The pool table
A full-sized pool table occupies a major portion of our basement. It’s been years since I’ve shot a game, but I’ll never part with that pool table.
I was 21 the autumn when I launched my farming career by renting a rundown little dairy. Its largest field had grown a crop of corn. A friend of a friend asked if I would lease out the corn stalks for his Hereford cows to graze.
My Holsteins wouldn’t know what to do with corn stalks; they would probably just stare bovinely at the stuff until they starved. Beef cows, on the other hand, would instinctively view the crop residue as an all-you-can eat buffet.
Cattle Guy and I made a handshake agreement regarding what he would pay to run his cows on my corn stalks. He tendered a token down payment and deposited his cows in my field.
The Herefords eagerly set upon the corn stalks. I made sure that their water tank was always full even though that wasn’t part of our deal. I didn’t want any critter on my farm to be deprived.
At the beginning, Cattle Guy checked on his Herefords regularly. Once he perceived that the water tank was magically refilling itself, he began to come over less and less often. When he did, he didn’t even get out of his pickup. A slow roll past his animals seemed to qualify as “checking on the cows.”
Within six weeks the Herefords had chewed the corn stalks down to nubs. They began to hang around by my farmstead, peering longingly over the fence at my pampered Holsteins who were given generous daily allotments of alfalfa, corn silage and grain.
I was raised as a dairy guy and was thus taught to ensure that my charges were always well-fed. It bothered me to see those beef cows scrounging around for scraps, so I called Cattle Guy and told him that his animals appeared to be hungry. He came over and put out some salt blocks.
Winter arrived and the fields became covered with snow, yet the Herefords remained. I phoned Cattle Guy and told him that snow has negative calories and that I thought his cows looked as thin as supermodels. He brought over a portable feeder filled with round bales of hay. The Herefords attacked it like a flock of vultures feasting on a deceased hippo.
In the meantime, I kept their water tank full and chopped a hole in the ice every day. Cattle Guy visited even less often.
I finally called him and said that it was long past time for his cows to go. He came to my farm and we corralled his Herefords and loaded them into trailers. As Cattle Guy was leaving, I mentioned our agreement. I said that I was a reasonable man and recognized that he’d supplemented the corn stalks with hay. I named a figure that was appropriate for a month’s worth of grazing.
Cattle Guy looked me straight in the eye and spat out a two-word profanity. With no further ado, he stabbed his pickup into gear and roared off.
I was stunned. Not so much by the expletive, but more by the fact that he’d said it to me right there at my home. What gave him the right?
My hackles stood on end. I consulted an attorney and was advised to file a claim in small claims court. I hated to do that to a fellow farmer, but those two words kept echoing through my brain.
The day before our court date, Cattle Guy came to my farm. He rolled down his pickup window and asked what it would take to make this all go away. I replied that I was a reasonable man and named a figure that was substantially less than the claim.
Cattle Guy muttered a curse, wrote me a check and drove away.
I was stunned. I had won!
What to do with this unexpected windfall? There were any number of things I could buy for my household. I could get couch that didn’t look like it was procured at a landfill or a refrigerator that wasn’t manufactured during the Eisenhower Administration.
Being a single young guy, I did the sensible thing. I bought a pool table.
Innumerable hours of entertainment were wrung from that pool table. But it served its best and highest purpose when it made a favorable impression upon a very important person who visited my farm one day.
“Wow!” said the young lady who would eventually become my wife, “You have a pool table!”
And that’s why I’ll never part with our pool table.