Kaiser's Pack

by Bensiamin

Chapter 8

Jerrod understood what was implied in the comment Michael's mom had made, and he heard Michael say, "Mom!"

As he turned to her, he noticed Michael's dad and grandpa had curious looks on their faces, and he said, "The twin beds will be fine, and they look comfortable, right Roger?"

Jerrod could see Michael was blushing and embarrassed for them. He smiled at him and wiggled his eyebrows, sending the message to chill out.

They all helped clear the table and Michael's mom shooed them out of the kitchen, and they watched some TV in the family room before saying goodnight to the adults. As soon as the door was closed, Michael said, "I can't believe she did that thing about the beds, That was fucked, putting you guys on the spot like that."

Jerrod put his hand on Michael's shoulder. "Chill, man. It's their house. I don't think she was trying to be nasty or something. You said you haven't told her we're gay, but David told me he gets the vibe that she suspects. So, I think she just felt she needed to say something, you know like she didn't want to be encouraging two boys to be sleeping together, and it just came out the way it did. I don't think she meant any harm." He turned to Roger. "Do you?"

"No, I'm with you. I think she felt she had to say something. I don't think she was trying to be mean or anything."

Jerrod laughed. "It also means she's thinking. I can imagine it would have been way worse if back in Philly I'd come home with a girlfriend. My parents would have put us both in different bedrooms!"

"And, if you'd shown up with me?" Roger was laughing as he asked.

"In the old days? Same thing. Two bedrooms." They all cracked up at the silliness of it all.

Jerrod turned to Michael and said, "Your dad didn't say much all evening. How come?"

"He's usually like that. Doesn't say much. One of his favorite sayings is 'You never learn anything while you're talking.' But you guys saw him in the barn, he talked a lot about cows and dogs and stuff. When we're out hunting or fishing, he opens up. He went to ag school at Oregon State and knows a lot about ranching and the outdoors, just like grandpa."

"Your grandpas got a dog now, right?"

"Yeah, he's got a Setter, but she's old now too. Like I told you before, dad has a Lab 'cause they're best for ducks and geese, and grandpa has a Setter 'cause he thinks they're best for pheasant and grouse. I still think a Retriever's better, but that's just me."

They talked some more, and Michael told them he wanted to take them on a hike the next day and then described the drive home to show them where the Snake and Columbia rivers joined. They thought that sounded fun, and after a while Michael said he was going to sleep. "Don't you guys do anything I wouldn't do," he grinned as he went out the door.

They confirmed the twin beds were not wide enough for two boys to comfortably sleep in, but spent some time snuggling together, and Roger was kissing and licking Jerrod's ear when he said seductively, "I think we owe it to ourselves to see if two healthy gay boys can do a good sixty-nine in a twin bed, don't you?"

Jerrod laughed softly in reply and said, "I love that idea, and another good part is that there won't be any evidence on the sheets!"

When they separated, Jerrod knelt beside the bed Roger was sleeping in and pulled his head close to his chest. "You're the best. Best lover, best friend, best soul mate. At least I'll be able to see you from that bed."

"After what we just did, I can put up with that."

Jerrod grinned and kissed his boyfriend goodnight.

Michael's dad was already out feeding cattle when they came down for breakfast. Eggs and pancakes were on the menu, and the boys dug in while they talked about the days plan. In response to his mom's question, Michael replied, "The forecast is good for today, so I thought we could do the Badger Mountain Loop hike. That's a little over seven miles, then we'd drive to Kennewick and have lunch there before we go to the park where the Snake River comes in. Then we'll drive back through Walla Walla. I want them to see the country."

"That makes sense with the weather looking good. It'll be a full day."

When Michael went off to brush his teeth and use the bathroom, his mom turned to the boys and said, "After I turned in last night, I thought about what I said to you about the beds in your room, and I apologize if I embarrassed you. It's not my place to make any assumptions about your relationship, and I didn't mean to do that or put you on the spot."

Roger smiled at her. "We weren't offended, and we're staying in your house, so we play by your rules."

"Well, I didn't mean to make it sound like it's all about rules or anything. I know David and Jackson are partners and its obvious to me that you two are very close. Michael's probably told you that I'm a Methodist and go to church, so I have certain beliefs about what's right and acceptable. However, the nature of your relationship is none of my business."

Roger glanced at Jerrod who had a soft smile on his face, and on a hunch turned back to Michael's mom. "Would it make any difference to you if we told you that we're gay?"

