Every once in a while my grandpa would pause in the middle of chores. He’d still have silage to haul and grain to scoop. He’d still have hay to pitch into the feeding alley. But he’d stop the work and get a little pleasure out of what he was doing—just sit there in his bib overalls on the feed box with me and watch the jerseys.
Grandpa and I both liked their doe-like faces and the light-colored bands around their muzzles. They were curious animals, Grandpa told me. They wanted to be in the know about everything, nosing an out-of-place bucket and exploring with eyes that seemed to see even behind them. We’d watch them switch their tails and grasp with their tongues and chomp their silage, mouths moving side to side.
Grandpa didn’t sit long. Soon, he’d shove off the feed box to fork straw for bedding and shovel manure into the spreader. But I could tell those moments on the feed box gave Grandpa some mettle.
Sometimes my middle school classroom reminded me of Grandpa’s barn. Students filed in and found seats, like cows finding stanchions. And when teaching chores—attendance slips, make-up work, announcements, sports eligibility reports, e-mails, calls from the office, and assigning homework—made me forget why I was there, I needed some feed box time.
So I’d perch on the front of my desk and watch: eyes racing across pages and eyes staring out windows; hair spiked and draped over faces and falling down backs. I’d see Kali, whose mom just moved out, slumped in her seat; Matias, who missed his Ritalin dose, jiggling and thrumming and darting his eyes; Jayla, who had just been crowned Jr. Miss Ohio, primping in her compact mirror. I’d see grown-size bodies crammed into desks and still-short legs dangling toward the floor. These were mine—these crazy, smelly, wonderful, fragile, bombastic, beautiful students.
My feed box time over, I took up teaching again.