An 8 Year Old’s Adventures with Bessie

Next in a series of a family's Andover history

By Nancy Heden Clayman
Young Bessie with a family friend.

Every animal living on our tiny farm on Route 11 has a job to do – the cat, the dog, cow, pig, goat, chicken, but, as an eight year old, they’re pets to me. What I want more than anything is a pony, but my Dad does not believe a pony could be “helpful.” So, I guess I have to get creative.
Carrying a pail of fresh water and a pretty big bag of “supplies,” I head to the pasture in the back of our house like I do on most days in the summer to visit Bessie. Except for Bessie, and some mayflowers and lady slippers in the spring, I hate the pasture.

You are probably imagining a pasture as a flat, grassy, open field. Once a forest of tall trees, our pasture is rocky, full of brambles, old stumps, rotting branches and a few tall prickly bushes. Bessie’s world is enclosed by barbed wire, which looks really creepy to me, but it keeps her off the dirt road that edges our property. The pasture can feel scary. My Mom once told me there were wild boars hunting in the backside, I think to keep me closer to home.

As I near the pasture gate, I see Bessie in her shady spot. The sight of her causes butterflies to tickle my insides. Though standing on all fours, she seems to be asleep, her tail sweeping at flies, her jaw moving in circles. As I climb over the gate I sing “Hi my pretty pony, pretty pony, time to wake up for our adventure.” Her beautiful lashes lift to reveal giant brown eyes. When she sees me, she smiles. Yup, cows can smile.

From my supply bag I offer a half eaten apple. While Bessie mash-drools her treat, I stroke the white triangle on her forehead, then scratch behind her soft pointy ears and nubby horns. I wonder if she’s thinking about what’s next, too, like reading my mind. When I produce a fresh salt lick, her favorite, I hold it up for her while she eagerly drags her giant tongue across the bar then up my forearm. I giggle until I gag a bit thinking of the Ivory soap used sometimes to wash bad words from my mouth. 

I pull the pail of fresh water through an opening under the gate. As Bessie slurps I find the chain, about twice my height in length that I’d “borrowed” from Dad’s workshop. I fumble clipping it onto Bessie’s braided leather collar that already holds her bell. Bessie pulls back. “Whoa, Bessie, it’s okay.” Giving the chain a gentle tug, I pull reluctant Bessie closer to the gate. I feel suddenly impatient with her. 

Finally, her back is alongside the fence so I can wrap the chain once around the railing. To get higher myself, I climb up the gate.  While holding a part of the chain in one hand and Bessie’s collar in the other, I slide my right leg over her back. She jerks in protest. “It’s okay, I’m not very heavy, you’re strong and today you and I are just practicing, staying right here by the fence.”

Before I add any weight to Bessie’s back, she shoots forward, taking the chain, but not me with her. I grab the railing so as not to fall, watching Bessie run headlong into the pucker-brush.  My eyes are glued to the chain whacking her side like a whip. The harder she runs, the harder the whack. It all happens so fast. Soon I can’t see her or hear her bell.

I follow her path into the thickets; branches scratch my bare legs, then I trip over a stump and fall on my knees.  I called her to come back. “Bessie, I’m so sorry. Please, please. I love you. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”  The horror of that chain, that she could get stuck somewhere or crash through the fence in terror or be hurt, or worse, gone forever.

What was I thinking?  I may be only eight, but I know Bessie will be our food for this winter; we’ll sell some, too, to make money for our family. I try really hard to not ever think of this, but I know losing her now will make my Mom and Dad more than angry. They’ll be frantic. 

Suddenly I hear my mother call me for supper. Tears erupt when I see her. After I blubber out my story, she heads out to search for Bessie herself. When Dad comes home from work tonight, he’ll be told everything. I can’t believe this is happening.

It’s almost midnight when my Dad returns home from working the evening shift. I hear mumbling between Mom and Dad, doors slam, then from my bedroom window I see Dad going toward the pasture with a giant flashlight, then “no sign,” then dead silence. It’s barely daylight when both my parents head out; I want to join but I hide in my room instead. Soon Dad leaves in the car; when he returns, I hear, “she’s pretty beat up; l have to go in through the pasture to bring her back to the gate.”

Though relieved at first, I’m frightened to see Bessie, to see what I’ve done. I come out of hiding, practically whispering an offer of help to the reply, “I think you’ve done quite enough already.”

Later that morning, I visited Bessie, sick at what I might see, but knowing she deserves an “I’m so sorry.” She’s in her usual place, tail slapping at flies as she lazily enjoys her breakfast for the second or maybe third time. Dried blood covers one side of her face, coming from the nubby little horn that hangs from her forehead like a loose tooth. I circle her and gasp at the huge red welts on her hip and leg; I feel dizzy seeing the flies buzz near them. “Oh, Bessie, will you ever forgive me?”

When I drive by the sweet homes, now on Morrill Hill Road, the site of our little pasture, I wonder what kind of adventures the children who live there now are having.