As I sat there watching my cousins ride Shirley the Goat at my Grandfathers’ farm, I wondering if I could have a turn, meanwhile the windmill started churning with a rusty squeaking commotion which caught my attention, then suddenly a gust of wind was whipping all around everything and everyone, like each of us had our own personal tornado given to us by Mother Nature herself.  As quickly as the wind had come, it was gone without a trace, leaving all of us in awe and wonder of what just happened. Looking around to see if anyone was missing or misplaced by the wind, I heard the front door of the two story white ranch style house come bursting open seeing that my grandpa had come out to see what all the noise was about, however, he found that everything seemed fine.

Grandpa was a big burly man, of few words but they always seemed to be just enough, and at the right time whenever he spoke, he said, “you see that those were dust devils trying to tell you to be good, you all better listen” as he shut the door and returned to the kitchen where my father and all his brothers were sitting.  All of his sons, six of them, had been gathered around the table with him going over plans of the hunting season ahead. We saw everyone looking out the windows from inside, all of them had witnessed the devilish wind that just happened while all of us played outside and were laughing and pointing at most of us kids. His farm was located just outside the city and was on some good prime hunting ground, and this was one of the typical family gatherings beside holidays spent at Grandpa and Grandma’s.

Now I had two slightly older boy cousins and too many older girl cousins to name, Brendon and Jeremy were the boys, when alone were fine, but together awful. Jeremy had been adopted by my Uncle Ron but was always considered to be family, and Brendon though was my father’s twin brother’s kid. Who was kind of an “ass” to me and would entice Jeremy to follow suit. Today was no exception, together they always tried to make a sport of me and usually discovered it was not good to do so, but once again tried as they always had.

I walked down to the small country style shed that was baby blue with white trim avoiding any and all poop on the ground left by Shirley and all the other farm animals, finally getting to where my cousins had had Shirley up against trying to ride her.  They said if I helped them get on and off Shirley that I could have a turn riding after them. So with a smile and a nod I agreed to the endeavor. Brendon was first to get on Shirley, she was a burly lass herself of a goat for sure, she was big and strong almost like the bull grandpa had in the pasture off in the distance. Her colors of black, white and gray seemed so well placed, you would have thought her unreal and designed by an artist. She had a temperament of a gentle soul and seemed to care about us kids. Even Grandpa couldn’t resist poking jokes like: “Shirley you must be ‘kidding’?” whenever one of us kids was riding around on her, or “Shirley goats the kids, I am leaving.” It was always a pun with “kids “and Shirley in his jokes.

Brendon had been riding Shirley down around the pond with Jeremy following behind laughing and talking with each other about last Thanksgiving when they had messed up my plate of food and had me very upset. They both knew that I hated having my food touched on my plate; I had left the kids table at Grandma’s to fetch myself a drink to enjoy with the delicious meal my grandmother always makes for Thanksgiving. As I was absent from my plate both Brendon and Jeremy had taken the liberty to mix up all of the food on my plate, and once I returned to the kids table the room was quiet with anticipation, wondering what I would do once I found out what had happened to my plate of food. My father was previously a sailor and I seem to have inherited his “colorful” vocabulary. I screamed, “You little assholes are going get a bloody nose!” My grandmother was in ear shot of us kids and heard me say these words and came to see what the matter was.  I showed her my plate of food all a mess and sadly proclaimed that it was now wasted. She said, “oh no it is not wasted!” She then removed Brendon and Jeremy’s plates and left only to return with two empty plates. She divided then scraped all the mixed up food unto both the plates and told me to go make a new plate. I returned to find Brendon and Jeremy in tears, while eating every bite of the food they had messed up, all the while getting lectured by grandma, a woman not to trifle with, by no means. I didn’t get to hear the entire one way conversation but knew it was serious enough to elicit the correct behavior from my cousins as a result from it.  Grandma got up and ushered me back in my spot with the words, “anymore trouble out of them you come straight to me, now sit down and enjoy the food I worked so hard to make for those that I love.” Wow she sure could make you feel things when she spoke, which were entirely two different things that my cousins and I felt from her words.

Now it was Jeremys turn to ride Shirley around, and once again I held her close to the shed. It was funny how Shirley protested getting someone on her back but once there appeared to say, “oh yes I am giving rides, and it’s awesome.” Jeremy now was followed by Brendon around the pond and all over the property as I stayed at the barn. They were still laughing and talking about Thanksgiving and I heard Brendon utter in a not so subtle whispering voice, “Well grandma isn’t here and well it would be funny.” So I thought to myself, “at lunch time I would only eat with my dad…PERIOD.”

