I pushed back my laptop so she could see the opened notebook and pen in my hand.
“Ok, I’m ready. What is your first story?”
“Me watch dad milk cows!”
It took me by surprise how easily she recounted an event from over sixty years ago. Clearly this was an enjoyable memory from her past – perhaps even before the four of us kids were born.
Although there was no hint of dissatisfaction in her voice as she shared about her time with dad – I became uncomfortable. I had an inkling as to why, but let her continue.
“So, how did you get to the barn,” I asked, hoping she missed the tremor in my voice.
“Dad took me.”
I wondered how? Was she riding atop his shoulders – arms wrapped around his neck? Was she straddling his hip – legs hugging his waist? Did they share a joyful moment on their way to the barn for the evening chores?
As those images raced through my mind, I recognized a familiar tinge of jealously. Even now as an adult I’m reminded of this odd feeling.
It can be understood only from my place as a second-born. It’s easy to understand its root cause. An enormous amount of attention is required to provide for a disabled child’s care. Since there’s only so much attention to go around I learned early on to bury my own need for attention and expected little in return.
Had she experienced a side of our father I hadn’t? She was special and in a way they shared a bond in name. It’s easy to see how Victor Leo became Vickie Lynn. Those images were false, I was sure of it. But then again perhaps she did have a few rare moments with dad – before my birth, before he fell to pieces.
Once again I asked, hoping to clear my mind, “How did you get to the barn?”
“Dad pushed me, in wheelchair!”
I felt better. The familiar picture came to mind and the other images vanished.
I’m not sure it was relief or sadness to see them go. Either way, I discovered something better, something to cling to: She may have actually been privy to a time when all was well between father and daughter!
This was not the time to remind her of our father’s many indiscretions and failures. It would be up to her to share those on her own.
She sat in a small, collapsible wheelchair with a dark green, vinyl-like seat and back. It was light enough that us kids could fold it up and hoist it into the trunk of the car.
In truth, as I think about it now, the wheelchair was more of a convenience for the rest of us than a means of transportation for her. Even though she was tiny it was still easier to push her around than to carry her. Plus, this way she always had a seat of her own.
Without the full use of her arms she had to wait upon the whim of others to move her from place to place. Often moments, even hours, would pass before someone took notice of her plea to move from one place to another.
Her wheelchair was often used for purposes other than mundane transportation. When folded and placed on its side upon the ground it morphed into a makeshift merry-go-round. We all took turns spinning one another around while sitting on the wheel now placed in its horizontal position.
Vickie laid in the soft, grass nearby watching the fun. There must have been a trust between us – how else would she have let us give her spins while positioned precariously on the wheel! Did we secure her in some way to keep her from falling off? I don’t remember.
Her wheelchair was a necessity. Vickie knew that and we children knew that.
Dependency upon others was a given. It took me years to comprehend the cost to her own agency and free will. And even more years to realize the toll on those upon whom she depended.
But, here she is sharing a story of joining dad in the barn to help with the milking. It’s a good memory, and I can tell she recalls it with fondness.
Vickie remembered an earlier time with our dad as a gentle, caring father – one who took time to wheel his disabled daughter from the house to the barn. One who enjoyed her company as she sat near his side while he finished the evening chores.
I would not take that from her. I let go of that childish sense of jealously, content she could have this beautiful memory with our father.
She watched as the milk squirted from the cow’s teat into the mouth’s of the cats in the barn.
Then she laughed, telling me the cows smelled.
Her diction and enunciation caught my attention. She was very clear.
In a few words she described how the barn swallow nests made big messes in the barn. They perturbed dad!
These weren’t just any birds. They were not the friendly sparrows or robins in the barn. No, these were barn swallows. And she knew they were a nuisance to be reckoned with.
Barn swallows, in her mind, fit into the latter category. Apparently dad agreed!
I did a little research and learned something about barn swallows. Although, they are quite messy when raising their young, they are wonderful birds to have around on the farm to keep insects under control. 1. Dad may not have agreed!
“Dad, down! Big broom!”
With increased emphasis, and with just a few words, she painted an image of the nests being knocked to the ground.
Her story came alive while she reminisced about sitting in the barn.
“Birds. Got really, really mad!”
There was no regret in her mind. She knew the nests needed to be removed. Nor did I detect any remorse for the little ones in the nest. She clearly understood barn swallows were a problem to be dealt with.
She has had, and still today has, a keen sense of appreciation for the creatures around her – differentiating the good ones from the bad.
Many of the stories she shared with me so far are about her experiences with the animals – some hilarious, some down-right scary – and all of them tell the adventure of my sister growing up in the country with cerebral palsy.
Such was life on the farm!