Column: Brief career as a matador was short on glory, long on pain

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 21, 2002

He was an alarm clock that you couldn’t shut off. My father would shake me out of bed at 5 a.m. That was the time for me to abandon my dreams and milk the cows. This happened in the days long before human rights were invented. Child labor laws were only a rumor.

It wasn’t all bad being in the barn. Milking the cows gave me time to think. Usually, I was thinking that I would rather be in bed than in the barn, but I did occasionally think about other things. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was going to be when I grew up. I thought about being most anything except a dairy farmer. I didn’t dislike the job or the animals. It was the hours I hated. If someone could have bred a cow that only needed to be milked once a day (preferably right after noon) for five days a week, I would have been just the guy for the job.

At a young age, the world was my oyster. I could become a novelist, a baseball player, a cowboy or any of a thousand other things. For a while, after reading some Ernest Hemingway, I was sure that I wanted to be a matador. I thought it sounded like a manly job and a way to pay back the cows for rousting me from my deep slumber at such an unreasonable hour every day. I would have liked to have talked to a matador in order to learn the craft, but there seemed to be a shortage of matadors in the Hartland area. It was up to me to learn to be a matador all on my own.

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I was sure that I could do it. It appeared to be a simple occupation. You waved a red towel at an angry bull and from that point on, your only real duty was to make sure the bull didn’t gore you to death. It sounded like the perfect job to me and the hours were great. I was determined to get some practice in, but I thought that perhaps I should start with something less than a bull. I had experience with bulls and felt that I should work my way up to irritating one of them with a red cloth.

I had a red cloth. It was one of those big, red handkerchiefs. I climbed over the fence into the cowyard. My father’s dog, Bruce, followed along behind me. He had his tail between his legs. Bruce didn’t like me much &045; he was a grown-up’s dog, not a kid’s &045; but he followed me out of a sense of duty.

In the middle of the cattle, I began to wave my red handkerchief in the manner that I believed a brave matador would. Now no one has ever accused cows of being very smart, but they were smart enough to ignore me. They all pretended that I didn’t even exist, except for one cow. It was a cow that had just given birth to a calf. I wasn’t aware of the new arrival. If I had been, I would not have been waving a red flag in front of her. Some cows adopt a nasty disposition when they have calves. The new mother took immediate notice of my red handkerchief and charged. My father told me that cows are more dangerous than bulls when they charge because a cow keeps her eyes open while a bull shuts his. I didn’t have time to see if this was true. The cow charged and I tried stepping out of the way like a matador would do. The cow didn’t know anything about matadors. She ignored the handkerchief and knocked me flat onto my backside.

I thought quickly. What would Roy Rogers do? Why, he would make another movie &045; an option not open to me. I rolled over and scrambled to my feet. I retreated in most haste with my tormentor in hot pursuit. The future of the would-be matador did not look very bright. Then a miracle happened. Bruce, who considered me a real pain in his tail, came to my rescue. He jumped at the cow and clamped his jaws down on its ear. The cow let out a beller and galloped off. Bruce hung onto the cow’s ear until I scrambled over the barbed wire fence to safety.

Life changed after that incident. I loved Bruce. He still didn’t care much about me. But I did find it much more enjoyable milking cows after I had given up my brief career as a matador.

Hartland resident Al Batt writes columns for the Wednesday and Sunday editions of the Tribune.