The thing I remember most about Billy was the fact that he was 1800 or so pounds, standing at least five feet tall, a striking red Limousin bull. He was also fairly even-tempered, which helped a little bit when it came to running the cattle in once or twice a year for branding and loading purposes. Then there was that happy time of the year when Billy had to be separated from his female friends, something he neither liked nor appreciated. Now, it does not take much common sense to have a healthy respect for a bull, no matter how gentle he is, or how much he likes having his ears scratched. (Which I did once, at eight or so years of age, standing on the corral fence. He snorted at me, and I about jumped out of my skin.)
The corral into which the cows were customarily run stood at about six feet high, since in the past, wiser souls than us had discovered that occasionally animals are prone to leaping out of precarious situations, and having a high fence dissuades them from such a practice. It was at this particular fence that I stood when “the incident” happened. I do not remember the particulars, just that Billy had gotten up on the wrong side of the salt bin that morning and was a bit testy. Either that, or he was joking. One never could tell with Billy. Anyway, he decided he’d had enough of being given the “run around,” and viewed his options. There was my dad, fairly decent sized and somewhat well known to Billy as the bringer of grain, salt, hay, and other much-revered yummy things in life. To Dad, Billy no doubt owed some sense of loyalty.
And then there was Mom. Billy looked at her for half a second, decided he owed her no loyalty, and charged. It was only a half-charge, really, more of a snort and moving about a foot forward, but my mother shot for that six foot fence, vaulted over it in record time, and landed on the other side panting while I roared with laughter. Okay, maybe not roared. More like squeaked, because the whole thing was rather traumatic for a kid, even one accustomed to working around cattle.
“BILLY!” my dad bellowed, and the bull looked around at him as if to say, “What? It was funny.”
“Susan, help me run him in!”
“I am not getting back in that corral!”
My dad couldn’t really blame her, having scaled his fair share of trees in the past to escape angry neighboring bulls, and ran him in by himself, Billy acting as though nothing had happened, although there was a newfound arrogance to his step that indicated he was pleased with his accomplishment. No doubt seeing my mother scale a six foot fence in a single leap that Michael Jordan would be envious of had improved his mood considerably, as did the promise of the dinner awaiting him in the barn.
There were other bulls during my childhood, but the one that left the biggest impression on me was Billy. He was the biggest bull we ever owned, surprisingly good natured and amiable. I remember him snorting and stomping at rival bulls across fences, but I don’t think he ever broke through one to get out. And he impressed my cousins. One year during branding we came over the crest of the hill beside the creek carrying our shoes and a jar full of tadpoles, just back from wading in the water tanks, and saw him. One of them turned about four shades of white and left the jar behind as she sprinted back the way she’d come. Grandma walked me down later to rescue the tadpoles, after I made sure Billy was nowhere in sight. He might have been big, but really, he was just plain full of bull.