It was my turn to saddle up on Shirley, Brendon and Jeremy had helped as promised and I was making the first turn around the pond when one of my cousins twisted Shirley’s tail making her buck and scream throwing me into the pond. Instant anger came upon me, as I was a soaking mess, and aimed in the direction of both my cousins lying and dying from laughter. I jumped upon Brendon and began to wail on his face. It was about the seventh hit to explode his nose into a bloody mess and change his laughing into hard sobbing, and then I jumped and tackled Jeremy who had stopped laughing, as he saw me in my full rage coming for him. First strike and he was in tears and second strike blood gushed from his nose like a faucet out of control.  Just then, a hand had grabbed me from behind, hoisted me in the air and abruptly placed me back on the ground standing on my own two feet. I looked up to see who it was, it was Grandpa.

Suddenly, my backside burned and I couldn’t make out the muffled words because my ears were still filled with pond water, but I knew Grandpa was saying something. All I could respond with was; “Twisted tail, twisted tail!” as the swats to my butt kept coming. I was cold, wet and now nearly in tears from a whopping from my grandfather, but I always had a high tolerance for pain and held back any and all tears, not an uttering of pain came from my lips, nothing but the stare of me looking at my cousins in distrust and disgust made them keep crying like the dirty little bitches they were.

My ears had been cleared from a final smack that knocked me over and I could hear gravel popping under tires, it was grandma pulling up and she had seen the whole scene from me getting knocked off Shirley into the pond. She called my grandpa by his full name, “ah shit” he said under his breath. He then walked up to the house and all she did was give him a look, and he turned and looked at me, and just went inside. All the uncle’s and other cousins, along with my dad, had been at the big picture window watching everything unfold. With one look Grandma had scattered them away from the window and not one of them dared to look back.  Grandma commanded Brendon and Jeremy to get a switch from the willow tree, and with snotty blood bubbling from their noses and unending tears they slowly walked like zombies to the tree.  No one dared to cross Grandma, and if she said “get me a switch” and you brought back a bad one, well she would take you out and try every switch on you until she found the “right one” to give you your just desserts.

Both of them had returned, both in the slobbery mess of which they had departed in, and Grandma said, “Now you two apologize to your cousin Ryan for being little bastards.” With hardly any recognition of any kind of language, they started murmuring sounds of apologies towards me. As the beatings began, my father had come out to check on me and finally, he asked, “What happened son?” I still could only utter the words, “twisted tail” as the lashings were so intense upon my cousin’s backsides. I was shivering not from the cold pond water that had soaked me through and through, but by the damnation that my cousins were getting, then dad scooped me up but I let out a shout of pain, so he set me back down and he removed my wet clothes down to my underwear and Grandpa had come out with towels. I had bruising coming to the surface from Grandpa’s whipping which Grandma saw and proceeded to whip my cousins even harder. All my uncles had come outside and grandma said she had half the mind to whip all of them as well. Uncle Ron, Jeremy’s dad and Uncle Ramey, Brendon’s dad looked at each other and both proceeded to say in almost unison, “Well I guess they won’t pick on him again huh?” My Uncle Bob then replied, “Well he’s just like me then, huh, do you remember how I beat all you little brothers up for being mean to our cousin Joe?” Joe was called Uncle Joe since he was around all of my uncles’ ages and seemed like a brother more so than a cousin to all of them.

As all of this was unfolding, I was still trying to say what happened with the words ‘twisted tail’ which everybody including Grandma took a pause to listen. To which Grandma told how she had seen the whole thing and that I had every right to beat up both of them boys, and how now she was to mad for words when it came to Grandpa’s actions towards me. Grandpa apologized to me, and all I could reply was “twisted tail.”

To this day, I look back on that event and the anger comes to me about the “twisted tail”, because both Brendon and Jeremy didn’t just hurt or make sport of me, they hurt Shirley to get to me. And that is why I could only convey those words of “twisted tail”, I wanted them punished and hurt for hurting Shirley. It was that act of using someone else to hurt me that lead me to become overly protective of everything I loved in my life; there would be no more “twisted tails”.

by Ryan L. Rinehart

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