spirit of bart

I think every parent has a story or two they’d like to bury beyond retrieval? Something they said or did they sincerely regret? Something they hope and pray their chids will forget? Me, too. I suppose you’re lucky if it’s only one or two. (I have at least a few dozen.) So please don’t bother to continue unless you promise not to judge me!

I’m emboldened to reveal my deep regret for two simple reasons. First, I heard a talk show host relay a remarkably similar account recently. It was uncanny and a huge relief to realize I’m not alone in this failure. I’m willing to bet it’s not just her and me.

Second, last week we experienced déjà vu in the birth of a tiny-moo. Also uncanny. However, my daughter handled this so much better than I did back in the day. (Just as she parents generally, to be truthful.) Seems it’s time to share our story.

Don’t forget: you promised not to judge!


Once upon a time a tiny premature Holstein calf was born on our farm. His torso was hardly bigger than a cat’s and his hide partially translucent, veins showing through. The Hubs couldn’t believe he’d survived even a few hours. He brought him home to give him a fighting chance.

Our chids were thrilled at the prospect of a mini-moo in the back yard. The Hubs erected a small pen in the shed. They took turns feeding and cleaning his stall.  He was so small he walked easily between our preschooler’s legs. His “moo” — a pathetic “baa-arh” — inspired his moniker: Bart.

Our boys spent most long summer days playing farm in the back yard. On hands and knees they used toy tractors and wagons to plant and harvest their “fields,”  filling the haymow of their play barn with lawn mower leavings. They cared for Bart without fail and played with him every day.  Bart followed them around like a puppy.

Bart was born with an underbite that was comically endearing; fortunately, it didn’t seem to get in his way. Eventually he grew into a stocky little bull. When his backyard pen became impractical, he was relocated to a heifer barn. He settled in like a dwarf king with a harem.

The chids moved on to other interests, oblivious to Bart’s long term prospects. As you may know, a dairy farmer typically sells bull calves, occasionally retaining one to raise for beef. That’s the way the Hubs and his siblings were raised. It was simply status quo.

Today most people readily acknowledge the importance of knowing where your food originates. Locavores are committed to that ideal. Back then it was all about the budget. Farm-raised meat was an important benefit to our single-income lifestyle. We were grateful. I didn’t think much about it … until I met Bart.

Eventually, Bart’s day of reckoning arrived. The chids had long since forgotten about him by then. Me, too. If only the Hubs hadn’t reminded me as he filled the freezer with wax-paper portions!

I was so conflicted. Our budget didn’t allow for many alternatives. But I knew I couldn’t eat that beef. Of course, I should have also told the chids. They could’ve made up their own minds. I know that now.

Instead, I kept my frozen secret. Nobody asked. I didn’t offer. Until Christmas Eve. Good grief — it would have to be Christmas dinner! I’d prepared a “London broil,” with marinade. The Hubs grilled it to perfection. It was a big hit. Our daughter remarked,  “This is good. What is it?”

Perhaps she meant What kind of meat — pork or beef? or What cut of meat — steak or roast? But I, overcome with guilt that had festered for weeks, didn’t hear those alternative interpretations. “Bart!” I blurted. Oh. My. Mercy.

So that’s how I once ruined Christmas dinner. Some kind of mother, eh? It’s a scene I’ve replayed time and again in my mind. I so wish I’d done it differently! It’s very much like the way I blurted out the truth about You-Know-Who in the red suit. “You’re too honest,” the Hubs suggests. I don’t know about that but guilt gets to me every time.


Fast forward twenty-five years and another tiny calf was born. I mentioned his arrival to my daughter, “Did I tell you we have another ‘Bart’?” Her ears perked up, “What? No!”

Perhaps Henry could raise him, she mused. It is a great way to learn responsibility. A tiny-moo makes the prospect more doable. I suggested she take the chids to meet him first, test the idea a bit. She agreed yet had already begun prepping Henry on how to approach his daddy.

To her credit, she made clear this mini-moo would one day be sold. “He’ll be sent to the butcher,” she starkly informed her son. Henry seemed to take it in stride. But he hadn’t met him yet. I know how that goes.

The Hubs wasn’t sure about this venture. “What do you think about this?” he asked with some concern. “She already has her hands full.” Her hubby wasn’t sure either. Once Henry laid eyes on him there was no turning back. Henry named him “Spirit.”

Our Amish workers constructed a small pen of scrap lumber. The Hubs brought Spirit and the pen home. It was like a field day! Henry’s Grandma and Grandpa came by to meet the new addition. As Henry and Anna Beasy sang Spirit a good night lullaby, I made plans to help Henry give Spirit his breakfast before school.

The Hubs snuck back over to check on Spirit later that night. Early the next morning, before we left for the barn, he checked in again on the tiny-moo. Newborn calves are susceptible to various ills. It sure would be a rough start to a school day if Spirit had crossed over to the big pasture in the sky during the night!

IMG_2736I brought breakfast home for Spirit after chores. Dawn had hardly broken and they were already running late next door. Henry rubbed the sleep from his eyes and asked his mama for warm chocolate milk. “Not yet,” she urged. “Feed your calf first!”

Henry didn’t flinch. He helped me prepare the bottle and trudged alongside to the pen. Our rubber boots left a dark trace in the damp grass. Spirit was waiting and eager to eat. I got him started but Henry was able to finish feeding the bottle. I don’t know who was more proud — the GiGi or the Henry!


~ Sondra

#SheFarms Series

she farms | refining fire | milk bath morning | silos away!
second sleep | big cows | dill pickle proudspirit of bart
blue ribbon day | triumph over trials

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