In the 1950’s and ‘60’s we were a more gullible lot than we are these days. Television and movies were in their childhood and we found them very believable even though they were very crude by today’s standards. I was raised on shows like The Lawrence Welk Show, Father Knows Best, Ed Sullivan, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and Rawhide (I was in love with Rowdy Yates for years). One of the scariest things ever was the 1954 version (I was born in 1955) “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” which haunted my nightmares for years. I was far too young to be able to see it on my own, but on the weekends, a local TV channel (CBS I think) stayed on-air past the normal 11:00 PM sign-off time and aired movies, many of them were scary movies.
My Uncle B was a fan of scary movies and he would lay on the couch in the dark watching these fear fests play out on the television in the corner of the living room. A few times I was able to sneak in and watch too. I don’t remember if I stayed awake or if I woke up but, either way, I was sometimes able to be awake during that mysterious and delightful late-night prime time. If I was able to sneak down the hallway without waking my grandparents; then I could sneak down the long stairway, one-step-at-a-time; and if I made it to the bottom without them or my uncle hearing me; only then could I silently drop to the floor and crawl into the dining room where I could belly-crawl under the table, then I could hide amidst the chair legs and watch the television in the adjoining living room by laying on my belly. It was all good, so long as no one turned on a light. That was how I was able to make the acquaintance of The Creature when I was eight or nine years old. It was the scariest thing I’d ever seen. It stayed with me and visited in my nightmares for years afterward.
When I was at that awkward age of 11 or 12, you know…the “pre-teen” abyss — the neighbor across the street decided to rent out their barn and paddock to the folks who supplied the Brahma Bulls to the local rodeo every summer. How exciting! I love animals, loved them back then too. It was wonderful watching those big beasts graze and sometimes lift those massive heads to look around beyond their enclosure. Never did it dawn on me that the space might not be as exciting to them. I thought they liked bucking puny humans off their backs at the rodeo. I mean, everyone has to have a job, right?
One afternoon, as the school bus drove away, my friend (and neighbor), Sally and I began our walk to our respective homes. Her house was at the bottom of the hill, mine was about a quarter mile further at the top of the hill. Many days I would stop at her house and hang out for an hour or more until parents started arriving home from work. On this day though, I had decided to go straight home for some reason I cannot recall. As I reached the halfway point between our houses, I heard a sudden sound beside me. A sound that should not have been so close to my left side….at all. I slowed my step and slowly turned my head to the left, eyes scanning between the cherry trees in that orchard and when my eyes came to rest on a Brahma Bull, my heart stopped and so did my feet and my breathing. There we were, the bull and I had locked eyes on each other’s and while I quit breathing, he continued to breathe and he snorted as if to punctuate that of the two of us, he was not the one who was afraid.
I don’t know how long we stayed locked in that tableau. If felt like years to me. Then slowly, the fact that he was not alone began to wiggle into my consciousness. Oh! Sweet Mother!!! He’s NOT alone!!!! I saw another behind him and further up the hill. There was another at the edge of the cherry orchard but still in the neighbor’s yard. And then, dear deity, I realized there were three more…. on the side of the street where MY house was! I was surrounded by the mammoth beasts with horns that could go right through me and another person to boot! They were all looking at me. They took turns snorting and pawing the ground. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t move.
The ability to breathe and think slowly returned and I began mentally flipping through everything I’d ever learned about animals and how to handle yourself when confronted by a wild animal. Climbing a tree was out of the question because the bulls were closer to the trees than I was. Everything inside me was screaming at me to R-U-N!!!!! (Maybe it was Sally screaming at me from her house behind me…) Running wasn’t looking like a good option either since they had four legs and I only had two and at this point, they were between me and every building I could conceivably have run to for safe harbor.
With no idea what to do, I looked away from all their eyes, I began trying to slow my breathing. I began walking very, very slowly up the hill. I could see most of them with my peripheral vision, but hoped I wasn’t looking threatening since I wasn’t looking at them directly. After what seemed an eternity, a couple of them dropped out of my line of vision and were behind me. I don’t think I have ever listened so hard as I did that day. I was listening for movement from them that might mean they were coming toward me. If felt like hours before I finally reached the driveway closest to me. From there I just had to cross an expanse of yard to reach the house. At this point the bulls were all behind me. I had a clear shot to my house.
I heard a voice screaming RUN, and I don’t know if it was real or just in my head but run I did! I leapt up the four steps to the porch and slammed through the door and locked it for the first time in my life! Those bulls were huge so I also put a chair in front of it!
As an adult, I now realize the lock and the chair would have done nothing to stop those bulls from entering the house if they were determined to enter. I also realize now that the four wooden steps would never have held their weight so they would never have been able to reach the doors I had locked in the first place. Hindsight is so clear, isn’t it?
I think the phone may have been ringing by the time I made it through the door. If it wasn’t, I called Sally immediately to tell her not to go outside, but she already knew because her mom had called from work to warn her and tell her to keep me there and stay in the house until the adults all got home. The one time I decided to go straight home…go figure.
Moments later, my grandma called from work to tell me to stay in and that there were people on their way to capture and corral the bulls. Sure enough! Real life cowboys on horses with lariats swinging showed up and rounded up all the bulls while others worked on reinforcing the broken boards that had allowed for the bull’s escape.
There was a story later that they thought the bulls weren’t trying to escape, but rather that two of them had gotten into a fight and the others were trying to get far enough away to stay out of harms way. From so many heavy animals pressing against the wood fence rails two of the boards gave way under the combined weight. The cowboys separated those two bulls and one of them was rehomed to another farm. That was supposed to keep us safe from going through this again. It didn’t though but the next time it happened I was home in bed on the second story so I was safe that time.
I vaguely remember a cowboy riding up to the house and asking me what I did to get up the hill. I told him how slowly I’d moved, and he said I’d probably done exactly the right thing even though I probably wasn’t in any real danger to start with. I thought he might be a little crazy because I wasn’t on a horse when I’d been confronted by them. He was on a horse and those bulls weren’t snorting and pawing in his direction. But…all’s well that ends well…. right?
this looks a lot like my memory bull…he was huge, dark & scary