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A Sweet Afternoon

When Charles was newly graduated from University of Georgia School of Veterinary Medicine we moved from Athens to Cairo, Georgia where he began working for Dr. Eugene Maddox at the Cairo Animal Hospital. Books and lectures, labs and internships do not prepare you entirely for work on the field. He had to learn a lot day by day. As his wife with experience only in journalism, library work, and a secretarial job, I had everything to learn. Some of the lessons were gory, such as the one about a prolapsed uterus. If you’re revolted by gore you might want to skip this reading.

Sometimes when a cow delivers her calf her whole uterus then comes out and it takes a lot of skill and physical stamina to force it back in place. I had heard Charles talk about such a case but seeing one in person was a whole new experience.

The cow patient was down broadside when we arrived. To my horror, Charles got right down with her, wrestling with a huge mass of bloody tissue. The thing was covered with dry caked manure, straw and mud. This picture had never entered my mind as entertainment for a Sunday afternoon. Somehow that bulging balloon the size of a barrel was supposed to fit back inside the poor cow who was bawling and moaning by spells and pulling at the ropes that secured her. After my first wave of nausea (I was heavily pregnant myself!), I felt an overwhelming gratitude for having been born into the human race.

Suddenly Charles was giving me instructions. He said to go home quickly and return with five pounds of sugar. I thought he’d gone crazy in the heat and mud and blood. Sugar? He repeated himself, his voice going sharp with urgency.

Even as I hefted five pounds of sugar out of a cabinet (too bad about the sweet tea tomorrow!) I was still wondering if I’d heard Charles right. What else sounded like sugar?

When I arrived back at the scene, Charles was sitting beside his patient talking jovially to his client just as if there were nothing wrong. I think they were talking about how dangerous it might be to tangle with an alligator when fishing in the Ochlocknee River. When he saw me coming he motioned me to drive right up close and, I thought, received the bag of sugar quite casually. He proceeded to open the bag and pour sugar generously on that poor cow’s insides that were still in a huge heap behind her.

What happened next was a miracle. That ungainly swollen uterus suddenly began shrinking and soon with some vigorous pushing and shoving, it finally popped in place. As he gave the cow her post-natal shots, Charles chatted with the farmer nonstop explaining the wonders of sugar which he normally kept in his practice car.

As we drove away Charles joked with me. “You thought I was teasing about the sugar, didn’t you?”

“I thought you’d gone crazy,” I said.

“How sweet it is!” He grinned giving me a punch in the arm.

I guess some miracles only happen when someone is obedient to a command they do not understand. Such as when servants obeyed Jesus and filled water jugs at the Cana wedding before He turned all that water into wine.


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A Dirty Job

I watched Charles taking blood and pregnancy testing Jenny and John Ratts-Harrisons’ Hereford cows. Actually, it takes a whole team to do the job. Charles’ main large animal employee, Val Brock, was keeping records for the office and checking the cows’ eyes. A pre-vet student from FSU was helping fill tubes with blood for testing when Charles handed her each syringe. John worked the head catch and  herded the cows, and seasoned herdsman Carey Humphries drove cows down the lane and into the chute. Jenny herself kept the farm records, passed empty syringes to Charles as he needed them and kept ear tags up to date.


Jenny in blue shirt checking an ear tag while Val looks on

Jenny is a neo-natal nurse fulltime but the cows are a very strong “hobby.” She’s very interested and involved in the family cattle business. Her husband John and the help call her “the Boss.” I’ve seen her at work at Archbold Hospital in Thomasville when our great grands were born. She showed the same efficient energy and authoritative capability there as she does with her 1200 pound mamas. But her attire is quite different. Here on the farm she had on a billed hat almost hiding her sparkling grey eyes. Pants smeared with green and brown were stuffed into tall boots caked by the time I arrived with mud and manure. Her loose fitting, blue long sleeved shirt came almost to her knees and was decorated in barnyard stuff.  But whether at the hospital in sparkling scrubs, or with her cows, her petite wiry figure is in constant energized motion.

It had rained a lot so the areas inside the pens and lanes were soggy. But no one minded the mud, either bovine or human. As each cow came to the chute (not voluntarily, of course, but with help from a whip and a cattle prod), there was a pause as she recognized she must put her head forward, horns and all, before she’d be freed to go back to her friends. These are not polled Herefords; they have long, amazing horns. Fitting her head into the opening took a certain twisting motion. But these cows have been through this many times as this testing is done annually. They know what to do. Not a one of them bawled, kicked around in the chute, or otherwise made a pest of herself.

