Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Sunday, October 28, 2018


This sequel to The Farm in Pine Village is also dedicated to my dear friend Eleanor Yeager Stewart, who helped me realize that the worlds of our childhood were never somewhere else but always right within us. Here is the rest of my childhood world—almost exactly the way it was!

The stars were aligning in a new configuration. Robert’s classmate Dennis had crowded among the 30,000 screaming fans in the Coliseum at the Indiana State Fair on Thursday the 3rd of September to hear the Beatles live on stage. Robert was not envious because the thought that his parents would have allowed him—under any circumstances—to attend a concert by long-haired musicians from England was so remote that he could not for a moment entertain such a wild notion. Joe and Ida had (however) permitted him to buy his first 45 RPM records, one of which featured “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on one side and “I Saw Her Standing There” on the flip side. Robert played the record over and over on his parents’ Victrola.

Leaving behind the steadiness of the unflappable Mrs. Winegardner’s classroom, Robert entered the topsy-turvy world of the mercurial Mrs. Leighty’s fifth grade. Mrs. Leighty was nothing if not passionate. Shorter than Mrs. Hail, Mrs. Arvin, Mrs. Moyers, and even Mrs. Winegardner, Mrs. Leighty had light hair that curled like comets away from her forehead and down the back of her head. Her eyes, from which tears could so easily spring, peered like suns behind fleeting clouds. Even more than Mrs. Moyers, Mrs. Leighty could not bear to paddle a student. She would catch a culprit disturbing the decorum of her class and have him stand beside his desk. Reaching her hands up to his shoulders, she would begin to cry. “Why do you make me discipline you?” she would ask with a meek, melancholy voice. Looking down at his feet and blushing from embarrassment, the student would mumble, “I don’t know.” “If you do that again,” Mrs. Leighty would say, tears streaming as her eyes roamed, searching his face, “I will have to punish you. Will you promise me that you will never do that again?” Still staring at his feet, he would say—almost inaudibly—“I promise.” “That’s good,” Mrs. Leighty would say, removing her hands from his shoulders, taking out a hanky, and wiping her eyes. “You may be seated.” Her method would work every time. What student could be so callous as not to be ashamed to have made such a sweet lady cry?

Robert absorbed Mrs. Leighty’s enthusiasm for learning. Like her, he valued education so highly that he deplored distractions.

One day after school, Robert came running down the driveway, through the white-board gate, through the side porch, and into the kitchen.

“We get to make the floats!” he exclaimed to his mother, Ida.

“Sit down here and tell me which states you have,” Ida said, while she stuffed “porcupines,” which were green peppers—she called them “mangoes”—filled with hamburger and other ingredients.

“I picked Wisconsin!” Robert said, swinging his knee up on a bent-wood chair and leaning his elbows on the table.

“You chose Wisconsin,” Ida corrected him. “You can pick a flower, but you can’t pick a state. Wisconsin is a good choice. I took summer courses at the University of Wisconsin after I earned my undergraduate degree at the Indiana State Teachers College. What’s your second state?”

“We don’t have a second state,” Robert said, resting his chin in the palm of his right hand and swinging his free leg. “Mrs. Leighty said our class is so big that each person can have only one state.”

“Charles had two states when he was in Mrs. Leighty’s class,” Ida said, spooning hamburger mixture into yet another hollowed-out mango.

“His class was only half as large as mine,” Robert said.

“Only half as numerous,” Ida corrected him again. “When your brother was in Mrs. Leighty’s class, the students were just as tall or as big as the students in your class.”

Attrition and the possibility of flunking out had done nothing to reduce the numbers in Robert’s class, which had presented Mrs. Hail, Mrs. Arvin, Mrs. Moyers, Mrs. Winegardner, and now Mrs. Leighty with the head-scratching problem of what to do with a room filled with too many students.

“You’ll be needing a shoebox,” Robert’s mother continued, pouring ketchup over the stuffed mangoes. “I think I have one. After supper, we’ll read about Wisconsin in the encyclopedia, and you can decide which industries to put on your float.”

