Jennifer Huffman’s Surrendering to Motherhood: Life on the farm | Columnists

When I was 10, I almost killed a puppy. Oh jeez, just writing those words makes me cringe.

Spoiler alert: she/he lived.

The puppy incident took place in my friend Janine’s front yard in the late 1970s.

I blame a badly-timed swing of a croquet mallet.

Janine’s hunting dog, Valentine, recently had puppies. She and I were goofing off with the puppies and playing “croquet” in other words an Accident Waiting To Happen.

I aimed, swung and then heard a “crack.” I looked back and there was one of Val’s puppies, conked out on the grass, dozing away in puppy never-never land.

10-year-old Jennifer was completely dumbstruck. Was it dead? Did I just kill the puppy, who was very cute and wiggly? Were Janine’s parent’s home and if so WAS I GONNA BE IN TROUBLE?

Hours later, Janine came by with the good news. Val’s puppy was fine. I would not be known as the doggie executioner of the neighborhood.

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My house was in a brand new tract home development next to Janine’s family’s farm. For a “city” girl who knew nothing about sheep, geese and hunting dogs and chickens, this was like having access to my own personal Nature TV show.

Besides the Puppy Incident, hanging out at Janine’s house was FUN. Her grandparents lived next to Janine’s parents and the family did everything together, including raising animals, and harvesting pears and walnuts.

Janine’s grandma and grandpa had no qualms about chopping the head off of a chicken for dinner that night. One time Janine and I came upon them decapitating birds in the driveway and that is where I saw “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” in person. Gory but also totally riveting.

They also had bigger livestock, something most people might think of as “cows,” only Janine called them steers. Janine and her brothers raised them for 4-H and the family actually at the meat, as in for dinner.

One time us neighbor kids got to watch Janine’s dad “pop” some kind of larvae out of a hole in the steer’s hide. No big deal, like extracting a pimple. We kids were totally grossed out. “Ewwwww…” we said, followed by: “Do another one!”

Janine was the baby of the family. Her older sister was already a “grown up,” and Janine had two older brothers. To this 10-year-old, Janine’s brothers gave off a slightly menacing “don’t mess with me” vibe. Naturally, they wanted nothing to do with little sister’s annoying friends.

The boys lived in the basement of the farm house (strictly off limits to us!) and seemed to come and go as they liked. They grew a cache of marijuana plants hidden in a nearby field and kept each other posted with regular grow reports. I’m sure there were some skateboards, BB guns, motorcycles and cars thrown into the mix as well. Bottom line: they were wild.

Janine’s parents let us watch TV during the day at her house, a no-no at mine, so we’d hunker down and watch Saturday afternoon Creature Features, like “The Birds,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and the exceptionally terrifying “When Michael Calls.” (GOOGLE IT!) All of which scared the crap out of me and sent me running back home to my Sears & Roebuck canopy bed and “Little House on the Prairie” books.

By ninth grade, Janine went to one high school and I went to another. I didn’t visit the farm anymore.

I looked on Facebook the other day and it seems like Janine is married with her own family in our same hometown. We’re not “friends” but I wonder: does she still live on the farm? And did Val ever have more puppies?

Surrendering to Motherhood appears every other Monday. Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @NVRHuffman.


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