Just a stones throw away…

When I was a little girl, in the 70’s, a family named the Martins* moved across the street from us. They had three kids, just like us, and both us kids and our parents clicked. A few short years later the family moved to farm country on the other side of Toronto. They bought a lovely ranch house with two basements (something that intrigued us to no end), a tiny barn, and a pond complete with frogs.

The parents decided to make the friendship work despite the distance. We’d go up there to visit on occasion and every summer the parents would each take turns having all six kids for a week. It was on one of those weeks that we ran into the bull.

Penny the pony

I’m in the yellow

The Martins lived a quarter mile down the road from the Waltons. In the city that would be blocks and blocks away but in farm country that meant they were one neighbour apart. We’d walk down the dirt road to the Waltons, stopping half way to splash in a little creek and wash the sweat and dust off us. That cleanliness didn’t last for long but it sure felt good at the time.

Kirsten was always waiting for us to show up. Usually we’d go to the cow barn where the cats and all their kittens were. This was a huge favourite of ours but not so much our parents because sometimes we tried to sneak kittens home.

“Why don’t we go to the garage instead,” Kirsten suggested this time. We were all underwhelmed at the prospect.

“It’s a lot of fun,” she cajoled. “My grandfather never threw anything out and we have all sorts of neat stuff in there. Antique cars, old fashioned stoves, umm, lots of stuff.”

Well it was obvious she wanted to go and maybe there would be something interested so we agreed. In hindsight we should have checked out those damn kittens.

“We have to cut through the cow field,” Kirsten explained unnecessarily as we passed a cow.”

“There’s just cows, right?” Sarah Martin asked.

“Cows and one bull,” Kirsten replied. That didn’t appear to make Sarah happy.

“Don’t worry,” Kirsten continued. “He was my 4-H project. I raised him from a tiny calf. I bottle fed him. He knows me.”

She scooped down and grabbed a handful of gravel. She threw one over toward the fence where several cows grazed. “See? That’s him there.”

“Should you be throwing rocks at him?” I commented warily. I was a city kid but was reasonably sure bulls could get a tad testy. I was also sure that throwing rocks at anything was a bad idea.

“Oh he’s fine,” Kirsten replied as she threw another rock and then another. “The only time we have to worry is if he starts snorting and pawing the ground.”

That was when, with absolute movie timing, the bull began to snort.

“Just walk fast,” Kirsten urged, “don’t run. He’ll start chasing if you run.”

Her advice hadn’t got us very far yet but it wasn’t like the rest of us had any better ideas so we sped up but not too fast. How fast is not too fast?

“You can run when you get around the side of the building. There’s a missing board in the wall that you can squeeze through.”

She had to be kidding. A board? We had to squeeze through a gap the size of a board? Course the plus side was we didn’t have to wait for her to unlock a door.

My sister Sue and her friend started out at least 10 feet ahead of us but we were closing that gap quickly. Soon I could hear their feet pounding. At least I hoped it was them and not the bull. I was too busy speed walking to look back. Then I finally got around the corner, just in time to see Kirsten and Sarah dart in front of Sarah’s sister Megan. Megan was portly so to speak. I watched as she squeezed into the hole and listened as the bull’s snorting grew louder and louder. Then it came.

“I’m stuck,” Megan wailed.

“Really?” I blurted. It had to be a joke because I could hear that bull now.

I looked past her and realized there were two wooden walls with a missing board each. Of course they weren’t one across from the other, they were about a foot separate. And Megan was stuck between the two of them.

“Pull!” Sarah yelled as she grabbed Megan’s hands. Meanwhile I pushed. What felt like years later, she popped out of that wall like the cork from a champagne bottle.

I quickly slid through and moments later the bull arrived, battering at the wooden boards like he could plow his way through. Kirsten eyed the wall suspiciously then climbed onto the hood of a 20’s car and scampered onto the roof.

“There’s a hole into the loft here,” she explained as she slipped out of sight.

I scrambled up after her and soon was joined by Sarah and Sue. Megan was too big to fit so she had to settle for hiding on the far side of the shed.

Kirsten was right, there were interesting things in the shed but I was too busy paying attention to the bull raging underneath us to give them much attention. At first he raged and the pounding of his hooves was thunderous but he slowly quieted down and eventually there was silence.

Kirsten volunteered to leave first and soon gave the okay. All the cows were grazing peacefully by one of the fences, the bull amongst them, and we made it out of the field safely.

I’d like to say that was the last time we went to that shed but I’d be lying. I’m reasonably sure that was the last time Kirsten threw stones at a bull though.

*all names have been changed.