By Clara Morgensteren Lazimy
“Papi, tell me the story of the sick cow,” I asked my dad for the millionth time. On summer evenings, when we sat on canvas rocking chairs on the flat tiled roof of our house, my father’s stories took me on magical journeys to a time and place I would never know. The story of the cow was one of my favorites, so he settled himself comfortably, took a sip of cold mint water, and began:
Pinie and Milke came home from school, and as usual went straight to get the cows from the pasture and bring them in for the night. One of the animals just lay there, seemingly asleep.
"Shh,” said Milke. "Don't bother her."
"She looks sick,” replied her twin brother Pinie. The two other cows that died last week looked just like this one. I'm going to take a closer look."
"What if she gets mad?” asked the girl.
"Nah, she's too sick to even get up. Don't be chicken, follow me."
The self confidence in her brother's voice, and her own curiosity broke down Milke's reserves, and she followed slowly in Pinie's footsteps. He, a little hesitant despite his initial swagger; she, gathering courage as they came closer to the animal.
Milke and Pinie were the youngest of eight children in the family of Brane and Duvid Shmil Morgensteren. Wherever there was mischief in the farm, you could almost bet you'd see the tall, slim eight year olds, with the twinkle in their blue-green eyes. They were inseparable.
The Morgensteren had two cows left in their small farm. It wasn't much, but as most of the other Jewish settlers in the Argentinean wilderness in the early 1900's, they didn't have much of anything. If a cow got sick and died, the shokhet would declare the meat non-kosher, and it couldn't be sold. It was a great loss for the farmers, who were barely subsisting on a meager corn crop.
The twins drew nearer, now they could hear the sick animal's labored breathing. Their bare feet hardly made any noise on the dew-moist grass, but the cow must have smelled them. Pinie was but an arm's length away when, suddenly, it raised its head, got to its feet with surprising agility, and charged them with an angry growl. Milke was a little farther behind; she jumped quickly out of the way of the crazed animal, and kept running in the general direction of the house. Pinie wasn't as lucky, and was thrown to the ground. He wanted to get up and out of there as fast as he could, faster in fact. But the cow had a different idea of how things were to be. Pinie saw the big, horned head come closer and closer; he felt the thumps on his chest and belly as the cow butted him repeatedly, trying to gore him with its horns. He could still hear Milke's voice yelling for help, but it was growing fainter by the second.
Thoughts chased each other rapidly: Mama would be upset that his shirt tore. Would it hurt terribly when the horns sunk into his belly? Would the cow chew up his nose? Father would be so angry if he had to shoot the cow! He could move his hands and feet, but was afraid to anger the animal further. He kept very still, trying not to breath too loudly, or too often, which was a tremendous effort, since his heart pounded wildly in his chest, and the tears ran down his face and got in his ears.
Suddenly there came the sound of horses galloping across the field. The sick cow turned from him, frightened, and was roped by a man Pinie didn't know, while a second stranger dismounted and walked over to the small boy still lying on the ground.
"Are you hurt?", he asked.
"I don't think so", answered Pinie in a whisper.
"Good, we'll take you home."
Pinie's legs shook so hard that he could hardly stand, let alone walk. The man scooped him up in his arms and carried him on his horse all the way to the small house. Pinie's relief was soon marred by the embarrassment of what had happened, of the wetness on his face and down his legs; he was feeling very small and scared. His father would be angry. He was a stern man, easy to anger, and Pinie had disobeyed the strict rule that no one was to approach a sick animal in the field. Mother would surely intercede in his behalf, but she'd be upset, too.
When the small party arrived at the house, Mother and Father were already waiting for them outside. Milke had sent the two men she met on the way to help her brother, and she'd ran on, to alert the family.
To Pinie's complete surprise, they looked anxious, not mad. Father took him from the stranger and brought him gently into the house. When he put him on his cot he brushed the hair from Pinie's forehead and kissed him softly. Pinie fell asleep, exhausted.
My dad sighed; I saw the glimmer of tears in his blue-green eyes. Fifty years had passed, but he still treasured the memory of that kiss, the only one his father ever gave him.
from the October/November 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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