She paused, only momentarily, and then said, "Practically speaking, no. I'm a schoolteacher, so I fully understand the practical and legal realities."

"We understand that, but also know that people can have different personal opinions compared to what they have to have at school or at work. We've had our share of that at school."

"I'm sorry if you've had negative experiences in that regard. Let me ask you then, so I'm clear, are you both gay and together?"

They both nodded at her. Jerrod said, "He's my soul mate. I've never loved anyone in my life like I love him."

"Well, I certainly am impressed with your certainty and candor. So, to answer your question, it would not make any difference. Or more correctly, now that I know, it does not make any difference. You've been wonderful friends to Michael, getting him through his cancer treatments and having him stay with you in Portland. You've done more than you can possibly know to help him come back from a very tough year and feel positive about himself again. I'm pleased you're here and you're completely welcome in our home."

Both boys thanked her, and she went on, "I've learned quite a bit speaking to David. He's a very wise and open-minded man, and certainly wants the best for young people like you two and Michael. I know Michael is sorting through some personal matters in addition to recovering from his cancer. He hasn't spoken to us about them, but I'm very pleased you're part of his life at this time, to help him with those things."

She heard Michael walking into the kitchen and turned and asked if he wanted her to make sandwiches for them to take for lunch? "Thanks, but no, by the time we get to Kennewick, we'll need to stretch our legs again, and so will Kaiser.

His Mom smiled. "Well, you boys will see a lot today. That's a nice loop around this part of the country, but it'll be a full day. What would you like for dinner when you get back?"

"Is there any venison left," Michael asked? He looked at his friends, "Have you ever had venison? Dad had a good hunt last fall, and mom makes the best roast."

Roger and Jerrod admitted they'd never tasted venison but were up for trying it. "We do have a venison roast in the freezer," Michael's mom said, "and it will work well. That's your Granddad's favorite, too."

With that they were off and drove north to Hermiston, crossed the Columbia River and then north again to Richland, one of the Tri-Cities in south central Washington. They parked the Cherokee, put Kaiser on a leash and headed out on the seven-mile loop trail around Badger Mountain. The weather was cold but sunny. Importantly, the forecast was holding, and it wasn't windy or snowy. When they reached the top, they were met with an expansive view of the Tri-Cities and the Columbia River Basin. "See how there's three cities here, kinda separated? That's Richland and Kennewick on this side, and Pasco on the other side of the river." Michael was in full tour guide mode.

"I don't know all that much about the country or geology and stuff, we'll have to ask Dad and Grandpa, but you see right there?" He'd turned to his right and was pointing to the southeast. "You can't see it all, but the Columbia makes a big sweeping turn down there."

Then he turned to his left and pointed north. "See, that's the Columbia. Can you see the direction it's flowing now?"

Jerrod glance at him and said, "I don't have a compass. If it was running east-west and then made a loop, I'm guessing it's not flowing back the other way. Are you saying it's running north-south now?"

"Sure am." Michael grinned knowingly. "It's now running south through Washington on the east side of the Cascades. Do you know where it comes from? Where the headwaters are?"

"No, I just kind of assumed in the Cascades, like the Willamette."

"Most people do." He looked at Roger. "Any idea?"

"Well, if this is a set up question and it doesn't start in the Cascades or in Washington, then the next thing north is Canada, right?"

Michael grinned. "Yeah, it starts in British Columbia, flows south to here, and over there," and he turned back to the southeast, "south of Pasco, is where the Snake River joins it. That's another huge river that comes out of Idaho, and after they merge, like in only ten or twenty miles the Columbia turns and heads west to the Pacific."


"Yeah, what's even more mind blowing is that boats and barges can sail on up the Snake River all the way to Idaho because of the dams. So that's how most farms and ranches get their products to market. There's less barge traffic in the winter, but sometime today we'll see big barges go by. Anyway, it's pretty cool. After lunch we'll drive south of Pasco to Sacajawea State Park, right where the rivers join."

They stopped at a local fast-food place in Kennewick, and Kaiser got half of a burger patty, and then they crossed the Columbia and turned south to the park. Jerrod and Roger were amazed when they got there to see that it wasn't just any old park, but also a historical preserve, all on a 267-acre triangular peninsula jutting out where the two rivers came together.