“We have a long time before the floats are due,” Robert said.

“And there’s no time like the present to get started,” Ida said in her cautionary voice. “The early bird—”

“—catches the worm!” Robert shouted.

Ida’s face sank in a fake frown. “I ought to box your ears, interrupting your mother like that,” she said, holding up a fist, but bursting into a big smile.

“Do the fifty boxes parade around the room?” Ida asked, returning to the task of making supper.

“Mrs. Leighty said we line them up on tables and take turns talking about each one. I want my shoebox to look like a float in the Rose Bowl Parade.”

“You’ll be wanting bright colors then and maybe something that can move,” Ida commented.

After researching the State of Wisconsin on various occasions for the next few weeks, Robert narrowed down the choices of what he wanted to display on his shoebox miniature float for Mrs. Leighty’s class: the date when the thirtieth state was formed (May 29, 1848), a badger and a porcupine (animals not often seen in Indiana), a robin (the official bird of the state), a wood violet (the official flower), a sugar maple (the official tree), the Dells (rock formations cut by the Wisconsin River), the Port of Superior (loading ships with iron ore and coal), the Ringling Brothers Circus (Baraboo), the state’s eight thousand lakes, cranberries, and the dairy industry (especially cheese).

Robert’s mother provided supplies, including the shoebox, which she suggested he cover in eye-catching red foil to represent the University of Wisconsin. She taught him to fold the foil carefully into pleats to surround the bottom of the box.

“What can I do for the violet?” Robert asked, as he washed the Elmer’s glue from his sticky fingers.

“I have just the thing,” Ida said, disappearing into her closet and returning with a bunch of plastic violets protruding from a small white pedestal vase. Removing the violets revealed an air freshener within the vase.

Using his mother’s sharpest scissors, Robert carefully snipped purple violets, which he glued around the edge of the shoebox.

“What can I do for the Dells and the lake?” Robert asked.

“I have a round mirror that pops out of the compact case,” Ida replied. “You can attach it toward the front and let it be the lake. You can use a drop of Elmer’s to glue one of your plastic ducks to the mirror, and you can glue your plastic cow that has its head down so that it looks as if the cow is drinking from the water.”

“What about the Dells?” Robert shouted over his shoulder as he went to get his duck and his cow.

“You can cut the cliffs from corrugated cardboard stacked in layers, and they can go around the mirror. Why don’t you draw the badger and the porcupine on paper that you can glue along the sides of the float? You’re a good enough artist to draw those animals!” Ida said encouragingly.

“To have enough for both sides, I’ll draw the robin and the maple tree, too,” Robert said.

“Do you still have that sponge that was made to look like a wedge of cheese?” Ida asked.

“Yes!” Robert exclaimed happily. “I never put it in water, so it still looks like Swiss cheese.”

“We can put it on a skewer and stick it down through the cardboard cliffs,” Ida said. “That way, it can float above everything else and make a statement. Do you know what these are?”

Robert was setting his plastic cow and plastic duck on the table near the shoebox. He glanced over at his mother, who was holding a strand of red wooden beads in her hands.

“They’re beads,” Robert replied.

“Right now, they are, but, when we take them off the string, they’re cranberries.”

A huge smile lit up Robert’s face.

A yellow, blue, and red plastic freighter that had bobbed in the bathwater in the 1950s completed the float; when Robert flipped it over to see how best to glue it to the float later, he noticed the company name “Renwal” on the bottom.

“Instead of gluing it,” Ida suggested, “let’s tie a string around it. The string will go through a groove in the top of the box and will wrap around a spool hidden inside the box. Your father can use heavy wire to make a crank that sticks outside the box. When you turn the crank, the ship will move from one end of the box to the other.”

Timothy Q. Mouse, Dumbo the Elephant, and the Ringmaster (spelled as two words “Ring Master” on the lid) from Robert’s box of Disneykins represented the circus.

Robert devoted several evenings to the project of making drawings of fauna and flora and cutting cliffs from cardboard. He topped the cliffs with wooden pine trees from a toy collection he had outgrown.

