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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 Vet’s Wife’s Diary–Riding Shotgun

After being married to a veterinarian for over fifty years, I naturally have loads of memories, pictures in my mind, like the following. My veterinarian is a much better storyteller than I am, but I love to write his stories down, even if only in my diary. Here are three from the year 1992.

August 3, 1992

One of our fairly new clients had a sickly pig recently which, the farmer said, should be culled, but whom, his wife said, must be cared for. (Shades of Charlotte’s Web!) One Saturday, a day off for Charles, we were deep into painting our kitchen when this lady appeared at our back door wanting Charles to tell her what to do for the little critter. They went out to his truck where he gave the little pig several shots, cautioning her not to be too optimistic. “But,” he said, “amazing things can happen.”

She wanted to pay him. He insisted not. Coming back in to take up his brush he told me, “She couldn’t afford to pay, the pig is not worth the cost, and if I can’t do some things just because they need doing, I’m not worth my pay the rest of the time.”

A few weeks later that lady called and asked if we liked fish. She gave us a mess of fresh water bass fillets explaining she wanted to do something nice for Dr. Graham’s treating her pig. I cautiously asked how the pig was. She became very enthusiastic. “Well, you know he’s deaf, but he’s been eating and growing since Dr. Graham treated him. Like Dr. Graham told me to, I’ve been spoon feeding him, and now he’s trained just like a baby. He’s really a character!”


A typical scene, a healthy hog, not the little sickly pig!

November 4, 1992

Charles is blessed with such a huge amount of cheerfulness that in the worst circumstances there’s usually some of it left in his well. He’s sort of like an airfilled balloon in a tub of water. There’s just no way you can keep him down. But the other night I found him morose and very subdued. He’d lost a patient, he told me. It was a cow on whom he’d done a caesarian. The operation was successful, though the calf had been dead for hours. He was almost through closing the wound when the cow suddenly drew a big shuddering breath and died. Years ago this would have been so common he would have been sad, but not surprised. But now procedures and supplies are so vastly improved, he expects to win more of these battles. This one really got him down. For one thing, he was physically exhausted which, of course, affects one’s mental attitude. Being disappointed as well, he was not interested in much conversation the whole evening and announced he was going to bed around 9:30.  But the next morning he was whistling again.

November 9, 1992

I never grow tired of hearing Charles explain firmly and kindly the intricacies, causes, effects, possibilities of injuries, diseases and conditions. For instance, yesterday (Sunday afternoon) a young woman named Rebecca brought in her 11 year-old poodle who’d had two seizures in quick succession. Rebecca was swollen-eyed and still crying, blurting out, “I don’t want her to be in pain. I’ll do what I have to do.” She implied she was afraid she should euthanize her dog.

Charles took the dog’s temperature. Normal. He questioned her about other seizures. Very few. He asked her about the circumstances surrounding these recent ones. There was company at her house, otherwise all was as usual. How severe were the seizures. Very bad. The dog virtually lost all consciousness, eyes glazed over.

Finally, as he rubbed the little dog’s back and looked her again in the eyes which now were wide open and eager, Charles said, “Just because she’s had a few seizures is no reason to put her down. You may have to do that one day if you think it’s best for her, but I can’t recommend it now. She’s not in a lot of pain, just bewilderment at times. When she has a seizure, leave her in safe surroundings and ignore her. Let her be quiet awhile. I don’t even recommend medication unless seizures are pretty frequent and regular. Medication partially sedates one most of the time. I’ll give her a tranquilizing shot now just to calm her and then I recommend you just watch her. You know, we can’t guarantee how any of us will die and whether we may be frightened and alone sometime. But let’s live fully while we can.”

Rebecca smiled through her tears as she hugged her “baby.” “Thanks, Doc, thanks so much!”

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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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Springtime Treasures

Someone told me she was collecting waterfalls. She meant that she and her husband hunt for accessible waterfalls, she takes pictures, and then can recall each trickling or thundering one of them. I was intrigued. Now there’s a collection that would be such fun to build and wouldn’t have to be dusted. The same could be said for a collection of springtime treasures, even without the pictures. See if some of mine are in your collection.

