Showing calves

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When the subject of Legion Field comes up, the responses are usually unflattering, to put it gently. I, on the other hand, have a warm spot in my heart for the old arena, and not just about football.
Here’s why. When I was in the tenth grade, we had an ag teacher who was not only a fine teacher, but a fine man, Mr. McRae. I took agriculture to be as far away as possible from anything to do with math or chemistry. He came up with a fat stock calf project and talked six of us into being part of it. I was one. And there were best friend/first cousin James Sanders, Bill Gilmore, James Earl Hankins, Gene Faulkner and Joe Brock.
To get started, he brought our calves to us one night. We drew straws to see who would get which one. They were about 400 pounds in weight, had never been close to people (especially the biggest one). He would stay at the back of the stable and paw and bellow like a Spanish fighting bull. Naturally he was the one I got.
Well, the gentling process started the next day. We left him with food and water and went to bed. Next day, Daddy managed to get a halter on him. Nope. That wouldn’t hold him. So we put a ring in his nose. That cooled him down a little.
Then came weeks of petting and grooming him. Teaching him how to walk and how to stand. I’d wash him and brush him. We let him run with the cows for a while. He was so tame he’d come to me if I happened to be  around. He had special feed.
As show time neared, the training about standing and stuff git more intense. There. Back that leg. That’s it, like a brick with four short legs and a short neck to hold the head on.
Sometimes, we’d ride around on a Sunday afternoon to see how the others were doing. Gilmore, being helpful and wondering which container to use, hollered, “How many chamberfuls do you feed him?” [Ed.”s note: a chamber is what one used, before indoor plumbing, if one didn’t want to make a trip outside to the privy.]
There was a little hometown show. I washed and brushed old Buster and polished his horns and hooves to a high sheen. I put on my best casual wear. Elwanda Hankins might be there.
But the biggie was still to come, the one in Birmingham. Law me. There was the trip up old 78, calves in a truck, us in a pickup. They dumped us, not at the fairgrounds, but under the west side of Legion Field. After we got our steers bedded down nicely, we decided to go to a picture show; and not just any picture show, the Alabama, whose ads I had seen for many years in the Birmingham Post. There we were, six country boys, smelling of cows, no doubt, in this famous theater. The movie was “The Virginian,” with Joel McRae —”When you say that, smile.”
In conjunction with our little show, the Gene Autry Rodeo was going on, and we got free passes. We got to see Gene make Champ walk sideways down the whole length of the grandstand, Gene waving his hat to all of us. Wow!
We were given a bus tour of the city. We saw what had made the sky so pink the night before, and why there was so much smog in the air. Finally it was time to sell old Buster. He had become a pet.
I almost cried. Somebody would have some excellent beef very soon. It was all over. We had been to the big city. There was a letdown … but we would always have Gene Autry.
Bob Sanders can be reached at bobbypsanders@gmail.com.

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