All too soon, the day arrived when he was to take his float to school. To look upon the wonderful products of the creativity and the industry of his classmates confirmed Robert’s belief that he was a member of a great class. Mrs. Leighty was obviously pleased. She clapped her hands as each float took its place on the tables.

Before lunch, half of the students described their projects. Robert ran home for the noon meal and breathlessly told his mother how glorious the floats were and how he would have his turn to talk about Wisconsin after the lunch period.

Later that day, his ship cooperated when Robert cranked it forward, and he remembered everything he wanted to say about the thirtieth state. Throughout the two hours dedicated to the floats, Robert listened attentively to his classmates’ presentations about the various states, and he felt he learned a great deal in the process. The shoeboxes remained on display for a week, so that the other teachers would have an opportunity to view the students’ artistry. The experience was exhilarating and destined to be remembered for years to come.      

Saturday, October 20, 2018

40. The Surprise ... THE FARM IN PINE VILLAGE

Robert was fortunate to have been in Mrs. Winegardner’s class at that precise moment in history. Her measured viewpoint was exactly what was needed. Her class participated in her deliberate weighing of ideas in the scales of historical truth. Mrs. Winegardner was a gyroscope, keeping everything in balance.

Even with Mrs. Winegardner’s steadying influence, Robert well understood that the country had entered an epoch of upheaval. As Bob Dylan would sing that January, “ … the times they are a-changin’.”

It would remain to be seen whether the children of Robert’s generation could weather the storms that were yet to come. For a little while longer, the kids had to be kids.

When Robert had been in the third grade, the snows had been frequent and deep, but the winter of his fourth-grade year was unusually snowy.

… and cold! Whenever he took the first breath outdoors, Robert felt the linings of his nostrils crinkle as if they might freeze.

Robert had only recently recovered from his annual pre-Christmas flu. The roads were barely passable with drifting snow. The cold air rapidly drew the heat out of the multiple layers of winter clothing that Ida made the boys wear. Even so, she insisted that the family go for a ride.

Robert considered her perseverance remarkable in view of the weather. Robert’s father was all too ready to agree. What could have gotten into his parents?

All bundled up, Robert and Charles squeezed into the Chevrolet, which never felt warm for the entire trip to Attica. Robert wondered why Joe chose Attica, which was ten miles away, when he could have selected Oxford, which was only five miles away. A ride was a ride. On such a bitterly cold day, why go farther away when you could stay closer to home?

In Attica, Joe took roads that he did not typically follow. After a time, he pulled into an icy drive beside a farmhouse close to the town.

“Why are we stopping?” Charles asked, taking the words right out of Robert’s mouth.

“I reckon you’ll find out soon enough,” Joe said with that Bing Crosby twinkle in his eye.

Ida and Joe apparently knew where they were going. They circled the house and knocked on a side door, which a gray-haired man answered.

“I’ll be right out, folks,” he said. “Just need to put on my coat!” In a jiffy, he bounded down the steps of the side door and led the group to a white-painted outbuilding. The glow of red heat lamps lit the frost on the windows.

No sooner had Charles and Robert stepped inside the building than their eyes focused on a litter of black-and-white puppies! The boys ran up to the fenced enclosure that protected the puppies within the structure.

“We’ve already picked out one,” Ida told the boys.

“You mean we get to have one?” Charles asked.

“We’re a few days early, but he’s going to be one of your Christmas presents,” Joe said.

“Which one is ours?” Charles wanted to know.

The owner of the kennel pointed to one of the friendliest puppies. It was standing with its front paws against the wire and was yapping joyously.

“He’s yours,” the gentleman said. He turned to Joe, “And he’s had his shots and is ready to go.”

Without the boys’ knowledge, Ida had concealed in the trunk of the car a stout cardboard box with a blanket in the bottom. Joe brought it, and the wiggling puppy was placed inside. Ida closed the flaps. She carried the precious cargo as carefully as she could over the ice and snow and set the box in the center of the back seat. For once, Robert didn’t mind riding in back because he got to sit next to the box!