  • A hillside covered with daffodils…Was it Robert Loveman who wrote “It’s not raining rain to me, it’s raining daffodils”?
  • A Japanese magnolia in full vibrant bloom, its pink blossoms of various shades the shape of tulips. (Of course our wonderful corner tree is in full leaf now but a few weeks ago it was a glorious sight and many neighbors mentioned how it cheered them on their way.)
  • Azaleas of pink, red, fuchsia and white blooming in stages so we enjoyed them for months. They were so beautiful, it made me want to do something!
  • Purple wisteria looking like bunches of Caleb’s grapes high in a pine tree letting us know we haven’t gotten rid of all the vines yet.
  • A bluebird reveling in a merry splash of fresh cool water in the bird bath.
  • A mother hen followed by fluffy yellow cheeping biddies. I’m remembering the spring when my two kids were little and talked me into getting them biddies at the feed store. Thunder and Lightning, they named them!
  • A mulberry tree alive with birds and squirrels nibbling on new leaves and berry buds.
  • A little child offering a fist full of iris blossoms, the ones which you’d finally coaxed into blooming.
  • A wide field with rows and rows of tiny corn blades barely showing against the Georgia red soil.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal literally sharing a worm right before my eyes (now as I write this).
  • A hummingbird finding our feeders and whirring off to tell his neighbor.
  • White puffy clouds piled high in a perfect blue sky with sunlight casting shadows so the clouds look to have valleys and caves and mountain slopes.
  • Strawberries and tomatoes and crookneck squash displayed in abundance at the market.
  • My Mamma years ago happily planting her garden; the smell of disturbed tomato plants trying to put down roots; or the smell of tiny wild strawberries on our fingers after we’d picked enough for a shortcake.
  • The sheer happiness of my two whittling brothers making whistles of sourwood when the springtime made the wood supple and right–and their vigorous competition to see whose whistle blew the loudest.
  • The first pot of fresh English peas on Mama Graham’s stove and Papa Graham in his overalls hoeing grass out of the peas and corn.
  • The scent of fresh mown grass and wild onions.
  • The sight of my veterinarian standing at the door covered literally head to toe with blood, mud, and whatever else a herd of cows causes–and grinning from ear to ear, ready for a shower and supper.
  • At Pinedale, my home place, bluets on Tulip Hill, flame azalea by a north window, the sound of tree frogs as we went to sleep, the huge crabapple at the east turned from a wintry black skeleton into a fantastic pink princess.
  • At Lane of Palms, our home for forty-two years, red azalea bright against pine and palm, blueberries budding, jonquils around a northern pecan tree, a dog named Sam, red Irish setter floppy ears flying as he chased a bumble bee, and day lilies putting on a show along the driveway.

Now back to the collector of waterfalls, I wish I could remember who that was so I could find out how many she found, where they are, and what their names are. Ever hear someone talking about a waterfall collection? I think they’d have to choose some of the ones we know: Toccoa, Ruby, Dry, Amicalola, Panther Creek….

The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. Song of Solomon 2:12

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“Mr. Tabbo”– A Riding Shotgun Entry


A veterinarian must, of course, care enough for animals to be able to hurt them in order to help them, must be dedicated to giving them the best of healing care. But he/she must also care deeply for the animals’ caretakers/owners/family. Charles has always been wholeheartedly dedicated both to helping the animals and their people. He never misses a chance to go way beyond requirements in order to help. He also greatly enjoys the many characters he gets to know. He’s always been good to tell me about the folks and animals he encounters. Sometimes his descriptions are sad and pitiful, others just downright funny. Of course Charles himself is part comedian and loves to pass along a good story.

One of the characters he enjoyed telling me about was “Mr. Tabbo,” (Talbot) Jones.

I knew Tabbo myself because he was the man who fixed our washing machine when it was vomiting and spewing all over the back porch. “Mr. Tabbo” had an unimpeachable reputation: he could fix anything.

With one glass eye, a dark shadow of beard across a tobacco-swollen cheek, he’d slide out of a pickup truck stocked “to the gills” with every imaginable current and ancient part. When he left with a cheerful thanks for a modest payment, there would be greasy black fingerprints on washing machine/dryer/refrigerator. But who minded cleaning up when the machinery now worked?