They visited the Interpretive Center and learned that the site was where Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery camped on October 16, 1805. They'd been guided out of the stark mountains of Idaho by Sacajawea and found a thriving community of Native Americans camped at the very spot. They also learned that Sacajawea wasn't just an expedition guide, but was chief interpreter, food gatherer and peace emissary between the white explorers and the Native American tribes they encountered. The expedition was fortunate that they were literally on a tour of inspection and discovery, not one of conquest, though they must have guessed that taking over western American was part of President Jefferson's long-term plans.

It was too cold to let Kaiser go swimming, but they walked on the beach and around the park. They then drove south and east to Walla Walla where they saw a quaint and historic western town with most of its turn-of-the-century buildings still intact. It was surrounded by agriculture, and they saw signs for the occasional vineyard and winery.

When they got back it was about 4:30 pm and what hit them when they walked in the kitchen door was the aroma of roasting venison and herbs. They said Hi to Michael's mom, and Jerrod told her how good the roast smelled. "David's teaching me how to cook, so will you tell me about your recipe?"

She smiled, pleased with the acknowledgment, and said it was one she'd settled on years back after trying quite a few different ones. "The preparation is like you'd do for a pot roast. For this one, you make eight or ten slits in the roast and put a garlic clove in each one, then rub the outside with a mix or rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, salt and pepper and refrigerate it for a couple of hours. Then in a roasting pan you surround the roast with coarse cut carrots and small whole onions, cover it and roast it for two to two and a half hours at 325 degrees."

Jerrod smiled at her. "It sounds simple and smells good. I can't wait to taste it." She smiled back and suggested he feed Kaiser and they should all get cleaned up for dinner.

By the time all three boys had taken a shower Michael's dad was in from the feeding and his grandpa had joined the family, and once again the men were in front of the fire with both dogs lying happily in the radiating warmth. The men wanted to know how the day had gone and Michael gave them an overview of the trip with Roger and Jerrod interjecting comments or questions about what they'd seen, particularly that they had no idea they'd be where Lewis and Clark's expedition camped.

"Yeah, they're mighty big rivers. And it was good fortune for Lewis and Clark that they found the Snake River," Grandpa said," because, it was only mid-September when they got to the Bitterroot Mountains, but winter was early that year and it was snowing. They had to get through eleven days of winter weather to get out of the mountains and then down to the Snake River. They were able to travel by canoe instead of walking, and those rivers were wild back in those days, but it was a lot faster than going by foot."

"We also learned that the Corps of Discovery had a dog with them. I didn't know that."

The old man grinned at them, "Man's best friend! He was a Newfoundland, and that dog saved their hides a couple of times, fighting off bears and stuff. Now, talking about dogs, tell me more about Kaiser. How'd you learn to train him if you boys didn't grow up with dogs."

Jerrod explained how they'd reached out to a lady named Angela that David knew, who trained Labs for showing, and she'd told them Kaiser was a really good dog, and she'd worked with both of them for weeks to teach them the basics. "She pretty much trained both of us, too," he said with a big grin.

"Well, I'd say from the looks of it that she knew what she was doing." He paused, looking directly at Jerrod, a soft smile on his face. "So, you decided that staying in a new town to train a dog was more important to you than anything else you could have done back home last summer?"

Jerrod realized that Michael's grandpa was trying to understand, and he nodded, "Yeah, because he's that kind of dog. Just something about him." Thoughts of telling Matt about Kaiser coming to sleep with him that night and what it meant personally flashed through his mind, but he decided it wasn't the time.

"Well, he is a special dog, I'll say that. I'll also say that you two are special too. I've had dogs all my life, and I've seen plenty of people with their dogs. You three have a pretty amazing connection."

Roger added that the mother of a handicapped boy they met with each week suggested they look into therapy dog work, and it turned out that the Children's Hospital had a program and they'd gotten much more training there. "You can see that Kaiser's got a great disposition. And he really likes people and he's smart. So, he wasn't hard to train. When we were working with Sean it only took a couple of weeks to teach Kaiser Sit/Stay so that he was solid enough we could sit him down and walk fifty feet away and he wouldn't move till he was told."

Michael's grandpa looked at his son and said, "You think Ruby could ever do that? I know my dog won't."

"No, Dad. She might have if we'd trained her that way. But she's a great duck and geese hunting dog." He looked at Roger and Jerrod. "When she's told to Sit, she sits right by your side, or by the blind and stays there till a bird's down and she gets the Fetch command. She's watching the whole time. You hit a duck and she sees where it splashes down, and is just waiting for the command and is off to retrieve the bird."