Once the cow was secure in the chute, Charles went to work on the back end while Jenny worked back and forth, paying close attention to each cow’s health and status. Charles felt to see if each cow were pregnant and, if so, how far along, calling out the results. He also determined whether or not she needed an additional blood draw and, if so, Jenny was right there to pass him a syringe. Jenny looked at the eyes if Val noticed something, being very careful to catch any abnormality. If there were any spot or blemish on an eye, Jenny then called Doc to make a judgment. Hereford cows are particularly prone to eye cancers because of their white faces. Jenny would also attach ear tags to those who had lost them, and check ear tattoo numbers before writing in her farm record book concerning instructions and follow-up.


Dr. Graham drawing blood. “It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it.”

Charles had gained permission for me to do this photo op by promising I would bring drinks and snacks for everyone, which I did. During the break, there was time for joshing and socializing before everyone went back to their posts. Jenny showed me on a smeared and cracked cell phone a picture of her second grandchild, a precious little baby. I said, “Oh, Jenny, isn’t it fun having grandchildren!” She raised her eyebrows and said, “I don’t play with the baby much. Get enough of babies at the hospital. But now–the three-year-old. We have a great time!”

Speaking of children, Jenny has been dealing with cows since before her first son, Coleman, was born. In fact, Charles remembers a Monday morning years ago when he arrived at the Ratts-Harrison Farm to work some cows. There came Jenny with a tiny newborn in a papoose. He’d been born on Saturday and there she was out with her cows on Monday! Now that son is in the cattle business also, dedicated to giving cows a good life and to selling healthy, tasty beef to consumers. John and Jenny’s other son, Peyton Tyler, is also in agribusiness.

Charles said of the morning with the cows, “It’s a dirty job. But someone has to do it.” Obviously, he and his crew enjoyed the barn “party” to the fullest.



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Cow Who Couldn’t Stand

Through almost fifty years of veterinary practice, Charles brought home some mighty interesting things. I never knew what he might have in his hands or his truck. If he’d been to Barry Lee’s on a late afternoon call he’d often have a pound of butter or a dozen brown eggs. If he’d been to Mr. Ready’s on a September day he might have an exam glove full of grapes. From any number of generous farmers and their wives he might bring tomatoes, peas, potatoes, onions, corn, squash, cabbage, greens. But one of the most unusual loads he brought home was a paralysed cow.

Former governor of Florida, Leroy Collins, had a herd of thirty or so cows on a modest parcel of land in Grady County and would call for a veterinarian from time to time to castrate calves or give inoculations. He was very tenderhearted, Charles said, and couldn’t stand to watch when the calves were being cut, would wander off to inspect a fence or something while they did their work. He was in his eighties probably, a tall slender elegant man who spoke, as one might imagine, with authority. There was no doubt he expected his requests to be filled.

One day he called and Dr. Maddox responded. Governor Collins said he had a cow who had calved and was no paralysed. Dr. Maddox gave her shots and said normally a cow with nerve damage following calf delivery would get up in several days but it could be weeks or even months.

A week later Governor Collins called and said the cow still wasn’t up. Dr. Hall, our bright red-headed veterinary employee straight from Auburn, went to help. He saw the cow up and gave her more shots. He reported that the cow was find, just couldn’t move. One night Charles told us at the dinner table that Governor Collins had called again and this time he was the large animal veterinarian on call. He told us how Governor Collins instructed him by phone to “Come down and euthanize that poor cow and dispose of her.”

“So is that what you did, Dad?” asked William slathering butter on hot homemade bread.

Charles reached for another fried pork chop and cut into it before he answered. “Not exactly. Well, see, I got there–just while ago. It was late and I had nobody to help me. The cow looked bright-eyed so I sat her up cow fashion with her feet in front. She looked good. I mean–sure, she’s losing some weight and her hide’s sort of skinned up. But, really, she looked good. So I gave her an anti-inflammatory shot and pumped her up with vitamins, refilled her watering tub and checked that she could reach her food, and left her there.”

“Did you call Governor Collins?” I asked.

“Oh, sure. I told him not to give up on her yet. At least give her a few more day.”

The next time I heard about the paralysed cow was about a week later when Charles drove into the barnyard with her. He and Noah, a big strong dark-skinned fellow who worked for us then, had managed even in a slippery light rain, to pile that cow on a little low two-wheeled trailer and bring her home.