Tabbo had earned a pin for twenty-five years of perfect attendance at First Baptist Church Sunday school. He never stayed to church, but he was always in Sunday school, the class of old men named the Scrap Iron Class. He didn’t stay for church because there was always someone, he was sure, who would be desperately needing some help with a warming deep freeze or a leaking refrigerator. “But,” he told me once, philosophizing on my back porch, “I tell ’em ain’t nothing so bad it can’t wait one hour for me to go to Sunday school. Take your husband now. Same way with him. He’s got to put ’em off sometimes so’s he can get to church. But I know Doc’ll come soon as he can. He ain’t gonna be unreasonable. That’s what I like about him, he’ll come soon’s he can, so I try to come soon, too.”

Tabbo’s truck was, as I said, packed up even to the top of the bed with what appeared thrown-in-at-random greasy and rusty parts. The back end of his truck nearly touched the pavement with its weight! But he could always locate the piece he wanted quicker by far than a salesperson in a bright shiny store. With a grin, he’d heft out a hose or gasket and say, “Just happen to have this here took off an old machine. It’ll get you going and probably outlast your machine.”

If  Tabbo’s truck was a legend, his barn was even better (worse?). When I rode there with Charles we turned in at a washed-out old painted sign which said “Jones Dairy.” (This is not to be confused with the dairy farm of Gene and Esther Jones near Whigham.)

“This is a dairy?” I asked and Charles chuckled. “Not anymore. Tabbo raises beef now.”

Charles had been telling me about the barn whose roof was supported by its contents, but it took seeing it to believe it. Manure had built up so high you had to walk up a slope to get in the center aisle. Better duck or you’d knock your head in the rafters. If you looked to either side you’d see stalls stuffed with more parts like those in Tabbo’s truck, stuffed in tightly like dressing in a turkey, all the way to the roof. The roof was patchy, but it couldn’t leak, I guess, because there were dryer backs and metal discs, etc. etc. crammed against the holes.

Tabbo was cheerfully negative as usual when he greeted us on one particular cow call. “World’s going crazy,” he grumbled. “Ain’t nothing like it used to be. Take this darn cow, fer instance. When I were a young sprout we never called a vet to the cows.”

“But you lost some too, didn’t you?” asked Charles giving the cow a friendly whack on her rump before stabbing her with a shot.

“Not as I remember. Maybe one or two. Not that many. Now, one looks a little pekid, we call the doc.”

“Yeah, times change. New washing machine and new cows.” Charles grinned.

It was an event when Tabbo bought a new truck. For a while it was neat, but I was nervous when I called for help, afraid he wouldn’t find what he needed. The messier his truck became, the less likelihood Tabbo would say he’d have to run home and search his barn, or worse, actually have to go buy a part.

Tabbo had two sisters, RaeNell and Angelea. Very shy ladies, they loved their many cats, at least fifteen at one time. They asked for a house call each year for vaccinating their cats for rabies. The cats were in stacked crates when Charles arrived. They’d been gathered, some of them hissing and scratching, from all around the house and barn.

Tabbo and his sisters eventually moved to a nice assisted living home named Magnolia Place where we visited them numerous times, particularly RaeNell who is still there. She told me recently that she went on a high school graduation trip to New York in about 1939. Her mother sold a cow so she could go, and Tabbo did her chores for her while she was gone.

RaeNell and Tabbo enjoyed telling Charles and me about when they had lived in the old log house in Cairo which was our home for forty-two years. RaeNell was born there in 1924 and has a clear memory of the kitchen being “out back,” then finally moved to connect with the long dog-trot hallway. Tabbo remembered standing at a northern window in November of 1918 listening to the courthouse bell ringing in celebration of the end of World War I. “After that,” he said, “we moved to a dairy farm that was where the high school is now. Finally we moved out on the Meigs highway where you know us.”

Charles has a favorite quote: “Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Judging by that, he hasn’t worked very many days!


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To Neuter a Rooster

The question was how do you neuter a rooster. Ronnie and Diane thought they were getting hens but they ended up with three roosters instead. Reminds me of the Dovers. A neighbor gave them five baby chicks, supposedly one rooster, four hens. Oops! Got it turned around. One hen and four roosters.

