In the spring of 1971 I was attending what is now the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis. I'd like to say I spent all of my time on education but that wouldn't be entirely true. I had met a pretty brunette from Denver who was taking the Veterinary Technician curriculum at the same school and found her to be different from every other girl I had met: She would go out with me.
We dated and attended college classes, seemingly carefree while back at home spring was nearly ready to break out once again with all of its challenges. I'm sure my parents were probably alternately worrying about the mud here on the Missouri River bottom and how they were going to fit their youngest son into the farming operation when he graduated in a couple of months.
Dad was 66 years old at that time, 5 years older than I am now, and I can imagine that both joy and apprehension welled up in both of my parents' minds. Joy thinking that someone young enough to do the more physical tasks about the farm would soon be here to start life with that girl from Colorado, and apprehension that the farm would now need to support their son and that girl from Colorado.
I bring this up because this morning I got to thinking about the night of the "creature in the wall" that took place in our bedroom some 40 years ago. Today our bed is in the exact location it was in on that night back in 1971, when Mom sat straight up in bed, grabbed my sleeping father by the arm and yelled in a kind of whisper, (yes, you know what I mean) "Art! There's something in the wall."
Dad was a sound sleeper but this type of stuff will unsettle anyone. "What do you mean there's something in the wall?" Mom shook him again, "I can hear it." Dad shrugged it off and fell back asleep while Mom lay there for about an hour when something else caught her attention.
Another shake and then "Art … wake up, there's something in the wall and I can hear it breathing." The reply for her came in a rebuttal, "It's probably a mouse but I know you can't possibly hear a mouse breath. Just close your eyes and wake up in the morning." And morning was fast approaching. The scene repeated itself several times during the night.
Mom repeatedly said she could definitely hear heavy breathing coming from the wall and Dad dismissed it each time, with "You're just hearing things."
The day finally dawned for my poor mother and she got out of bed glad to be alive but very tired none the less. She went to the front door which is on the same side of the house that their bedroom was on, and looked out to see if any of the standing water from the spring thaw had sunk away.
I should interject right here that when our house was built they dug the basement and used that dirt for fill around the house so the house is elevated in relation to the rest of our farmstead. It is that high spot around the house that Mom saw that morning when she opened the door to find about 150 head of fat Hereford steers bedded down on the only dry spot for miles around: Mom's lawn.
Dad had left the gate unlatched when doing chores the day before and the cattle found the exit in the middle of the night. The high and dry lawn was a piece of Hereford Heaven if you will. As her head scanned to the left, there lay a gloriously large steer, physically leaning against the wall of the house right beneath my folks' bedroom window and yes, she could hear its labored breathing.
"ART! Come look at this."
I'm sure there was an "I told you so" or two that followed, but the result was a completely torn up yard and new Mercury that had been used as a scratching post by some pretty muddy cattle. They had left some of their winter coat tucked under the chrome strips on the edges of the car as a reminder to latch the gate.
I came home soon after that to begin life on the farm with that girl from Colorado. The first thing we had to do was start a new lawn for the folks.