“Did Governor Collins give you the cow, Dad?” quizzed William as he tried to help sliding her off the trailer.

Charles didn’t answer until the three guys had managed with great groaning and maneuvering to move her to a nice place under a pecan tree. Our pasture was already dotted with ten half-grown calves which Charles had taken on his half of a payment for a veterinary bill. He set the cow up “cow-fashion,” as he called it, and then leaned against his truck to catch his breath.

Taking off his hat, he ruffled his sweaty hair. “Governor Collins called and asked if I knew of a farmer who might want to fool with this cow. I told him most farmers didn’t have time to nurse one this long. But I’d see what I could do.”

Charles was the farmer who took the cow. He nursed that cow so tenderly. Well, someone who works with small animals might not perceive his actions as very tender because it takes a lot of energy and oomph to move a cow from one side to the other twice a day. He’d hold her by whatever handle he could, sometimes with William’s help, and he’d heave-ho. He’d set food and water in her reach. He sprayed her to keep insects away. And he talked to her. For six weeks.

The day that cow walked, Charles really was jolly as he told us about finding her down the far side of the pasture grazing as if it was the most normal thing to do.

When Charles tells this story he says he never charged Governor Collins for “disposing” of his cow, but neither did he report that he kept her himself. He just wanted to see if he couldn’t nurse her out of that paralysis. And, he says with a sheepish grin, when he took her along with those calves to market, he didn’t make a penny above the cost of the feed they’d all eaten!

For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. Psalm 50:10

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Ready’s Wild Cow–a riding shotgun story


Same veterinarian, different truck


Mr. Robert Ready worked hard at a public job so it was often late afternoon when  he called Charles for veterinary help. Thus, I remember several times late in the evening going to his place off the Camilla highway, out Ready Road, then bumping down a winding trail of a road to the back side of a rolling pasture. Mrs. Ready worked “in town” also and was usually still not home or thoroughly busy cooking or canning or tending her roses. She didn’t come out to help round up cows. Mr. Ready, a tall thickly built man, always wore a dark gray uniform and a canvas hat both of which were not only wet with sweat, but showed signs they’d been that way many times before.

Charles never grumbled when he discovered a cow needing to deliver but still loose in a ten acre pasture. He’d speak cheerfully to Mr. Ready and begin hauling out rope and whatever was needed to catch the cow without tranquilizing her. If he shot her with the tranquilizer we’d have to wait fifteen minutes for the medicine to take effect, then deal with a cow unsteady on her feet whose contractions might have all but stopped.

On one occasion I particularly remember Mr. Ready pointed out the patient amongst sister cows, calf feet showing under her hiked tail. “She’s a gentle one, Doc. We should be able to get her easy.”

When Charles walked toward her she quickly suspected it was she he was after and, smelling trouble, she ran awkwardly down to a clump of tag alder near a swampy area.

“We’ve got to keep her out of that swamp,” said Charles. To me, innocently watching from the passenger seat, he said, “You’re going to have to drive down to the edge of those woods.”

I slid over obediently thinking, “That’s fine as long as I don’t get too near the swamp.”

Before I even reached the woods, the men had flushed the cow out of there and here she came up the sloping pasture again. Charles yelled, “Let me hop on the back of the truck. I’ll have to lasso her.”

He, of course, did not hear my groans.

Thus began a hair-raising journey around and around Mr. Ready’s pasture. Charles yelled, “To the right, the right, the RIGHT! No! the LEFT! Closer, speed up, STOP! To the left, the left I said, the LEFT! No, the right!”

We rocked wildly over terraces, spun through wet places, flew to the right, suddenly sped to the left. My heart was pounding and the fear of running over the cow or Mr. Ready made my palms slick on the wheel.

When it was all over, cow roped to the back end of the truck, calf delivered, a live one that time, I think, I hovered near hoping for some nice words about my skillful driving. But they never came. I think Charles was pretty well convinced I didn’t know right from left, slow from fast. When we left, Mr. Ready lifted his hat to me revealing dark hair drenched in sweat. He grinned and said, “Nice to see you, Mrs. Graham.” Was that all? I got that much just sitting idle in the truck.

Mr. Ready was the one who used to send me grapes which Charles brought home in a clean examation glove. Those gloves are about two feet long, hold a lot of grapes! I was much more successful making grape jelly than driving a cowboy truck!