Identifying sexes of baby chicks and rabbits is difficult if one isn’t an expert in the field. Contrary to common thought, a mixed practice veterinarian, for instance, should not be expected to be an expert on identifying gender in those tiny critters. Some friends asked Charles, my veterinarian husband, to sex some bunnies years ago. He blithely complied, though as I remember, he did warn them he didn’t have a good track record in that department. Well, when it turned out that his male was having babies and his female was a lively buck, that family ribbed their vet mercilessly and still remind him of his mistake. Always with a great laugh, of course!

He is very good at laughing at his own goofs. His good humor helps him never to be irritated by the strange requests and questions that come his way when folks realize he’s a vet, and he always tries to help, sometimes by simply referring someone to an expert, whether dog trainer, bird rescuer, or equine bone specialist. He may not be “tuned in” to the tiny fluffs but he loves the people who, in his view, are his most important responsibility.

Wherever we are, whether attending a Chamber of Commerce dinner, fellowship time at church, a restaurant, flying to Hawaii, or waiting in a visitation line at a funeral, Charles graciously responds to the most earnestly posed questions ever asked. Subjects range from how long a cat will be in heat (my face used to grow hot as he launched into that answer with folks suddenly turning to listen, but I guess I’ve gotten used to it after fifty years!); to how to control a dog with storm phobia; to how to diminish the population of a pasture full of donkeys, or whether or not an 18-year-old cat could survive surgery.

So here’s this question by phone of how to neuter a rooster. Actually, the caller was his brother so he could goof around with him more than most.

“There’s all those feathers,” Charles said. “How do you ever figure out where everything is? Especially when there’s no doubt where his claws and wicked beak are.”

Ronnie must have declared that his rooster was very tame, an innocent pet–except for his recent disturbances with another rooster.

I heard Charles laugh in pure delight. “Sure he is! Just try tying him up and see what a sweet cuddly he is. And watch out for your eyes!”

After considering a few impossible alternatives for neutering a rooster, Charles offered his solution to the problem. “Instead of all that torture for the poor rooster, why don’t you just finish him off kindly and make chicken and dumplings?”

I can imagine Diane in the background saying, “No, no, no!”

As it was, they pulled up stakes and moved to Michigan. I didn’t ever hear what happened to the rooster.

But–speaking of roosters–there’s one rooster Charles and I will never forget and he was not a patient or the subject of any problem.

We had been vacationing several days on the beautiful garden isle, Hawaii’s Kauai, and it was time to fly back to Honolulu. We had enjoyed a helicopter ride viewing waterfalls crashing and snaking into super green valleys, we’d hiked on a lonely beach, and eaten delicious fresh fruit at roadside stands. And we’d been fascinated everywhere we went by many free range chickens along the roads, grazing on motel grounds, pecking around in every little park. The story was that once a huge storm hit Kauai and scattered chickens to the four winds. Since then it’s against the law to kill a fowl.

We’d located a church near the airport where we could worship our Lord before we flew that Sunday. The pastor that day spoke at length about the apostle Peter. In relating Peter’s denial of Jesus, he described the courtyard scene. Just as he spoke of the crowing of the rooster, a very lively rooster crowed outside an open window–right on cue! We grinned at each other, then looked around to see how others of this very diverse congregation reacted. No one showed the least sign of having heard that rooster, even the many children. Apparently, they were so used to hearing roosters, that single clear crow at just the right moment meant nothing to them. But it was a memorable sound effect for us!

As to the Dovers and their four roosters, I believe those feathered friends are going to live as long as they let each other. No chicken and dumplings there!


Those roosters start their day about 4:00 a.m. We’ve had the privilege of visiting the Dovers on their North Georgia farm and there’s never any need for an alarm. When those fellows tune up, they crow on different notes, not at the same time like a barber shop quartet, but one after another like trumpets in a symphony orchestra, except perhaps more competitive than an orchestra would allow. At right is a picture I snapped of three of the lordly roosters admiring their sweet little hen!

And my veterinarian is still answering questions, very valid ones like what is the best remedy for pets pestered by fleas, and the funny ones like how to stop a dog from chasing squirrels or how often a rabbit needs a bath. Or…if you do neuter a rooster, will he stop crowing?

