Gracie, because of her quiet grace when she would run with me, and the sort of peace that we had created between us. I got up the courage one day to cross the fence and stand next to her, stroking her like I always did. Then I started to bring a book. I would sit against the fence and she would lay down next to me. I loved the feeling of her weight pressed gently against my body, the cool shade she created, the smell of her dusty fur, and the quiet, rhythmic chomping of her chewing her cud. Gracie seemed to know me. It wasn’t really a surprise as I visited her every morning and every afternoon after lunch. I began to talk to her, telling her about my friends and family, how much I enjoyed Wisconsin, and really just about life in general. She simply accepted whatever I said, looking at me with her sweet, brown eyes. It seems funny to say now, but it was like she was my best friend out there. I had never really met anyone my age. Not many kids lived out in this part of the country. To have found such a tame cow like Gracie seemed like a miracle, and I was thankful that I had a way to spend my days.
One morning as I jogged out to meet Gracie, I noticed that the sense of calmness and tranquility I usually felt wasn’t there. I could here loud clunking. A truck, an unusual sight on that road, rumbled past me. I began to sprint. As I crested the hill I saw two men, whipping all the cows from the pasture into a large truck. I dashed towards the truck, yelling at the men to stop, but they didn’t listen. They continued to load the cows.
“Where’s Gracie?” I asked myself, as fear rose in my throat. I had reached the truck, and asked the men what they were going to do with the cows. They replied with a gruff, “ Goin’ to kill ‘em,” and then returned to shoving cows on to the truck, telling me I needed to back up and give them space or I might get hurt. I stumbled back a few steps. Then I heard a “moo.” I spun around and saw Gracie, just as she was being forced in to the truck. She kept “mooing” and I knew she was pleading for my help. Her usually sweet look was replaced with fear. I tearfully raced back to the truck and flung myself against it.
“Gracie, Gracie! I’m right here. Don’t worry!” I shouted into the truck. The men who had gotten all of the cows loaded now focused on pulling me off the truck. “City girl,” they laughed to each other. They were strong and flung me off like I was a fly. They started up their engine and pulled out of the pasture, leaving me standing alone. I ran like lightning after the truck, yelling, “Gracie,” with each step. But the truck was too fast. It turned at the T in the road and headed toward the highway to take Gracie and all the other cows to be killed. Slaughtered. She’d be dead soon. The friend that had been so good to me would be dead, and someone would be eating her soon. I dropped to the ground, my lungs burning in my chest, my tears hitting the dirt and creating a little river that flowed to the ditch.
I eventually pulled myself up and plodded home, my tears drying quickly from the heat of the sun. When I opened the door, Grandma took one look at me, and knew to leave me alone. I limped into my room and slumped on my bed. I curled up into a ball and quietly whimpered, eventually falling asleep. When I woke up, it was dinnertime, so I took a seat at the table and waited for the food to be set out. Grandpa glanced at me as he sat down, but said nothing. Neither of them knew about Gracie, and I didn’t think they would understand if I told them now. They had slaughtered plenty of cows when they were younger, so my connection with Gracie would mean nothing to them.
Grandma set my plate down in front of me… a burger. I immediately started to cry, and left the table, telling them I wasn’t hungry. I went outside and sat on the steps, waiting for my grandparents to finish eating. I couldn’t even think about going back in right now. It was like they were eating Gracie, and I had no desire to take part in that. Gracie had been my friend, and you don’t eat your friends… or their family.

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