Helen Row Toews

My father is a cattleman. He’s raised fine Charolais animals for the past 56 years near Marshall where I grew up. Of course, having a father who is a cattleman has often created humorous situations for me. I remember a March, many years ago, when I was heavily pregnant with my first child. Dad and my brother Bill were in the thick of calving, and Dad was pretty preoccupied with the welfare of the animals. However, he caught my eye one morning as I lumbered through the kitchen after a visit.

“I want to tell you something important,” he declared, and motioned me closer in order that I might grasp the seriousness of this information. He glanced furtively from side to side, rubbed his grizzled jaw in some agitation, and then enunciated clearly and distinctly, “Calves don’t do well on milk replacement.” With this cryptic remark he nodded his head sagely. Clearly his job was done.

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“Glad we had this little talk, Helen,” he said, clapping me heartily on the back. What little talk, I thought, as he briskly stepped away. Men of my father’s generation were not known to speak at length on feminine subjects. This was his way of telling me I should be nursing my baby. If it’s good for the cow, by golly it’s good for the girl!

After the birth of my son I unfortunately developed mastitis. It was a nasty, painful business and required an immediate trip to my doctor. Sadly, my husband had our only vehicle at work so I called Dad.

“Sure I’ll take you,” he said, “but it’ll have to be in the grain truck. I’m haulin’ a load of oats after lunch.” Peachy, I thought, only I would be driven to seek therapeutic treatment in a loaded utility vehicle.

Anyway, Mom looked after the baby and I dragged my aching, miserable carcass up the steps of the massive vehicle and sprawled across the vinyl bench seat. Sweat rolled from my brow with the effort of these small movements; I had a temperature of 103 F and felt like I’d been hit by a train.

Too weak to complain, I moaned pitifully from my prone position across the cold, inflexible seat. I lay inert on a pile of old tractor rags that were imbued with the scent of diesel and grease. A hammer and can of staples rattled on the floor beneath my feet along with a bit of barbed wire that jabbed angrily at my ankles, but I was past caring. Dad whistled a happy tune as we rumbled into town, hitting each and every pothole the road had to offer.

Several surprised faces appeared at the window of the medical facility as we pulled up with a flourish and a light showering of seed oats. I pushed myself upright, with difficulty, and brushed a few petrified kernels from my cheek where they’d become embedded en route. With glazed eyes I reached for the door as Dad leaned toward me.

Grinning cheerfully he patted my hand. “Don’t worry honey. You’ll be just fine,” he said lovingly. “I haven’t lost a cow yet.”

To follow Helen online, or to order her books, go to or write her at Box 55 Marshall, Sask. S0M 1R0


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