On the drive homeward, Charles occasionally lifted the flap a little, so that the boys could see their dog.

“Keep that flap closed,” Ida warned. “It’s too cold for a puppy to be exposed to the air, even in the car.” She glanced worriedly at Joe. “Do you think he’ll survive this cold trip?”

“Oh, sure!” Joe exclaimed. “Animals are tough—even puppies!”

“What kind of puppy is it?” Charles asked.

“It’s a male purebred smooth fox terrier,” Joe answered.

“A fox terrier,” Charles repeated.

As soon as the car pulled in beside the front gate, Ida lifted the box and practically ran with it into the house. She sat on the davenport before the Norge stove in the kitchen and pulled the puppy from the box. She held it in her arms to keep it warm.

“What should we name him?” Ida asked.

Robert looked at the big black spot on the puppy’s back and immediately said, “Spot!”—as if the name were obvious!

“That’s such a common name,” Charles said.

… but Ida intervened, saying, “Robert named him, and so that’s his name!”

After dinner that night, Ida was holding the puppy when it was time for the boys to go to bed.

When they awoke the next morning, they ran to see Spot. Ida was still holding the puppy. Joe had brought her a pillow and a blanket, and she had catnapped on the davenport with Spot in her arms. She had been reluctant to leave the puppy by himself, she had wanted to keep him warm, and she had decided to begin his doggy form of potty training right away.

Spot was a member of the family from that first night onward. On Christmas morning, he shredded wrapping paper, shaking it from side to side and growling. When the weather would permit, he romped with the boys in the yard. Charles and Robert helped him become accustomed to a harness and a leash—just in case he would succeed in penetrating the fence and would have to be chased down.

As Spot grew older and could spend more time outdoors, he proved that he was equal to the task of escaping and running downtown as fast as his legs could carry him. The boys would race after him on foot while Joe would jump in the car and drive after the puppy. Spot would look back and would seem to smile while he led everyone on such merry chases. Eventually, he would permit the boys to catch him, harness him, and lead him to the car—or Joe would simply hold open the car door and Spot would jump in!

When Spot first met Fuzz, now eight years old, the cat bristled to twice his normal volume while Spot, barking loudly, rocked back with his front legs almost flat on the ground. Fuzz slunk to one side before running off and flying through a gap between the boards of the fence. Spot could have caught him, but the dog didn’t even try. He was content to watch the cat make his escape.

He wanted to catch chickens, but the fence was too strong for him to burst through into the chicken yard.

Spot became a frequently photographed dog. Many a snapshot was wasted as he was faster than the shutter and was only a blur in the print that came back from Hinea’s Camera Shop in Lafayette. Other photographs captured him napping while draped over the arm of the davenport or posing with his paintbrush tail wagging beside the hollyhocks.

Spot was often the subject of Robert’s art, as well. Robert depicted Spot in a series of pastels, one of which Ida framed.

Spot was the greatest Christmas gift of Charles and Robert’s childhood.

One day, Joe was scraping the icing from the mixer bowl with a butter knife. In between mouthfuls of chocolate, Joe said, “Ida, I thought Spot would be my dog, but you’ve stolen his affections away from me. I now think that’s why you held him all night long the first night we had him.”

“Don’t keep scraping! You’ll scrape clear through the side of the bowl some day! Go ahead and give me the bowl,” Ida said, “so that I can wash it while I still have suds in the sink.”

Ida smiled as she submerged the bowl. “You may think he’s my dog, but I think he belongs to Charles and Robert.”

“Well, that’s a good thing,” Joe said, “because he’s theirs.” Joe pointed toward the davenport. Ida looked, and there sat Charles and Robert with Spot in between. All three were sound asleep.


Saturday, October 13, 2018


After the week of the fair, Buttercup returned to her meadow, where she reigned as queen for the rest of her long life.

Ida wanted to tell everyone the good news, but she quickly realized that practically everyone she wanted to tell had been in the coliseum and had watched Buttercup win the championship. Ida had to be content to bask in the warm glow of victory.