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Five Camels, a riding shotgun story

For the fourth time Charles launched into describing his day with five camels. I was all ears. Each time he had told about the adventure I learned something new. It wasn’t that he was embellishing the story, but because he’d had little time since the camel episode to have the luxury of telling the whole tale. This was Sunday afternoon after a very hectic week at Cairo Animal Hospital. Charles’ sister Revonda sat on the couch in rapt attention, a captive audience. That made two of us. After all, my only role the day this happened was to learn about noon that Charles was on his way to see camels in Tallahassee and wouldn’t be in for lunch.

Charles said he was returning from a call in Thomas County when he was notified by Emily at the office that he needed to return a call to someone at FAMU in Tallahassee. Turned out the man at the university was connected to a circus setting up to perform that afternoon. The request was for Charles to come take blood samples for brucellosis tests on five camels who would be traveling across the Alabama line the next day. He said he groaned and asked if they couldn’t find someone in Tallahassee to do the tests but the answer was no. He had treated two or three camels before and knew they were not angels to work with. And his day was already full with afternoon appointments packed in every hour. But the man sounded pretty desperate and very persuasive. Calling the lab in Tifton Ga, as he drove, Charles was told he would have to have the samples there by 5:00 that afternoon in order for them to run them in time.

He rushed to Tallahassee, a 45-minute drive, nosed around FAMU until he finally found the right entrance to the multi-purpose building he’d been directed to. There, outside that building in a semi he met his first camel patient of the day. The semi barely held the camel with little room for him and the handler to maneuver. He jovially began his procedure, asking the handler if a camel is more like a cow or like a horse. Should he put a twitch on its nose like a horse, or tie its head to its back legs like a cow. The handler didn’t know, didn’t really think either of those methods would work, said he hadn’t done much camel handling. “Makes two of us,” Charles told him. The camel had begun to scream, holler, howl so loudly it was hard to hear anything else, especially in the confines of that semi. They decided to take him outside. The handler then tried ‘cushing’ the camel, meaning telling him to sit down. That was one way the camel was obedient. He ‘cushed.’ But he didn’t hush.

Charles went to his truck and got a twitch. “We’re going to treat him like a horse this next try,” he told the handler.” But the twitch landed promptly on the pavement fifteen feet away. The camel seemed to be laughing at them.

“The hair on that joker was two inches thick and his hide like an alligator’s,” Charles said. “Every time I moved a hand anywhere near his long neck, his big old head whipped this way and that, his tongue pouring out of his mouth like so much liver, his three-inch yellow teeth bared–and he howled worse than a whole farrowing house of pigs.” Charles gesticulated dramatically as he described the camel, and made an atrocious sound something like a hyena mixed with a bull. “The only things small about him were his ears.”

“Took me thirty minutes to finally get what I hoped was enough blood out of that one animal,” he said. “I looked at my watch. Four more to go and it was already 2:00. It would take a full two hours for anyone to get to Tifton lab.”

One camel was fairly docile, but three were almost as difficult as that first one. Those “ships of the desert” were not happy about being tested for brucellosis. “At least I got a good look at those interesting critters,” said Charles. All five of the camels were one-hump ones. He said they had what appeared to be huge pads on their knees, in the middle of their chests, and on their elbows. “Because they need them for the funny way they lie, ” he explained. “When you see their movements and abilities, you just know more than ever before, that God really does have a sense of humor.”

But what, I wondered, did they do in the circus? Did someone ride them, maybe a clown? Charles didn’t know. He said with something like disgust that there was no time or opportunity to learn what they did because he had to hurry to get the job done–and they were so loud!

It took an hour and a half to test them all, fill out the test charts including microchip numbers, and start the courier on his way to Tifton. That was about 3:00. Charles called at 5:00 to see if the courier had made it, but the lab technician who had promised him she’d stay and do the tests “just for you, Dr. Graham,” reported the man had not arrived. The next morning at 8:00, however, he was there waiting on her and she did send him on his way satisfied.

Was it P.T.Barnum who said “The show must go on”?