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A Visit With Some Hogs


Oak trees met overhead making sunlight flicker on our truck as Charles drove us toward Metcalf, Georgia. A small voice behind me asked, “When will we be there, Grandaddy?” Kaison (4) and I were having a field trip with Grandaddy. He was going to the Stringers’ Farm to test some hogs and then to the sale barn in Thomasville to cast his eye on a hundred or so cows.

I couldn’t help remembering some of the early hog days when things were quite different.

The first time I saw my husband groveling in the mud at the back end of a 500 pound sow I thought, is this his reward for all those nights nailed to the chair in the pantry off our tiny kitchen in Athens? Is this what he prepared for when he was taking all those ologies (Histology, Microbiology, Hematology) and spending forever hours in labs? But even that day as we rode home with the smell of hogs thick in his first practice car, I could tell Charles was happy in an indescribable way. Yes, he’d be quick to clean up when he got home. He wasn’t really fond of the mud or the squeals. But he loved relieving pain and making things better for patient and client. That day he’d delivered one little pig that was holding up the traffic so ten more could not make it out the tunnel to life.

He got hog calls day and night (of course, lots of other kinds of calls too!). He tested hogs for brucellosis and pseudo-rabies (keeping hogs and humans healthy), delivered pigs, came home with mud in his hair, climbed over all kinds of fences, kept a hammer with him for repairing gates, and always kept up a running conversation with the client and a whole peanut gallery of onlookers–that is, if the squeals weren’t at top level. He became convinced that at the full of the moon pigs squealed louder and longer.

On any given Saturday he might be found at Cairo Animal Hospital “cutting” pigs or giving shots in the back of Cleveland Copeland’s trailer. Or while we were lunching at home there might be a rattle and a squeal announcing the arrival of a hog owner seeking help. He also worked the huge farrowing houses where he’d work all day or maybe two or three days a season.

But then hog prices plummeted and finally they all but left Grady County. Now his hog calls are few and far between. But he does still receive them. Sometimes he chuckles when he says he’s going to “do” hogs because it may only be six instead of 306.

That was the case this day when Kaison and I rode with him. Kaison had mainly seen hogs in a book and I wanted him to meet one face to face.

A big old Hampshire boar hog came snorting up to the fence and Kaison, our very trusting one, started to reach out and pet him. I stopped that, explaining that one doesn’t pet big fat hogs. “Why?” “Well, because–he might take a bite of your shirt, Kaison.” Kaison looked at his shirt and seemed to be thinking he could let the hog have a bite of his shirt. Just then the sow Charles and Mr. Stringer were taking blood from and clamping an ear tag on let out a scream that would quite easily have reached Shanghai. Kaison clapped hands over his ears and gave up trying to pet the hog.

Kaison wondered about the big holes in the lot where Mr. Hog lived. When I told him the hog had dug those holes of course the next question was why. He wondered why Lady Hog was hollering so loud. He wondered why the hogs were different from each other. He wondered why Grandaddy had to take the sows’ blood. He wondered why the hogs didn’t want their shots. He wondered why the hogs were running away so fast when they were set free.

A wonderful child full of wonder! I tried to answer all his questions. I hope he’ll remember the day he visited the hogs with Grandaddy and Nana. And his visit to the sale barn too where he and Grandaddy walked together on the long boardwalks overseeing the backs of so many cows, black ones, black and white ones, brown ones, cows with long horns, cows with no horns, lots and lots of cows. He may remember the most eating applesauce (his choice!) at Chick Fil A and playing in their playground.



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Another Riding Shotgun Note

Changes in farm operations and, therefore, a veterinarian’s responsibility, have been huge in the last fifty years. Not only have the big operations made the little farms turn to planted pines, but the little ones who do appear are often run as hobby farms by either men or women. Some of those changes are reflected in my note from the 1980’s:

Probably the woman who worried the most about her cows during calving season (rest of the year, too, for that matter) was Sarah Williams. Sarah and her husband were from Florida and most of the time he was still in that sunny state while she was in Georgia coaxing calves to eat. The couple were in the process of retiring and starting a cattle ranch in Grady County.