Just before school was to begin, Ida took Robert and Charles to the school cafeteria to buy their books. Robert always looked forward to the occasion, for he loved to walk up and down the tables to see the covers of the books for all the grades. The fragrance of the volumes resembled that of a cup of fine tea. Ida scrutinized the used copies to make sure they were the same editions as the new books, and she bought used whenever the books contained no marks, underlining, or notes. Quite often, she purchased new printings. On the way back across the road, Robert and Charles carried armloads of books.

Just at the end of August, the television carried news of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The cameras panned across a multitude of people—more people than Robert could imagine in one place at one time! Robert tried to understand what the newscasters—with their perfectly trained voices and equally perfect grammar—were saying, but, at key moments in their sentences, their vocabulary exceeded Robert’s and he lost their meaning. He had a penchant for words, so he kept trying, and, during commercials, he asked his mother what various terms meant.

Her early teenage years in the Methodist Children’s Home in Lebanon, Indiana, had given Ida a steadfast faith. She hoped that past maladies leading down to the present hour could be made well, but she feared that the illnesses afflicting the nation might not find cures.

In defining words, Ida attempted to conceal her vague sense of foreboding, but Robert discerned her worry about the future.

Robert entered Mrs. Winegardner’s fourth-grade class. Mrs. Winegardner was as steady as the Rock of Gibraltar. Her eyes fixed each student in place, and she held all students to the highest standard. She had one of those faces of artistic concentration like a Willa Cather or a Gene Stratton–Porter. Like Joe, Robert’s father and her classmate from long before, Mrs. Winegardner loved history. When she taught about Clay and Webster and Calhoun, she brought to life their powerful points of view. Little by little, she nudged the class toward an understanding of the long history of conflict that was the foreground for current events. Robert found the concept of inequality incomprehensible, yet his American history book reported a story the theme of which was inequality from the American Revolution forward.

The school year promised to be rewarding. Mr. Charles “Charlie” Coffman had been named the interim principal; the beloved teacher, 4-H leader, FFA sponsor, and organist at the county fair was admired by all the students.

In November, Ida wrote on the back of the wall calendar provided by Messner and Sons (Clothing and Shoes for the Entire Family, Phone Dudley 5-2041) of Oxford:

get gander
sell chickens
see egg man
finish cleaning
straighten drawers
Christmas presents
freeze turkeys
shell popcorn
rake leaves
cook pumpkins

At school that November afternoon, Mr. Coffman came to Mrs. Winegardner’s door. Robert looked up in astonishment. Mr. Coffman was crying!

He said, “I’m sorry to interrupt. I don’t know a good way to say this. President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas, Texas, and he has passed away. School will end early today. I’ve already called in the bus drivers.” With that, he put his handkerchief to his eyes, turned, and was gone.

Mrs. Winegardner, who was sitting at her desk, slowly closed her book. She was staring through the open doorway. She took a deep breath and faced her class.

“Well,” she said. “This is a difficult time. Please put away your books and wait quietly.”

Mrs. Winegardner stood and walked just outside her door, where she spoke softly with the other elementary teachers. Mrs. Leighty, the fifth-grade teacher, was crying. Buses began appearing in the parking lot outside the fourth-grade windows. Soon, everyone was sent home.

Now Ida knew what her ominous feelings had meant. She was witnessing the shattering of the age.

The television remained on throughout the waking hours that weekend. Ida did not feel like cooking Sunday dinner, so she suggested the family go to a restaurant in Boswell. Joe drove into town to invite Aunt Margaret, who put on her winter coat, gloves, and hat and accompanied Joe back home. When he parked by the front gate, Aunt Margaret walked into the house. The TV camera was showing the basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters where Lee Harvey Oswald was to be transferred to the county jail. Just then, a man in the crowd approached Oswald. A commotion ensued, deepening into pandemonium.

