[Ben tied for 2nd place]
Ansel Harris sat down to supper with his son and daughter-in-law and thier two kids, Donna and Matt. His daughter-in-law, Judy, had just set the last bowl of food on the table and seated herself when a gunshot rang out from not far away.
"That's from Mary's," Ansel stood bolt upright, catapulting the chair to the floor behind him, "you stay here and watch from the door," he nodded to his son, Roger, "if I need help, I'll signal you. You call the Police and come on up there."
Roger nodded and walked toward the doorway fifty-eight year old Ansel had just run through. A lifetime of farming had kept Ansel in excellent condition and Roger watched as the older man ran across a pasture and up the long hill to the next small farm.
High on a hill a half mile away stood the small, run-down house and barn of the Widow Mary Barnes. Her husband of thirty-five years had passed away three years before, about the same time Roger's mother had died, and Mary just couldn't run the place alone.
"Poor Mary," Judy joined her husband and placed her hands on his shoulder as she leaned against him and watched Ansel top the hill and go to the front door of the little house, "what could have happened now?"
"I don't know," Roger stared intently at the distant farm as he aswered absent-mindedly.
Ansel rounded the house and jogged toward the barn. In a few moments, he re-emerged and waved both hands toward Roger, shaking his head 'no', then walked back into the barn.
Inside the barn was a sorry scene. Mary stood over a bawling newborn calf with an old revolver in her hand. She just shot the calfs mother, her only remaining cow. As Ansel approached, she looked slowly up at him, tears streaking her weathered cheeks.
"She was sufferin' awful, Ansel," her voice weak and wavering, "she was dyin'. I hadda put her down. Everything's dyin' on me."
"Seems like, sometimes," Ansel took the gun from her hand and put his arms around her.
Mary leaned against him and sobbed.
"Now, now," Ansel patted her back as she shook and watched the newborn calf struggle to it's wobble feet, "you got a fine lookin' bull there. Thing's will be lookin' better tomorrow."
Mary gently seperated herself from him and wiped her cheeks with her hands.
"I hope you'll pardom my sayin' so, Ansel, but my tomorrows been gettin' worse, not better. Now I got a calf and no milk-cow to feed him."
She wiped her hands on her apron and moved for the door, pausing and taking a deep breath as she turned to look at him.
"You ate yet," she asked.
Ansel was about to mention his supper on the table, but felt it would be kinder to stay if she invited him.
"No, I ain't," he smiled slightly, "and I'm hungrier than a big dog. What you got on your mind?"
"I got corned beef and cabbage for two," Mary started for the door again, "I never have figured how to cook for just one yet."
"That'd be fine," Ansel started after her, "but, you go on and get started and I'm gonna get Roger up here with the backhoe to drag old Gertie out and plant her. Have him bring up a milker for the calf, too."
Mary stopped and looked warmly at Ansel.
"That's a fine thing, Ansel. I'm thankful every day to have a neighbor like you."
"Shoot," Ansel smiled and waved her off, "ain't worth mentionin', Mary. Fine young bull like that," he thumbed over his shoulder toward the barn, "keep us all in calfs and milf for years to come."
With that, they seperated, Mary into the house and Ansel back down the patsure at a trot.
In ten minutes he was back, still holding the pistol he'd taken from Mary. He gave it to her and she placed it on top of the refridgerator.
While they were eating and talking, they heard Ansel's backhoe rumble up the road and around the house to the barn. Roger was a fair hand with the machine and made short work of burying the dead cow far behind the old barn, then rumbled back down the hill to Ansel's farm.
"Would you like something else, Ansel," Mary asked as she cleared the dishes from the table.
Ansel pushed his chair back and crossed his legs, then locked his fingers and placed his hands in his lap. He tipped his head slightly and considered Mary, a small smile creeping to his lips and a funny twinkle in his eye.
"Now," Mary placed one hand on her hip and grinned back at him, "what you got on your mind, old man?"
"Hah!" Ansel laughed and rocked slightly in the chair, "I was thinking of a cup of coffee, maybe," he nodded, "and settin' a spell on your front porch to watch the sunset. I think maybe we got some things we ought to talk about."