Michael said to his dad and grandpa, "They've trained Kaiser to do some great stuff. They play hide and seek with him, where they make him Sit and then they go hide, they disappear, and then they call him and make him come find them. And they've taught him how to get a manicure."

"What did you say?" Grandpa asked.

"Manicure. That's what Roger told me. They trained him to get his claws trimmed." He looked at Roger for confirmation, and Roger grinned back at him nodding his head.

"Well, we have to keep his claws trimmed and smooth, so he doesn't scratch patients. He's so friendly he could do that by mistake. I was joking around 'cause it seemed to me like getting a manicure, so I started using that as a command and it only took a time or two and he figured it out. He really likes it."

"You've got to be kidding me! Most dogs don't like it, and some can't stand it," Grandpa said.

"That's what we've heard. I guess we got lucky, or maybe too many people don't know what they're doing and make it hurt."

"When did you last trim his claws," Michael asked.

Roger thought for a second and then said, "Maybe three weeks. He's probably due."

"We've got a trimmer just like the one you have at home. Will you show us?"

He glanced at Jerrod and got a 'you did this to yourself' smile in response. Roger looked at Michael and said, "I'll try, but I'll need a couple of treats, to reward him if he does well, and don't expect too much since he's in a new place, okay?"

Michael grinned back and said, "You mean when he does well. Hold on. I'll be right back."

He was back in a minute with the trimmer and two treats that Roger slipped into his pocket. He looked at Michael's grandpa and then his dad and said, "Don't be expecting too much, like he's a show dog or something. He's usually really good at it though."

Michael's Grandpa grinned, and his dad said softly, "This I've got to see."

Roger stepped into an open area of the carpet about six feet from Kaiser, who looked up when he heard Roger move. He caught Kaiser's eye and said, "Kaiser."

The dog sat up with his weight on his front paws, curious at what was starting. Roger knelt down, patted the carpet in front of him and said, "Kaiser. Come. Manicure."

Kaiser sat all the way up, then stood up, did a quick stretch and moved right over in front of Roger where he sat down and lifted up a front paw as if he was doing a shake. Roger took the paw in his hand and softly said, "Good boy," and began to clip the first claw. Kaiser tipped his head back and closed his eyes, and remained otherwise motionless as the remaining claws on the paw were trimmed. Roger then set the front paw down and moved forward on his hands and knees to reach for the rear paw on that side, which brought his head next to the dog's shoulder. Kaiser let him pull the rear paw forward enough to gain access, and as Roger started to trim, he leaned his head down and licked the side of Roger's face.

When he was done with the paws on that side, Roger sat back on his haunches in front of Kaiser, said, "Good boy," and gave him a treat. It disappeared in a couple of seconds, and Roger put out his hand and Kaiser raised the other front paw and placed it in his hand, and the routine began for the other side. When completed, Roger again sat back on his haunches, said, "What a good boy, Kaiser," gave him the second treat and then rubbed his ears and kissed the top of his head.

He turned to his audience and said, "What do you think?"

Michael's grandpa said, "Well, I'll be go to hell! I've never seen anyone do that. I always had to fight with my dogs."

Roger grinned, and said, "He really likes it, don't you think? And we got lucky. One of the therapy trainers at the hospital taught us how to do it so we didn't hurt him. She said if you can make it fun for him, he'll like it. She was right."

Michael was beaming, not just at finally seeing this thing he'd heard about, but knowing that his gay friend had done something with his dog in front of his dad and grandad that he knew they couldn't do.

"Well, Roger. That's might impressive," Michael's dad said. "I'm not sure I could have trained Ruby to do that. As soon as we get the trimmer out, she acts like it's the last thing she wants to be around. You two are to be commended. That's some good dog training."

Roger asked for a broom and dustpan to clean up the trimmed claws, and as he was putting it back in the closet, Michael's mom announced that dinner was ready.

The venison roast tasted as good as it smelled, though the actual taste of the meat was new to the boys. They liked the rich and earthy flavor and the firmer texture, and complimented Michael's mom, and it was evident she was pleased.

Grandpa added that they should be able to taste the hints of acorns and sage that the deer ate, since they'd come from the Blue Mountains east of Pendleton. "I'm impressed you city slickers like the venison. I'm telling you, will wonders never cease!" He was grinning at them conspiratorially, his eyes sparkling, and they both grinned back.

The conversation turned back to the day's sights and in response to a question about the Snake River, Michael's dad asked if they could remember the view from the top of Badger Mountain?