“I think somebody just shot Lee Harvey Oswald,” Aunt Margaret said. No one else said anything. It was stunning to be watching an event of such magnitude as it happened. The family stood in front of the television for several minutes, until Ida thought everyone had seen enough for the time being. She switched off the set. In the cold outdoors, Joe, Ida, Aunt Margaret, Charles, and Robert filed to the car for the short trip to the restaurant. 

School was cancelled for Monday so that everyone could watch the funeral on television. Images on the TV burned into Robert’s memory, the eternal flame one of the last.

It was exactly as has often been said: those that were alive then would remember for the rest of their lives what they had been doing when the news of President Kennedy’s assassination arrived.

The often expressed presumption that the nation had entered an exciting period of youthful vigor characterized by a relatively young President had vanished.

Nothing felt the same after that.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

38. The Champion ... THE FARM IN PINE VILLAGE

The first day of the 4-H fair week dawned, and Joe had already been busy, loading the new wooden box that held the brushes, halter, and products necessary to keep Buttercup looking beautiful. As soon as the sun peeked over the horizon, Ida and Robert were walking the rows and scrutinizing the vegetables to decide which ones to pick for the gardening display. With sunbeams lighting its yellow feathers, a meadowlark perched on a fence post and sang, “How are you today? How are you today?” in answer to the crowing of a rooster in the chicken yard. Then the meadowlark flapped its wings and flapped them again as it dipped and rose, dipped and rose, above the pasture.

Yawning, Charles came to help Joe as he led Buttercup up the chute into the pickup for the ride to Williamsport. She seemed eager to go. Having seen Francis the Talking Mule at the movie theater in Oxford and Mr. Ed on television, Joe and Charles had little difficulty imagining that Buttercup was saying, “Let’s get this show on the road! My fans await me!”

With Robert as her passenger, Ida drove the Chevrolet behind Joe’s GMC, where Charles was seated next to his father. When Joe passed the Mitchell farm, he kicked up dust on the berm as the pickup’s right tires ran just beyond the edge of the pavement. Joe was too busy looking for the Mitchells’ cow to watch the road. Russell, Roger, and Richard were loading a stylish Holstein heifer in their truck. Joe waved. Russell winked and waved back. Joe ran the tires back onto the asphalt.

When the truck and car passed Mrs. Arvin’s house on the left, Robert spotted his former teacher in her garden, and he yelled, “Hi ya, hi ya, hi ya, Mrs. Arvin!” He waved through the open window. Robert was so loud that Ida flinched, grabbed the steering wheel tightly, and pushed the throttle to the floor. The car lurched forward before Ida lifted her foot and brought the vehicle back to a normal speed. Mrs. Arvin straightened up and watched the Chevrolet as it went on down the road.

“Do you think she saw me?” Robert asked.

“Oh, she saw you alright, and she heard you, too,” Ida confirmed. When she told Joe about Robert’s outburst later, he laughed. The saying “Hi ya, hi ya, hi ya, Mrs. Arvin!” became a family quotation, repeated on seemingly endless occasions for years thereafter.

Driving the pickup with Buttercup happily watching the world go by, Joe, meanwhile, was whistling the tune to

Late one night, when we were all in bed,
Old Mrs. Leary left the lantern in the shed,
And when the cow kicked it over,
She winked her eye and said,
“It’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight!”

Red-winged blackbirds sitting on the passing fences chortled in harmony.

Soon enough, the pickup pulled into the fairgrounds of the county seat. Joe maneuvered his GMC into the line of trucks unloading animals to be housed in the south wing of the coliseum and livestock barn. The men in charge of the dairy exhibits assigned Buttercup the southeast corner: an ideal location! No sooner had she taken up residence in the large space than teenage girls walking past saw Buttercup and came up to pet her nose. Ida had parked in one of the regular spots along the shady road, and Robert ran to help his father and brother scatter golden straw in thick crests around and under Buttercup. Joe wrestled the show box in place just behind Buttercup. For weeks before the fair, Charles had decorated it with vibrantly colored Amish star symbols around the sides, and he had perfectly painted large green letters spelling RHODE in the center of the lid. Then he had given the box several coats of glossy varnish. It was a work of art!

