I find myself so sad sometimes, thinking about the recent death of my late mother's English husband, David. But I've collected some delightful memories of him to savor.
Once, long, long ago, I visited Mom and him in Plymouth, England, where they owned a small bungalow in Plympton, a suburb. Grazing sheep dotted the hills extending from their back door; my cheerful bedroom had a big window that looked out at semi-rural terrain. London's noise seemed a planet away.
While we caught up on the latest news, a long, expressive moooo wafted through the open window. A countryman, David was amazed when I announced that I wanted to follow that sound. Mom shooed us out; she had a meal cooking.
Five minutes later I balanced on a wooden fence and stared. An enormous black-and-white cow stood slightly apart from a large, grass-chomping cluster of bovines. Spotting me she mooed, and ambled over, curious. The ribboned bell around her neck donged pleasantly. Her big body towered over me. She foraged through my hair with large, loose lips, and looked deeply into my eyes.
I was struck dumb. That beast owned the most beautiful brown eyes I have ever seen. Huge, they were framed by long, perfectly separated, thick, curving, soot-black eyelashes at least two inches long. She winked.
Gobsmacked, I gasped in admiration.
"David," I whispered, "cows don't bite, do they? Can I touch her?"
David was shocked by my awe. He began to chuckle, grasping at last that bovines were utterly alien creatures to this clueless city girl.
"Go ahead," he assured me. "Gladys has a good temperament."
Tentatively I rubbed between her tagged ears, then boldly touched those incredible lashes. She mooed, surprised and annoyed. I abandoned the rail for safer ground while a bored Gladys, udder swaying, wandered off to greener pastures.
"Have you ever seen such beautiful, fringe-decorated eyes? Have you?"
David stared at me, bewildered. "I see a cow's peepers. Just that."
I stared back.
"No!" I insisted. "Surely all cows don't own such glorious equipment. She's a photographer's dream!"
David squeezed his eyes, gasped, then laughed helplessly till he coughed; tears streamed. "No," he sputtered, trying to recover. "She's the usual sort of beast — possessing moos, udders and eyeballs, an uncluttered brain, and elementary taste buds — Gladys likes grass. That sums her up."
We stood there, each trying to come to terms with the other one's ignorance. I couldn't believe he couldn't see what was before him, and David couldn't believe I thought her thrilling.
He smiled. "I think we could do with a lager." Mute, I followed him around the corner to a crowded, cheerful pub with an abundance of dogs sitting under their masters' stools. Geraniums spilled out of window boxes. Two capped chaps in grubby overalls were singing a Welsh drinking song. The dartboard was taking hits. David was served his usual, and a half-pint of best was placed before me. I sipped cautiously. Served at room temperature, it was delicious.
He took another pull, and pondered. "Have you never seen a cow up close?" I shook my head. He thought a minute, then said, firmly, "A friend nearby keeps chickens. You can collect their eggs come morning." I felt apprehension and excitement. Chickens and supermarkets were inexplicably linked. Live chickens? Oh, boy. Another first. David eyed me, fascinated, reading my thoughts.
Silent questions piled up. Do hens object to constantly egg-pinching? And I'd heard tales about aggressive roosters … Gulp.
Years later, he confessed he'd been up to no good. That rooster, harmless but cocky, would confront gormless interlopers. It could be entertaining.