They nodded and he went on. "What you were seeing is the central part of the Columbia River Basin. It's a huge expanse the incudes eastern Idaho, the southern half of eastern Washington and almost the upper half of eastern Oregon. If I remember the geology, it was formed millions of years ago from huge volcanic eruptions, so it's a giant basin of basalt. Through it flows the Columbia from the north, and the Snake from the east. Most people don't know it starts in Canada, and flows south to where the Tri-Cities are located, where the Snake joins it. They also don't know it's the fourth largest river in the USA by volume, and is the largest river in the US that enters the Pacific. On top of that, the Snake is the largest tributary of the Columbia, so you saw today the two largest rivers that are the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest."

"It was pretty impressive seeing the size of them both at Sacajawea Park," Jerrod said.

"They are mighty impressive, and it's because of the size of those rivers and the dams on them that there's navigation all the way to Idaho, and that's one of the things that makes farming and ranching possible out here. We grow hay and raise cattle on this ranch, but the big producers in the area grow commodity crops like wheat, and they couldn't get it to market without the rivers and the barges that run to market. So, they're a really important means of transportation and of course they're also the largest salmon rivers on the west coast. Meaning salmon run upstream from the Pacific all the way to Idaho to reproduce. That's a damn long way to swim."

"But the trade off," grandpa said, "Is that the salmon numbers are going way down. That's what the dams and over-fishing have done. It's a damn shame, because the salmon was the core subsistence protein for Native Americans, and part of their religion. I was born in 1930, and the big damn projects were going in back them, but during the salmon runs when I was you age, it seemed like the rivers were just full of them. Still, they're pretty amazing rivers, and it was wonderful you got to visit the park where Lewis and Clark camped on their expedition."

Michael's mom had been quiet during the river conversation, but now said, "What you boys may not remember from American History is that The Corps of Discovery was a specially-established unit of the United States Army created by President Thomas Jefferson. That was the core of the Lewis and Clark Expedition that took place between 1804 and 1806. The Corps was led jointly by Captain Lewis and Second Lieutenant Clark, and their objectives were scientific and commercial – to study the area's plants, animal life, and geography. If you're interested, there's a great historical novel about the Corps of Discovery titled Undaunted Courage, by Stephen Ambrose, that was published last summer. It's well written and we've found for most students it's a much more accessible way to enter into and understand the early history of the region."

Michael added, "I read it when I was sick, and it's fun to read and really brings the whole story to life. That's where I first learned about Sacajawea."

As they were finishing dessert, Michael's dad commented that the first cow had dropped a calf in the afternoon. "That one was a day before the cows due date. There'll be more tomorrow, mark my words."

Grandpa nodded and said, "When it rains it pours! The herd always seem to start birthing after the first one drops. The vets can't explain it, but I've got to believe it's just how cow herds operate." He looked at his son, "I'll be down at the barn with you tomorrow while these boys are out and about."

Jerrod said he'd never seen an animal give birth and didn't want to miss the opportunity, and they were made welcome to spend time in the barn before they left for the day's activities.

When Jerrod took Kaiser out for a quick pee walk in the morning, he could see that Michael's dad and Ruby were already down at the barn, and after eating breakfast they agreed to check in on how the calving was going before leaving. When they walked in the saw Michael's dad and grandpa in the alleyway, leaning on the fencing and looking into one of the pens, Ruby sitting right beside them. She turned her head and perked up when she saw Kaiser, and trotted over to see him as they walked down the alley way.

"I thought you boys were going sight-seeing?"

"Well, that's the plan, Dad. But we thought we better check in first, in case you older cowboys need some youthful assistance."

Michael's grandpa had turned sideways and was watching the interchange while still leaning on the fencing and said, "If these boys are so confident and full of energy, maybe we should go get some hot coffee and breakfast and leave them to it."

"Can you handle it, son?"

Michael gave a quick look around and said, "It's pretty quiet, as in nothing happening right now. Looks like you've done all the feeding, so yeah. If something we can't handle happens, one of us will come up to the house for help."

"Spoken like an experienced ranch hand! The cow that calved yesterday is in corral number two. Come on, Dad, let's go get some breakfast." He called Ruby and the two men walked out of the barn.

Michael said, "Let's walk around and see what's doing." They walked along the fencing of the first corral, and could see that most of the cows were still under the roof where they would have had some shelter from the cold overnight, chewing their cud. "They're still in close, so that makes it easier to watch them and see what's happening."