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Riding Shotgun–Some of Our Pets

Floofy was William’s first dog. Charles had stoutly insisted William should wait to have a dog until he was five years old and able to take care of it himself. He’d had his birthday several months ago. Finally, one magical day Charles took him to the animal hospital and introduced him to a fully grown smooth-haired brown, black and white beagle. When they brought the dog home and William said her name was Floofy I started to say, “Oh, no, she’s not a floofy. She has such short hair.” But Charles gave me a look that said leave the boy alone. Later he told me he’d already argued with William but “Floofy” was definitely the name he’d chosen.

So Floofy it was. She was a well-mannered dog, did not jump on us, barked when company came but stopped politely when everyone was settled, and ate happily everything we set before her. That is, until Charles said she was unhealthily fat from all the leftovers and we’d have to put her on a diet. “How would it look,” he posed, “if I’m trying as a good veterinarian to get my clients to feed their dogs healthy meals while my own dog is rolling in butter-fat?” That’s when Floofy started visiting down the street and would come home grinning around a crisp chicken leg or a wonderful meaty ham bone. William and I visited that neighbor and asked her not to feed Floofy since she was on a diet. The neighbor agreed but paused not one day in her feeding program. Floofy’s requests obviously spoke louder than our request because the fattening leftovers kept coming.

William tried to teach Floofy how to fetch but she was pretty lazy (that goes along with too much fat!) and the main game they enjoyed together was simply rolling over and over on the grass, dog and boy barking and giggling.

Floofy gave William a fantastic late Christmas present about 1975. On New Year’s morning we woke to the sound of puppies squealing–under our house! We’d been in our one-hundred-year-plus house only a couple of years and hadn’t underpinned it yet. Thank goodness we hadn’t put in air conditioning ducting yet either. The house is only inches above the ground so when Charles crawled in to retrieve the puppies, he had to maneuver in many places with his face sideways on the dirt. William shouted with glee as Charles brought the wiggling little blind puppies out, one at a time, eleven fat puppies!

I took a picture of William with that tumbling mass of puppies when they were about six weeks old. He was seven years old and hating to give any puppies away. But we had to and we did. Feeling we had saturated our field of folks wanting puppies, Charles then took Floofy to the office for an operation so she wouldn’t have any more. William seemed to understand his dad’s explanation and didn’t object, just went along to watch.

Much later, when Floofy died, William was eight or nine and Julie was part of our family. The two of them watched as Charles buried Floofy out near the pasture fence while I sobbed. William asked if a tree would grow up out of Floofy’s stomach. Charles said no, because he didn’t want a tree there so he’d be sure to pull it up if it started growing. I left the scene to shed my tears elsewhere.

After Floofy we had Lucky, an Australian cow dog, who tried to punish us all for not being in line, I guess. She was a terrible jumper, meaning she jumped terribly high and often. I could never get to church without having railroads up my stockings during Lucky’s days. Charles found a farmer who wanted her and none of us cried when she left.

Julie had acquired by then, through the generosity of Linda Wells, a cat named Misty,a beautiful Persian cross with fluffy gray fur. She had a sweet disposition which was very good to go along with a little girl’s whims at dressing her up and toting her everywhere. My only problem with Misty was that she was extremely good at catching anything, including our songbirds. I wanted to put a bell on her neck as we had always done in my family, to warn the birds to stay away. But Charles absolutely refused. That would be more cruel to the cat whose instinct it is to hunt than it would be for the birds to be snatched literally from the air. I still don’t agree with him. But Misty didn’t wear a bell. I can see her right now in my mind sitting on a well cover behind our house calmly bathing herself while a mockingbird bomb-dived her, pecking her back. An hour later the mockingbird would be a heap of feathers on the same well cover.

Misty got ornery as she became elderly. One day she slashed at Julie instead of playing with her. Or was that William? When Charles saw the blood on his child’s arm he grabbed Misty up and threw her bodily into a bed of lilies. That same evening I found Charles asleep over his newspaper with Misty curled in his lap looking at me with round eyes that said, “He’s mine, you know. Lay off.”

