earphone

I’ve mentioned before that my favorite place to visit when I was growing up was my grandparent’s – Mama and Papa – farm in west Tennessee. There was just something about going “to the country” and being on the farm that was – and still is – very appealing. Mama and Papa lived near Atwood, TN. They were cotton farmers, although Papa did grow some corn and raised a few farm animals – cows and pigs, in particular.

One of the most fascinating things for me to watch while visiting was when Papa fed his cows. He didn’t have a lot of cattle, maybe half a dozen or so; but, boy, did he treat his cattle well. I don’t think Papa ever fed them anything but the corn he raised himself. Even his pigs got table scraps rather than feed from the Co-op. I remember hearing many folks talk about how healthy Papa’s cattle always looked.

What’s more, Papa never fed his cattle from a trough. He fed each one…by hand. He shucked the corn himself, in his barn. He would then go to the old fence that separated the hogs from the cattle, step over it very carefully, so as to avoid contact with the electric fence. He would then stand in the same spot it always did – a bald patch of earth where he had stood countless times over decades – and then call the cattle to supper.

I don’t remember exactly what he said as he called them. But I do remember it was always the same thing: same pitch, same tone, same volume. And what was so fascinating to me was the cattle were hundreds of yards away, in the fields minding their own business. But when Papa called, they came. Often slowly, but they came. They knew what his call meant: a hand-fed supper of corn on the cob.

They knew Papa’s voice. They trusted Papa was going to take care of them. They knew they would be fed and well-tended. Loved, even.

I was in awe. This was something I had to try myself, I said. I wanted to see if the cows would come to me like they did to Papa. If they would let me feed them from my hands.

So, the next afternoon, while Papa was working in one of his gardens and away from the barn, I thought I would help by feeding the cows for him. I thought it would be a nice surprise for him…save him some time and give him a break.

I walked to the barn and into the corn bin where Papa had shucked hundreds – maybe thousands – of ears of corn for his cattle. I packed ears of corn into the old bucket he used, went to the fence where he crossed over, I gingerly stepped over that old barbed wire fence so as not to touch the “hot wahr” as Papa called it, found his standing spot – that bald, hard-packed spot of earth and grinned at my skills at being so stealthy.

I reached down into the bucket and grabbed a couple of ears of corn. I took a deep breath and let out a call in my best Papa impression…not sure I used the same words and grunts and intonations as Papa, but I thought it was pretty good. Besides, I was dealing with cows. I thought surely they’d come running to anyone who had food.

Nothing.

No cows.

In fact, I could see them standing in the middle of the field about 100 yards away. They stopped grazing when I called and turned to look at me, licked their noses and returned to their grazing. But they didn’t come.

I tried again. Nothing.

A third time, I tried. This time, I waved the corn above my head, hoping they would see I was there to feed them and come moseying up to me on their well-worn path.

Nothing doing.

I was getting frustrated, angry.

About that time, Papa showed up. He must have heard my pathetic attempts and came to see what was going on. I told him what I had done, but the cows just weren’t coming. “They must not be hungry,” I said.

Then Papa, in his gentle way, took the corn from my hand and let out his call. The cows immediately began their usual trek to their feeding spot, where Papa stood and fed them ears of corn as they gathered around us in a circle. Each gently taking the ear of corn from his hand and slowing chewing it until he offered another one. He even gave me some corn and showed me how to hold it so the cows would take it from my hand. It was amazing.

It took me a while – years in fact – to realize what was happening. The cattle listened only to the voice of their master. It was his voice they knew and trusted. It was he who always, without fail, took care of them. They knew the sad attempts of an imposter trying to sound like their master; but even with the promise of care, they would not heed the voice of a stranger. Only the voice of their master gave them comfort and gently pulled them to his side.

So, whose voice do you hear and heed? Whose voice promises and delivers both comfort and care? Do you hear and heed the voice of imposters? Or do you hear and heed only the voice of the Master?

 

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