As they walked Michael was pointing out the pregnant cows, and it didn't take long for Jerrod and Roger to be able to determine which were which. "The normal gestation period for cows is about nine months, just like for humans, but there's no telling if some come early or why, or right on schedule." They walked the other corrals, and Michael pointed out the cow with her new calf.

"Wow. The calf's pretty cute. How come it's got that red tag on its ear?" Roger asked. "They don't come out that way, do they?"

"No, dumb ass. It's just what we do, put the ear tag on real soon after they're born. That way they're connected to their mother and easy to identify if something happens. The tags are all in the calving kit. Come over here and I'll show you.

He led them to a large table in the middle of the alleyway, that had a large case opened and laid flat. He pointed out the two types of gloves, towels, the electronic thermometer, an irrigation syringe and betadine solution, scalpels and a selection of medicines, as well as nylon straps and a chain."

"What's with the long rubber gloves? They look like they'd go up to your elbow."

"They do, and trust me, you want that if the calf is stuck and you have to pull it out from inside the womb."

"And the straps and chains?"

"They're to loop onto the stuck calf so you can pull it out. The calf is in amniotic fluid until it's born, so it's wet and slippery and hard to pull out without something like that for grip."

They walked the rest of the corrals, Kaiser tagging along and looking interested, but mainly curious about all the mooing the cows were doing.

When they got back to the first corral, Michael said, "Now the main part of calving begins."

"What's that?"

"The waiting. It's basically having someone around waiting in case there's a problem. Even after the calving starts, you can go hours with nothing happening, or just watching cows have normal births and doing a great job of cleaning up the calf and helping it get up and start moving, and no problems. No problems means nothing really to do, except wait."

They all hopped up on the rear of the feed trailer that Michael's Dad had left in the alley way, sitting with their feet swinging in the air. "See, today there's bales of straw in here in case we need more bedding for some of the cows."

Michael scanned the corrals and then said, "I don't have a lot planned for today, I mainly wanted to show you Pendleton and the rodeo. I mean it's a cool town with lots of old western buildings and stuff, and the rodeo grounds are huge, but without a rodeo going on it won't look like much." He paused, cocking his head sideways and listening.

"That's the sound of pain. Meaning we've got a cow in trouble. Come on, let's go."

They walked quickly to corral three, Michael swept his eyes across it and then said, "Over there, on the side. That cow's down and in distress."

They followed Michael over the fencing, Jerrod telling Kaiser to Stay, and when they got to the cow, Michael squatted down behind her with his hand on her hip. "Well, we've got dilation."

Jerrod looked at him with a grin. "I know what dilation is."

Michael flashed him back a grin and said, "That's good to know, but I'm guessing you know about anal dilation instead of vaginal dilation."

Jerrod's grin widened. "You've got me there, my man." They all looked at the cow and Jerrod continued, "What do we do."

"Well, those are the front legs coming out, but I'm guessing this is a first birth for this cow, so she's not dilating fast enough, or isn't stretched enough yet, or something. I've seen Dad handle it before. You guys stay here, and I'll go get the straps."

Michael sprinted off and was over the fence in a flash. Roger found his hand on the cow's hip, petting her soothingly, without even thinking about it. "He got you on the dilation remark, didn't he?"

"He did. He's faster on his feet than he was when we met him at the hospital. I'm guessing that means he's read all of the gay sex book as well having looked at lots of dilated cow vaginas."

They were both chuckling as they say Michael come back over the fencing, turn to Kaiser, and tell him to Stay, then trot toward them. He knelt down and put the straps on the calf's front legs just above the hooves and said, "Now, we pull slowly. The idea is to give the cow some help so she doesn't have to work so hard pushing the calf out. We're not trying to jerk him out, okay? It can take a while, so we'll trade off. We're just keeping some pulling pressure on the straps and hoping the cow opens up more." He turned to Jerrod and added, "Or, in more technical terminology, fully dilates!"

They all laughed, and Michael started pulling on the straps and they heard the cow groan. After a couple of minutes, he nodded at Roger and said, "Okay, you take 'em for a couple." Roger did, and they watched the cow dilate further. The calf's front legs come out up to the shoulders. Roger nodded at Jerrod, and as he took the straps, Michael said, "The next part is important. The calf's head, led by the muzzle, is supposed to come next. She'll need to do some serious dilating to let the head through. Then the shoulders should be easy."

