I stood in the fresh country air, feet on the lower runner of a split rail fence, elbows on the upper. The strong sun beat down from behind the hazy clouds in the cadet blue sky and beaded sweat from under my long, silky bangs. The tall grass tickled in the muggy breeze and bugs buzzed and whined somewhere in it.
In the distance the trees seemed dense. Jungle dense. To a west coast kid, this place was like Africa or South America. It felt like being in the Amazon basin, and I expected night time to be filled with alien sounds of nocturnal animals crying their bloodthirsty wails into the stillness at the moon.
But it’s only Kentucky, and this is just my first visit to a farm. I’m less than ten years old, and while it feels like I’m in a tropical foreign country, it’s just a family vacation. I’m standing beside my cousin Michael, with bottle-brush haircut and ragged sneakers, wearing a shirt with sleeves ripped from the torso and hands toughened by years of being a farmer’s kid.
So I’m standing next to him, and we’re staring at something else I’ve never seen before: a full-grown bull.
Where I grew up in Northern California, there are cows all over the place. The yellow-grass covered hills are crawling with them. The land around the town where I grew up is largely ranch land, and the black and dark brown bovines low over the rolling hills and bleat into the valleys and roam close to the barbed wire fences marking their boundaries. But those were cows. They didn’t have horns, and they certainly weren’t this big.
This big brute did have horns, though – hooked affairs as long as my forearm. His huge barrel chest huffed and heaved when he drew in great gulps of the sodden air, and he’d lower his broad muzzle into the soft, long grass and pull up huge bundles of it to be crunched and mashed in his powerful, rippled jaws. His vacant black eyes stared into the distance and didn’t seem to see anything.
His thick neck widened at its base into his massive chest, and then it curved up from his striated legs to something like a point at the lower end of his belly, just before the scoop which led to the trunk-like hind quarters.
It was that pointy thing, that mystery of anatomy, which held my city boy interest.
“What is that?” I pointed, squinting one eye as if it would make Michael’s view through my eyes better.
Michael followed my pointing finger, his thick accent oozing in the heat. “What?”
“That weird … pointy thing on him. By his belly.”
“I think that’s his weener.”
I giggled. Michael said weener. And he said it like he’d been saying it every day for all his seven years. He didn’t even crack a smile when it came out. That would’ve had the boys on the playground back in Cali rolling, wiping tears and grabbing sides.
Out here in the country, though, things were different. I guessed. I had no way to know. I liked Michael — liked him a lot — but at that moment he seemed sort of weird to me. Like that stinky kid at school no one wants to sit next to on the bus, whose family is on welfare and who’s always the one who brings lice to school.
“Oh,” I said, trying to sober. He just stared at me.
The bull took a few shambling, earth-rumbling steps forward and in a moment his backside faced us.
“Hey — what’s that?” I said, this time captivated by something more interesting than a bull’s weener.
He looked; then he squinted. “Those’re his balls, I think,” he said, then gave an affirming nod. He was the expert after all.
“Oh. He sure is big,” my mouth said. Damn, those are some big balls, my brain said.
“Yeah, he’s big awright,” Michael agreed. “Watch this!”
He bent down and came up through the thick, high grass with a stone about the size of a golf ball. He tossed it in his palm a couple of times, then turned and whipped the stone right at the bull.
I gasped, my hands instinctively covering my mouth.
The stone bounced off the bull’s thick backside with a thump that sounded like it’d hit a tree trunk. His tail flashed and flicked over the spot and his head dropped down into the grass again, as if nothing happened.