Sarah was small with tiny hands. Her face was round, framed by dark curls and she was eternally cheerful, yet anxious and dubious. She had no long years of training in animal husbandry, just a desire to “learn the ropes.” She had a sweet whiny voice and, though she apologized for it, she called any time of day or night to ask Charles’ advice or ask him to come. It wasn’t unusual during calving season for her to call two or three times in the middle of the same night and wee hours of morning. She might call eight or ten times, in fact, about the same cow before the poor girl finally delivered. Sometimes Charles would strip to the waist in a cold biting wind in the dark of the night only to find the cow far from ready to deliver. Just as he got warm again and fell into a deep sleep the phone would ring again and Sarah would be sure that this time the cow was really ready.

Charles was extremely patient, I thought. He would shrug his shoulders after hanging up the phone and say, “Sarah again. She thinks maybe the cow’s ready. I’ll have to go.”

Charles explained Sarah’s anxiety by retelling one of his favorite stories. He arrived on the scene one night to find Sarah at the back end of a cow giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to an unborn calf. She was covered in mud and blood and her eyes were wide with fear. He’d explained to her that the calf wasn’t designed to start breathing until it was out of the womb. “You mean I did this for nothing?” she asked. “Pretty much,” he told her. To me he said, “Anybody that dedicated, you have to admire.”

Once, after a particularly trying week when Charles had been to Sarah’s farm after hours a dozen or so times, I heard a knock at our front door. Leaving luncheon preparations, I found Sarah on the front porch, an anxious smile dimpling her face. “I’ve brought you a peace offering for keeping your husband out so much lately,” she said as she handed me three pints of mayhaw jelly. It was really good jelly and I forced myself to remember her kindness, her naivete, her eagerness when next she woke us at 1:00 a.m. to say “I’ve been down to the barn and that cow I called about earlier is standing. Shouldn’t she be lying down?”

P.S. I don’t think Sarah’s husband had his heart in building a ranch operation in Georgia. They moved back to Florida!

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A Riding Shotgun Note

When I started this blog a couple months ago, I told you, my readers, I would include some stories about my veterinarian husband along the way. I haven’t yet done that. Thinking that I probably should start out with something pretty mild, I chose a short snippet from an old journal. This was written back in the days when our own children were about grown and no grandchildren had come along yet–when I could ride shotgun with my veterinarian and enjoy some of the interesting scenes he encountered every day.

June, 1992–Last night we’d planned to go to a play in Thomasville, but it didn’t work out that way. Charles called at 5:15, said he needed me to go to Emory Stone’s with him. I knew then we wouldn’t be able to get ready in time for the play. I knew it even more surely when he called back and said he had to deliver a calf in north end of the county before going to Mr. Stone’s. Later, as we ate sandwiches on our way to Emory’s he filled me in on what had happened with the cow.

He had to tranquilize the cow in sudan grass as high as his own head, wait for her to “go down,” find her in the tall grass, figure out how to tie her up, cut one leg off the dead calf, and reposition it, then push, strain and jack it out. All this with only the one man there to help him. I understood why the smells emanating from his coveralls demanded open windows even on a sultry, hot night.

Driving into Emory Stone’s is always a pleasure. A good hard road ambles through woods and meadows, then suddenly turns steeply down into even darker woods. It’s a little bit like north Georgia to me, the curves and the dips. As we meandered up and down and around the lily-studded pond we looked for a deer to be grazing in one of the little open patches or under the protection of willows and scrub oak. We never saw one when I was along, not a deer or an alligator, nor a coyote, though all were seen by Emory and sometimes by Charles at other times. Once, Charles told me, a coyote had gotten caught in the fence and was found by Emory’s son well after it had died. Poor thing!

On the far side of the pond and up a hill where wild magnolia bloomed we came upon a herd of Hereford cattle watching us curiously. True to his word, Emory had left the calf requiring attention in a corral at the foot of a grassy knoll. It took only a few minutes for Charles to maneuver the calf into Emory’s cattle chute. I was the “tail breaker,” meaning I held the tail straight over the 500-pound calf’s back while Charles examined, performed surgery, and sprayed the affected part to repel flies and gnats. The calf only complained mildly once or twice.

It was almost dark as we back-tracked across the dam and past perfect spots for deer to graze, although they weren’t. Pink drifts of sunset clouds were reflected in the water. Going through the low area with woods on either side we plunged into night darkness, then as we came out in the broad meadow again, it was light enough to see grasses blowing in an evening breeze, to see the waning sunset pink wash the sides of pine trunks in the distance.

Katydids in the trees, and crickets in the grass sounded off in waves rising and falling. I thought about the play we’d missed. It couldn’t have been as good as all this.


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