Misty went with Charles to the office one day for her annual shots and a check up. Her fur looked all ruffled, a sign she’d probably eaten a bad lizard or something. On his way home Charles stopped to leave some medicine at a client’s house, and Misty leaped out. We never could find her, though we looked diligently for weeks.

The only way not to endure heartache over your pets is not to have pets. But what a vacancy would be in our lives with no pets to make us smile–and laugh out loud–and cry.


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A Cat Story

            I’m including in my book called “Riding Shotgun” a chapter about our own pets. Everyone is interested in what kind of animals their veterinarian goes home to. Here’s one segment of that chapter I’d like to share with you.

            Fussy was our first pet to share, a cat Charles acquired during a working summer in Atlanta. After that summer I kept her at my home in Clarkesville until we got married that December. Then she moved into our tiny Athens apartment with us where she provided worlds of entertainment. It might have been a small apartment but she figured out how to run and leap and attack from under the bed and hide in the closet and generally to make of it a “deep, dark forest” or a New York borough, certainly a place of adventure. When Charles was buried in his books on histology, anatomy, poisonous plants and parasitology, Fussy kept me company purring in my lap, swatting at my knitting needles, and chasing my pencil when I dropped it.

            When we moved to our first house (a rented one) in Cairo in 1968, Fussy was there for me. Charles was gone for long, long hours and Fussy, along with the wonderful little person growing inside of me, kept me quite occupied. Even before William was born, neighbors would prophesy that Fussy was going to be a handful when the baby came. “You’ve spoiled her rotten,” they’d say. “She’ll smother that baby when your back is turned.”

            The house we lived in had inherited a dog, a collie named Laddie who had belonged to former renters. The Wards across the street fed him. Mary said she told the family she would feed Laddie. But Laddie didn’t move to her house. He stayed on our open carport. Whenever I let Fussy out, she’d investigate Laddie and they were good to each other. But I didn’t let her out much. She had free range in the house, perching in window sills to watch the birds, hiding under beds when she didn’t want to be found, lying on soft pillows and, often, in my diminishing lap, or even on top of my bulge.

            When William was born, Fussy was very curious. She’d sniff the baby, edge carefully around him. I watched her very closely. I loved my cat. But I loved my baby more and I wouldn’t let anything happen to him. One day when he was two or three months old and beginning to move a lot, I noticed Fussy was ever more interested. She sat by his infant seat when I set it on the floor watching his every movement. I realized one day that I could not afford to turn my back on the two of them for fear she would attack a little tender hand or rake one paw down a sweet little cheek.

            “Okay, Fussy, today you are going to stay outside until 5:00,” I told my gray striped cat the next morning. “It won’t be so bad. You need to learn to enjoy the outside as well as the inside.”

            She howled from one window to the next all around the house for hours. I steeled myself to wait one more hour before letting her in. It would be best for her and for me and for Baby William. I slid a pie into the oven and opened the door calling jubilantly, “Fussy! It’s time! Come here, come on in.” But there was no Fussy. When had I last heard her crying at the window? Charles and I both hunted for her that night, and the next day I called and called her all around the neighborhood. Then Dot Crozier, a neighbor, heard me calling her and stopped by looking stricken. “Brenda, your cat’s missing? I—I think I saw her out on Highway 84 yesterday—she’d been run over. In fact, I moved her off the highway. So she wouldn’t get—you know, mutilated. But I didn’t recognize her at the time. I didn’t realize it was your cat. I thought your cat was always indoors. Oh, I’m so sorry!”

            She was right. I went where Dot directed me and there was my cat, my poor stiff cat. I wrapped her in a towel and hauled her home where Charles tenderly buried her under a pine tree. I could not stop sobbing for a week. Why had I put her out so long? Why hadn’t I figured out a better way to handle the situation? Nothing Charles could say entirely took away the sting of guilt and sorrow. In a way, I’ve never gotten over losing dear Fussy, though there have been many more losses that were also very sad. Aside from mourning the demise of many of our own pets, I’ve mourned both on the phone and in person, with bereft pet owners. I can honestly and fervently tell them I identify with their grief.

              The best picture I have of Fussy is one I took when we were packing to go away for the weekend and she got in the suitcase and just sat there staring calmly and steadfastly at me with those brilliant yellow eyes of hers.




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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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