Jerrod glanced at him and nodded. "Same amount of pulling?"

"Yeah, don't pull any harder. We want this to stimulate the cow to open up naturally. If we pull it out, we could tear something."

Jerrod did as he was told, and in a minute, they saw the cow dilate further, and suddenly the muzzle appear above the two front legs. "There it is, now we've just gotta be patient. The cow's working with us. You want me to take over?"

Jerrod handed the straps over to Michael, and he'd just settled down onto his knees when they heard his dad call from the fence, "You boys under control over there?"

"Yeah, Dad. I think it's just a first birth."

A couple of minutes later his dad knelt down beside Michael. "The muzzle only appeared a minute ago."

"You boys are doing fine. I can see her opening up further just since I got here. Keep the pressure soft and steady. The rest of the calf's head is starting to come through. I'll go get a couple of towels."

Michael nodded to his dad and kept pulling, glancing at Jerrod and Roger, grinning knowingly. "What a way to start the day, eh?"

"Yeah, really!"

When Michael's dad came back Jerrod asked why they needed the towels.

"Because this cow is having to do a lot more work than usual, so she's going to be tired when the calf is all the way out. Normally she'd be up in just a minute or two, licking the calf to clean it and encouraging it to stand up. She's going to need some time to rest, so we'll clean and dry off the calf and then set it down by its mom's head. If there aren't any complications, in five or ten minutes we should be back to normal. If not, we'll need to worry about if she needs some medicine to help her get going."

After they rubbed the calf down with the towels, then curled it up in front of the cow who immediately started licking it. In about five minutes, the cow raised up onto its front legs, and Michael's dad said, "That's a good sign."

Within a few more minutes the cow groaned and shifted its weight and with some work stood up. She licked the calf some more, and things looked like they were getting back to normal. They heard grandpa call out, "We've got another one in corral four."

Michael's dad stood up and said, "I'll go check that you. You boys keep your eyes one on this pair. You did really well." He strode off, climbed the fence, and crossed to the other corral.

Jerrod put his hand on Michael's shoulder and said "Dude, you did really well. We just did what you told us. You know what you were doing. Mr. Cool, Calm and Collected."

Michael grinned at him. "Thanks. I don't know about the cool, calm and collected part. You've figured out by now that grandpa is full of sayings and one-liners, don't you? One of his favorites is 'Anyone who remains calm in the midst of all this confusion simply does not understand the situation."

"That's pretty funny," Roger said.

"I figure he learned it in the Army. He was in the Korean War, so if you hear him say something like 'That was a real SNAFU!' you'll know where it came from. Do you know what it means?"

Roger shook his head.

"It means 'Situation Normal All Fucked up!' You know, like I guess the military can be."

They were all laughing, and Jerrod said he hadn't heard that one before.

"Come on, you guys," Michael responded, "This cow's doing fine. Let's go see if dad needs help."

The climbed out of the corral and crossed the alleyway to join Michael's grandpa and watch his dad squatted down next to a cow. "Everything under control?"

"Looks like it from here. I'm betting… here comes the calf. See, this cow has had a birth or two." He looked at the boys and grinned.

Jerrod looked back at him and said, "So, we don't have to worry about it being a SNAFU?"

Grandpa's smiled widened into a big grin. "Nope, not today!"

Jerrod grinned back. "I had to say that. Michael just told us what it meant. I mean, I couldn't resist."

"No problem, Jerrod. I'm glad to know you've got a good sense of humor and irony! You know what causes most SNAFUs don't you?"

Jerrod hadn't expected the give and take to suddenly become serious. He shook his head.

"Well, setting aside equipment failures, and we had plenty of those in Korea, especially in winter, it mainly happens when people start vast projects with half-vast ideas."

Jerrod paused, processing, then looked at both Roger and Michael, who were both smiling along. He turned back to grandpa and grinned at him. "Is that kind of like don't start something unless or until you've got your shit together?"

The old man cracked up and said, "Pretty much, pretty much!" He looked over at Michael and said, "I suppose you think that means your friends have their shit together, is that right?"

"That's your call, Grandpa. I'm not getting in the middle of this one."

Michael's dad came over the fencing and announced. "She'll be fine. How's the one that needed help?" He looked at Michael. "Does she need meds or supplements?"

Michael shook his head and said, "I don't think so. She was up and cleaning the calf when we left, and I saw her start nursing before we left the corral."

