The summers I spent on the farm with my cousins were my favorite part of growing up. Saturdays we’d pin on an oversized bib apron and bake tea cakes. My cousin Lynn and I were in charge of sifting and measuring the flour. With all of our giggling, we’d manage to get flour in our hair and on our faces and hands, not to mention sprinkling the kitchen counters and linoleum floor with white madness.
My other cousin, Dee, was three years older and got to cream the butter, sugar and vanilla. We all diligently took turns rolling out the tea cakes then meticulously cutting the dough into delicately scalloped seashells. Then we waited impatiently for the tea cakes to bake so we could devour them. One particular Saturday in June, however, we didn’t get a single one.
Teenagers by now, Lynn and I were left to sweep and clean up the flour from our baking. While doing the mind-numbing work, we hatched a plan to sneak out on a double date. Lynn was already 16 and dating regularly, but I had not yet reached that magical age so I wasn’t allowed to date until December.
After we finished sweeping, Lynn telephoned her boyfriend, David, and the plan was set. We’d sneak out to the road where David and whoever he could get for my date would meet us. Afterward, Lynn and I would quietly climb back through the bedroom window, and no one would be the wiser.
Lynn and I retired earlier than usual, which should have immediately tipped off her mom. We were also giggling more than usual. Wearing our “date” clothes underneath our nightgowns on a hot August night left us sweating before the lights were out.
Lynn’s bedroom window faced a pecan grove, and at night that side of the yard was pitch dark. Lynn made sure everyone was asleep before we removed our nightgowns, raised the window and unlatched the screen. She tore her pedal pushers sliding out of the window. I listened for reassuring snores before I climbed out after her, praying the whole time we wouldn’t get caught.
When Lynn and I reached the gate that separated her driveway from the road, she deftly lifted the latch and slipped through. Lynn signaled to hurry, but I was swatting a flying critter and didn’t heed her direction.
The gate swung open suddenly and banged against the fencepost with a thunderous crash. We jumped in unison and strained our eyes against the darkness. My heart beat wildly. Immediately we turned to see if any house lights came on. No. We hadn’t been discovered. Or had we?
All at once a rumbling came through the bushes. A great commotion ensued as we grappled to re-latch the gate. Just then, something or someone brushed by – something large with hair and hot breath.
“Uncle Roy’s prize bull is out!” Lynn said. “We’ve got to put him back!”
There was no time for panic. We had to work fast. Lynn and I chased after that crazy bull by the moonlight.
Forgetting caution, Lynn yelled, “Catch his head. Hold him.”
Now remember that I was the city cousin. I had no experience with farm animals, and certainly not with bulls, prize or not. No way was I going to hold onto a bull’s head. First we ran frantically toward the bull, then fearfully away from him. Neither of us had a clue what to do if we caught him.
Rendezvous dreams and secret dates were forgotten. All that mattered was reclaiming Horatio, the best bull in the county. Uncle Roy would never forgive us if anything happened to Horatio, as Roy had his eye on winning a blue ribbon in the county fair.
Exhausted, panting and sweating, Lynn caved, saying, “We can’t do it. We’ve got to get help. Aunt Margaret can corral him for us. She won’t squeal either. She’s a pal. We’ve got to call her.”
“No,” I said, “we can’t tell anyone. My dad will kill me. If he gets wind of this, I won’t ever be able to visit again.”
“What are we going to do then?” Lynn’s voice cracked, and I knew tears were near.
I considered our alternatives, and since we had none, I decided she was right.
Lynn crept back into the house and phoned Aunt Margaret. Luckily she was home alone. I don’t know what cockamamie story Lynn concocted, but in the excitement that followed, details seemed unimportant. All that mattered was corralling Horatio.
Aunt Margaret drove up and pointed her headlights toward the barn. Horatio put his head down. Aunt Margaret edged closer and closer, talking all the time. Suddenly the bull bolted. Aunt Margaret reached out to grab him as he went by, but all she succeeded in catching was his tail.
Now, Aunt Margaret is neither small nor petite, but Horatio was so taken aback that he dragged her around the yard as if she were a rag doll. All the while, Aunt Margaret was yelling at the top of her lungs. Then the house lights came on. We were in for it now. Lynn’s mom would deal out punishment, and my folks would arrive at dawn.
Meanwhile, the panicked bull dragged Aunt Margaret through bushes, plowed fields and over the lawn. Aunt Margaret kept up her screaming – a hilarious scene, but we were too mortified to enjoy ourselves.
At just the right moment, Uncle Roy appeared and offered Horatio something on a tray. The bull stopped dead still. Like a pet lamb, he trotted up to Uncle Roy, dragging poor Aunt Margaret behind him. Like a red-headed pincushion, she was covered with briars, beggar lice and mud, but she kept a death grip on that bull’s tail.
Uncle Roy unpried her fingers, took Horatio by the nape of the neck, and led him back through the gate and into the barn for the night. Lynn and I picked twigs and briars out of Aunt Margaret’s hair and helped her wipe mud from her bare arms and legs. She was still muttering under her breath as we put her in Uncle Roy’s truck.
By this time, the entire household was awake. Lynn and I had made a pact to keep “mum.” Somehow the whole story of how we happened to be outside and dressed, and just exactly how the gate latch got opened never came up. Everyone assumed the gate was not latched properly, and that we heard the bull rumbling around and tried to put him up ourselves. But no one ever actually asked us what happened.
Lynn and I shared secret smiles for days about the bull escaping, how funny Aunt Margaret looked holding onto his tail, and how we almost had a secret double date.
The platter that Uncle Roy offered Horatio was overflowing with our tea cakes. The old bull ate his fill of them on the way back to his stall. Uncle Roy had used tea cakes as a special treat when he was training Horatio for the fair. I was thankful we had a fresh supply for the bull’s sweet tooth.
Summer vacation, tea cakes, a moonlit night, Aunt Margaret and a runaway bull are forever linked in my memory. Lynn later married David, and I sometimes wonder how my “blind” date would have turned out if a bull hadn’t thwarted our plans.
Sheila Hudson writes, teaches workshops, and spends time with her seven grandsons in Athens, Georgia.