Robert ran back to help his mother carry the vegetables to the aisle beneath the bleachers where the gardening exhibits were arranged. In preparation for the event, he had used marker pens, crayons, and poster board to duplicate the Great Seal of the State of Indiana. A magenta and fuschia sunrise colored hills pink and violet while a cinnamon and ginger bison leapt over a log and a woodsman swung an ax to chop an emerald and turquoise tree above aquamarine grass dotted with pale yellow flowers. The kaleidoscopic depiction hung from tiny gold chains behind Ida’s oversized cornucopia basket with a huge cabbage in its maw as beans, corn, carrots, onions, kohlrabi, and turnips poured forth in spectacular array.

Having fed and watered Buttercup, Joe sauntered down the aisle and took a close look at the competition. He felt satisfied that the Mitchell heifer might take the honors away from Buttercup.

“That heifer of yours,” Russell said, as he chewed on a straw and squinted in Joe’s direction, “will put a smile on the judge’s face.”

Joe grinned. “So will yours,” he admitted.

Russell glanced appreciatively at the better heifer of the two that his boys were going to show. “She’ll be a contender,” Russell remarked.

“With the Holstein judging as the first event tomorrow morning, we won’t have too much longer to learn what happens,” Joe said.

Russell turned to Joe. “May the best heifer win!” he said, chuckling.

In the afternoon, the whole family helped give Buttercup a bath in one of the special pens set up for such purposes. She obviously loved being shampooed and rinsed, toweled and brushed, until her coat shone.

The day passed rapidly away. At dusk, the GMC and the Chevrolet caravanned back to Pine Village. That night, Joe hardly slept a wink. At four in the morning, he sat sipping instant coffee as his mind mulled over the finer points of Buttercup and her adversary.

Charles dressed in his show clothes. He wore jeans of the purest white and a new plaid shirt with white, avocado, and light blue squares. Buttercup wore a brand new halter of shiny black leather that Joe had purchased at considerable expense.

The crowd began gathering in the coliseum. Mr. Charles Coffman slid onto the bench before the electric organ on the platform stage, smiled at the audience, and launched into a rousing rendition of “Fine and Dandy.” He completed the song with a flourish and nodded to the families seated on both sides.

Mr. John F. McKee, county extension agent, clapped his hands and strode to the microphone. “Very fine! Very fine!” he exclaimed. He adjusted his silver hair and his equally silver glasses. “Now will the 4-H members bring in their Holstein heifers.”

Roger and Richard Mitchell led their cows into the ring. Then Charles brought Buttercup, who put on her best show for the crowd—and for the judge, a professorial gentleman wearing glasses, a dazzling white shirt, and what appeared to be snakeskin boots. In all, five cows were competing in the class, two led by girls.

Wearing a printed shirt and slacks for show day, Joe stood near one of the wooden panels leading to the judging area, his arms folded and his brows drawn in what Robert called his “eagle-eyed look.” Joe’s friend, Don Akers, strode up from the hog barn. Don’s cap was pulled forward, shading his eyes. His smile, as white as his T-shirt, lit up his tanned face as he rested one foot on the bottom board of the panel and put his hands on the top board. “Well, Joe, how does she look?”

As soon as Joe had seen Don, Joe had dropped his arms, tucked his thumbs just inside the upper edges of his back pockets, and leaned forward in a characteristic posture that meant he would now give the fullest consideration to whatever Don had to say. “I think she looks good,” Joe said, grinning and blushing from having complimented his own heifer.

Don offered, “It’s a small class—”

“—but there’s strong competition,” Joe added, shaking his head with worry.

At the same instant, Joe and Don looked across at Russell Mitchell, who waved at them. With one accord, Don and Joe raised and lowered the first fingers of their right hands in the universally accepted gesture of acknowledgment.

“Russell often wins this class, doesn’t he?” Don asked.

“Yes,” Joe answered, repeating, “yes, he does.”

“Don’t you wish you could tell what the judge is thinking!” Don exclaimed. “But maybe it’s just as well that we don’t know. He might be wishing he had a coin he could flip.”   