"Good deal. We brought a thermos of coffee down from the house. You guys want a cup?"

They spent the next hour in the barn and two more cows calved, and finally it was apparent that things were quieting down, and grandpa said, "You boys ought to get cleaned up and go do what you were going to do today. I'm betting the morning rush is over."

They did, and after they cleaned up, Michael's mom gave them lunch. They headed into town to see the historic section of Pendleton, the woolen mills and the rodeo. They got back early enough to take another walk around the reservoir with both dogs, and found the adults in front of the fireplace when they got back, both men with a Miller High Life apiece.

The dogs settled down in front of the fire and the boys joined the men talked about different dog breeds and which excelled at what, and there was ample give and take. Finally, Michael's mom announced she was going to make the salad and put the garlic bread to accompany the lasagna already in the oven.

The dinner conversation got around to the morning's calving, and after Grandpa commenting on what a fine job the boys had done with the cow in trouble, and Jerrod and Roger pointing out that Michael was the one who knew what to do and they just followed orders, Michael's mom asked what they thought of the experience.

"It was great," Jerrod said. "I sure wouldn't be on a ranch and able to see cows, let alone calving, if I was still back in Philadelphia. See, there's another thing I can add to the list of benefits I get from moving out to Oregon."

"Well, we're all very pleased you did too, and happy to have you visit and broaden your experience of life," she said. "We were talking earlier in front of the fire before you boys got back, and you two sure fit in well for a couple of city slickers." She had a mischievous smile on her face, and went on, "It sure seems, Jerrod, like you've put whatever the troubles were behind you. You'll have to forgive me, but I am a schoolteacher, and the more I get to know you the harder it is for me to even conceive of what kind of problems you were struggling with."

Jerrod had been listening closely, but also glancing back and forth to Roger who smiled back in acknowledgment. He had a strong sense of where the conversation was headed, though it seemed like she was doing it unconsciously. After the comments she'd made to them both the first morning, it seemed like she was trying to sincerely understand but also wanting to know for a deeper reason. Roger locked eyes with him, his eyes sparkling and his smile certain, and he nodded his head just a little.

He could see that Michael had not just gone silent, but that his expression was blank, indicating a mix of fear and concern about what was coming. He smiled at the younger boy, hoping to boost his spirit, and equally hoping he was making the right decision.

He looked back at Michael's mom and said, "As a teacher, I guess you've heard of the Delphic Oracle, probably even know the saying carved over the doorway into the temple at Delphi."

He'd caught her by surprise and waited for her reply. He saw Roger's smile widen and felt himself work hard to stifle a grin. Michael's dad hadn't reacted, he was just listening, but his grandpa had a gleam in his eye, appreciating the turn in the conversation.

"Yes, I know of the Delphic Oracle, but to be honest I can't tell you anything more than I remember it was about seeing the future or something like that, and I have no idea what was carved over the doorway."

Jerrod smiled at her. "We didn't know any of this either before last summer, and, the credit goes to David, who told us. I don't want you to think I'm some show off that reads history or philosophy or stuff like that. Anyway, people went to the Oracle to receive prophecies. Like will I win this war, or will my ship make it back safely or should I marry this woman. Stuff like that. What was carved over the doorway was just two words, Know Thyself."

Jerrod paused, waiting for Michael's mother. He glanced at her husband who was eating his dinner but taking the conversation in as it unfolded.

"That makes perfect sense, I suppose. If one seeks a prophecy one should know oneself and one's motivations well enough to be prepared for the prophecy that might be given to you."

Jerrod smiled at her and said, "That's pretty much the way David explained it to me. Kind of like be careful what you ask for." He saw Roger grin and Michael finally smile and loosen up. He also saw Michael's dad put down his silverware and lean back in his chair as if to listen more intently. Grandpa had brightened further, enjoying the give and take.

"I understood the meaning a lot better when David told me the way Shakespeare used it in Hamlet . Not that I've ever read Hamlet, but it just made more sense to me as 'to thine own self be true.' Don't you think that's more practically understandable?"

He wasn't trying to lay a trap for Michael's mother, but somehow, he felt the need to help Michael's parents get to a point of understanding what he'd decided he needed to tell them.

She smiled at him and said, "You're right Jerrod, even though your Shakespeare quote uses formal English, it makes the statement in everyday language. We all need to be honest with ourselves, don't we?"

"We also need to be honest about ourselves. Don't you think that both of those are included in the statement about being true to yourself?"

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