"Patty, Mike, let's go for a walk."
This was the summer when I was four years old and my little brother Mike was not quite three.We were playing upstairs in our Oklahoma farmhouse.
"I guess we better go downstairs," I said.
I liked playing upstairs with Mike but sometimes it got very hot there. So I was glad when Mother called and suggested that we take a walk.
"Where are we going, Mommy?" I asked, running down the stairs.
"It's such a lovely day I thought a walk along the road a ways or maybe walk in the fields if the bull isn't around."
I didn't like the bull and was afraid of him. "Will we see Strawberry Tail?"
My mother smiled. "We might see him."
I loved Strawberry Tail. Yes, I knew that the bull was Strawberry Tail's daddy but that didn't make me like him. I liked Strawberry Tail's mother, though. Once in a while I got to sit on an upside down bucket in our ugly old barn and try to milk her with my father nearby telling me what to do.
Mother took our hands and led us outside onto the porch that wrapped around the western and southern sides of our farmhouse. It was nice to come out and sit on the porch after the sun had gone down.
But it was early afternoon and just a little bit warm. Mother said it was a good time to go for a walk. Soon, she said, we would have to go early in the morning before the day got too hot.
Sometimes we went for a walk in the woods, picking blackberries but today we walked down the path to the road and walked westward toward the farm of our aunt and uncle. We didn't always walk as far as their farm but sometimes in that direction.
Weeds grew along the side of the dusty road with little white wildflowers peeping through. The air smelled fresh and sweet except when the odor of fresh cow patties drifted by. Cows were grazing in the fields on both sides of the road and I soon spied Strawberry Tail.
"Oh, Mommy, can I go pet him?" I asked.
"No, honey, can't you see his daddy over there?"
I looked to where Mommy was pointing and saw that mean old bull looking at us. I knew I didn't want to crawl under the barbed wire fence if he was anywhere near us.
We walked on a while and finally turned back. Little Mike couldn't keep up as well as Mommy and I could. That was why we seldom walked on to Auntie and Uncle's house.
That evening after our father came home from work, I saw our parents whispering in the living room. I crept behind the stairs and tried to listen.
"But you know how fond she is of that calf with the brown and white stripes on its tail, the one she calls Strawberry Tail," my mother whispered.
My father whispered something back but I couldn't understand what he said. The only thing I was sure of was that they were talking about Strawberry Tail and I wondered why they would talk about him.
Suddenly they stopped whispering and Mother called out, "Patty, come here."
I left my hiding place and walked into the living room.
"Honey, we have something to tell you.."
"What is it?"
"Daddy is going away for a few days. He's going to take most of the cattle to market."
"What is a market?" I asked.
My parents exchanged glances and then Mother said, "The cows are going to a new home. They're going to ride on the train."
"Are all the cows going?" I asked. "Is that mean old bull going?"
"No, honey, the bull stays and so will the milk cows."
"Oh," I said, rather relieved. "Then Strawberry Tail's mother will stay."
"Uh yes, honey, but Strawberry Tail will have to go." My parents looked at each other again with that serious look.
"No, no," I cried. "Strawberry Tail is my calf. He can't go. He can't leave his mommy."
"That's the way it is, honey, in the cow world," said my mother. "Sometimes when calves get to a certain age, they go to market."
"Yes," said my father sternly. "Calves grow up faster than little girls."
"And," said my mother, "they go to market where people buy them and take them to their homes."
"But that's silly," I said. "Why can't they stay here at their real home?"
"I'll see that they get a bigger home," said my father.
For the next several days, I pleaded and pleaded for Strawberry Tail to stay here with his mother. But on round-up day, I knew my father was going to take him.
Again I heard my parents whispering. But this time I could hear my father clearly.
"By the time I get back, she will have forgotten all about that calf," he said.
"I hope so," said my mother.
I wondered why they wanted me to forget Strawberry Tail.
Every day that my father was gone, I worried and worried about Strawberry Tail. Mike and I would go upstairs and talk about the little calf. Mike didn't really understand but he knew I was sad.
Finally, one afternoon my father arrived home from the market. I couldn't wait to ask him about Strawberry Tail. After Mother greeted him at the door, she whispered something to him and then he called out to me.
I ran into his arms and asked about Strawberry Tail.
"I took him to live with another little girl," he said.
"Is she like me?"
"Yes, she's just like you."
My father hugged me and then called for Mike. For a few days, I continued to ask about the little girl who now owned Strawberry Tail. Finally convinced that he was happy in his new home, I began to think about him less and less.
Many years later, I remembered the calf with the brown and white striped tail that I had named Strawberry Tail and realized with great sadness what going to market really meant.
However, I told my granddaughters the story but did not tell them the meaning of going to market.
One evening my son, his family and I went out to eat. We placed our orders and my son ordered veal. While he was eating, he suddenly asked, "Just what kind of meat is veal?"
Sadly, I said, "Do you remember the story of Strawberry Tail?"
He put his fork down and said, "I can't eat any more."