Joe laughed, removed his seed corn cap, ran his hand over his head, put his cap back on, and said, “We could give him a quarter, but people might think we were trying to bribe him.”

“What counts is what those boys and girls are learning out there,” Don said.

The judge had the 4-H members walk their heifers around the ring and then stand them. Buttercup needed no encouragement or instruction. When she walked, she strutted, and, when she stood, she posed. Passing his hands along their backs and flanks, the judge studied every detail of each cow.

He approached the platform. A hush fell throughout the coliseum. The judge pointed toward Buttercup and immediately pointed toward Richard’s heifer. “Number one and number two,” the judge barked.

Robert, who was seated beside his mother in the stands, could not be sure what the judge meant. He glanced worriedly from Ida’s face nearby to Joe’s face across the ring.

“I think Buttercup just won,” Ida said, but she was uncertain, too. From their angle, it was difficult to know which way the judge had pointed. Ida looked at Joe. He was frowning, staring straight ahead, and not moving a muscle, but Don was smiling.

The man with the ribbons in his hand stepped down from the platform and into the ring while the judge ascended the platform and strode toward the microphone.

Smiles crept across Ida’s face and Joe’s face and Robert’s face as the man with the ribbons came closer and closer to Charles. The man briefly held the champion ribbon over Buttercup’s neck before handing the coveted purple treasure to Charles, who grinned from ear to ear.

While the reserve champion ribbon went to Richard’s entry, the judge said, “These winning heifers are so nearly alike that they could be twins. It’s really splitting hairs to say there’s a difference between them. For me, it came down to personality. I like the attitude of the champion.” The judge paused; then he shrugged. “She just acts like a champion!” he declared, to the amusement of the crowd. Farm wives and farmer husbands turned toward one another and laughed heartily, nodding in agreement with the judge. “These 4-H’ers,” the judge continued, “deserve a great deal of credit for raising such fine animals, training them, and bringing them to our attention.” With that, he signaled the helpers to assist the boys and girls in leading their cows from the ring.    

Robert and Ida were standing with Charles at Buttercup’s stall before Joe and Don got there. Don’s wife, Mary, came up, almost on the run.

“I was helping in the Craft Building,” Mary said, nearly out of breath, “but I caught the tail end of the judging—” Mary hesitated a second, catching her pun and adding, “so to speak. Congratulations!”

“I have the camera,” Ida said, lifting the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye to show Joe.

“Let’s take Buttercup around the corner outside where there’ll be more light,” Joe suggested.

Charles held the lead strap while Buttercup took her position with the glistening championship ribbon draped across her back. Sun dappled the white-painted building, and Buttercup’s black-and-white coat wore a velvety sheen. The heifer fluttered her long lashes; she knew she was the champion. The snapshot would be preserved for years thereafter.

“That makes it feel like all the work was worth it, doesn’t it, Charles?” Don asked.

“Yes, it does,” Charles assented, while he led Buttercup back to her stall.

“Let’s all get together for dinner in the Cafeteria Building to celebrate,” Mary said to Ida and Joe.

“Want to meet there around 11:30?” Ida asked.

“We’ll see you there!” Mary smiled. “I need to get back to the Craft Building,” she said while excusing herself and dashing away.

Don said, “Now that we know the best heifer won, I can get back to cleaning up my hog pens!” With that, Don headed down the aisle.

“The gardening exhibits should be judged by now,” Joe said.

“We’ll go see,” Ida said. She and Robert marched off to the room, which had been locked during the judging. The wire door stood open. When they walked to where the Great Seal of Indiana stood in all its glory above the cornucopia, they could not believe their eyes. A big pink rosette with the words “Reserve Sweepstakes” on it was pinned to the basketry. An older 4-H member’s exhibit had taken the sweepstakes, but, with so many entrants, being second best was the same as winning.

Even as exciting as the reserve sweepstakes in gardening was, the family felt that the most thrilling experience had been watching Buttercup win her championship.

On the way home that night, Joe silently concluded there had been other champions that day: Don and Mary.