Mary smiled and nodded and went about making coffee.
"Things other folks is already talking about," she asked.
"I 'spect," Ansel nodded, "they been respectful enough, considerin' we ain't been long alone, but I've heard folks mentionin' how we ought to, maybe, you know ...."
"See more of each other?" Mary finished the drawn-out sentence.
"Uh huh," Ansel nodded and smiled, "how might you feel about that?"
Mary turned and leaned against the counter, her hand on her hip again.
"I just shot my damn cow, Ansel," she smiled but held back a chuckle, "you ain't fixin' to take advantage of a grievin' woman, are you?"
Ansel slapped both hie knees and laughed as he stood.
"No," he shook his head, "it just never did seem the right time to bring it up before."
Mary poured two cups of coffee and they walked to the front porch and seated themselves in the wide swinging bench.
"Good coffee," Ansel remarked after a sip, "Ellen used to make good coffee."
"This is the first time I been in this swing with someone since Bert passed," Mary looked out at the rolling foothills to the west, "gonna be a fine sunset."
"Yep," Ansel nodded, then looked down the road toward his own place, "here comes your milker."
Mary looked and saw Roger, Judy, and the kids leading a fine Holstien milk cow slowly up the road toward them.
"Isn't that Patches? That's Donna's 4-H cow."
"Yeah, it is," Ansel nodded, "I just told 'em you needed a milker. Didn't say who. They must'a decided among themselves."
"That's sweet of Donna," Mary smiled, "she is the kindest little girl I know. How you like having them living there with you now?"
"Hmmm," Ansel sipped his coffee and shrugged, "I don't mind so much, but I think Roger and Judy need more privacy. I sometimes feel like I'm stiflin' 'em."
Donna and Matt smiled and waved as they approached, now only about two hundred feet from the porch.
"Ever wish you could live close by," Mary eyed him with a mischievous twinkle and spoke softly into her coffee cup, "like, maybe, close enough to see your place but not so close as to stifle anyone."
Ansel chuckled and looked into her eyes.
"Yeah, he nodded slowly, "I thought of that. You always cook like this?"
"Grampa! Can we bring Patches into the barn and see the baby?!" Donna yelled excitedly as she dragged the sluggish cow with all her ten year old might, while Matt's eight year old legs had already scampered past the house and into the barn.
"Course you can, honey," Ansel smiled and nodded.
"Sorry about Gertie," Judy said as she reached the porch and seated herself.
"Damn shame," Roger seated himself opposite his wife, "you had Gertie as long as I can remember."
"Just a cow," Mary smiled, "no more, no less. But, yeah, it's a shame. She was a good cow."
"You seem awful chipper," Judy turned slightly and eyed Mary and Ansel, "what's been going on here?"
Matt came flying around the house, stumbled and almost fell as he rushed to the porch.
"The baby's drinking from Patches! They like each other! What are you gonna name her?!"
"It's a 'he', Matt," Mary smiled, "a little bull. I'll tell you what. You and Donna decide. Whatever you pick, that'll be his name."
"Yippee!!" Matt turned and bounded back towards the barn, yelling, "Tiger!! We'll name him Tiger!!"
"Donna is gonna have something to say about that," Roger chuckled.
"So, what's going on," Judy persisted, "what have you two been talking about?"
The excited glow on her face left no doubt as to what she wanted to know.
"Have you been talking about dating?"
"Datin'? Naw," Ansel shook his head.
"We been talking about livin' together," Mary laughed.
"Shoot," Ansel laughed and blushed and turned away.
"What do you mean, Dad," Roger grinned, "you're just gonna pack a bag and move up here?"
Ansel sighed and looked at Roger, then met Mary's eyes. His hand slowly reached for hers and he held it, then smiled and looked from Roger to Judy.
"Naw," he nodded, "I'm gonna stay now. I'll come get some things tomorrow."
"Should'a known the way to get you here was get your prize cow here first," Mary chuckled, "a man always follows his prize Holstien."