"Hand me that feed bag,” Grandpa hollered from the cattle trough.
I reached into the bed of our pickup and lifted out the heavy burlap bag. There was no mistaking Pa’s voice. Even at his age, 75, it was commanding.
Any other Friday afternoon, I would have been in school. But the flu was going around real bad that week, and in our small town, it knocked out enough people to give us a day off. A day off for most kids, anyway.
I might have been hanging out watching TV or going fishing with my friends. But not with my grandpa around. Pa lived close by and came to our farm nearly every day to help take care of our cattle. Today he had me and my little sister, Jordan, as extra farmhands, so he was putting us to work too. It was better than seventh-grade math class, I guess.
You get used to the chores on a farm. Feeding the cattle, keeping the troughs filled, taking care of our dogs, mending fences. I loved hanging with Pa. I learned a lot from him. Like when he taught me to drive—even though I was only nine years old at the time. “Right foot gas, right foot brake,” he explained to me, pointing down at the pedals my feet barely reached. “Not too hard; don’t gun the engine. And both hands on the wheel at all times.”
He even let me take the truck for a spin once in the field sometimes when we worked hay. I always asked him if I could drive again. “Wait until you’re older,” Pa would tell me.
I hauled the bag of feed to Pa and he poured it slowly into the trough. “Keep an eye on that bull,” he said. That would be our newest addition to the farm, a 1,400-pound Angus bull. He was grazing at the far end of the pasture, but Pa wasn’t taking any chances. We’d only had the bull for two weeks. The entire time he caused problems: busting down a gate, charging at tractors, butting our truck.
Pa finished loading up the trough and we walked to the truck parked on the other side of the fence, about 20 feet away. Suddenly, Pa stopped. “Did you feed the calves?” he asked. Jordan and I had bottle-fed the smallest one earlier, but hadn’t filled the feeder for the others. “You two wait by the truck,” Pa said. “I’ll do it.”
Pa trudged back through the gate. I felt bad about forgetting. All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a black streak crossing the field. The bull, running, picking up steam, and heading straight for Pa.
“Pa!” I yelled. Too late. The bull hit Pa full force, flipping him into the air like a rag doll. Pa hit the ground, hard. Oh, Lord, he’s killed him, I thought.
But Pa rolled over. Before he could get out of the way, the bull dug its head underneath him and slammed him against the trough. Pa flailed his arms. He tried to push the bull away.
“Get Mom and Dad!” I shouted to Jordan. She froze for a moment, terrified. “Go!” She took off for the house. I called 911 on my cell phone.
The bull backed away and kicked up dirt. He was going to charge again. I had to do something. I grabbed the feed bag and raced along the fence to where the bull was. I tossed the feed at it. “Come on, bull,” I hollered. “Come and get it!” No use. He was too mad. The bull butted and pawed at Pa again. Pa put his arms up around his head, shielding himself. I knew if he could, he’d be praying. Pa was big on his faith. I made a silent prayer too. I didn’t know what else to do.
Then everything got real quiet. Everything except a voice. Pa’s voice. “The truck,” I heard him say. “Use the truck.” I looked at our pickup. The keys were in it. The door was open. I jumped inside. Turned the key to start the engine, like Pa taught me. Shifting into drive, I hit the gas. The truck lurched forward.
Both hands on the wheel, I lined the truck up with the open gate and drove through. I turned toward the bull and pressed my foot down. The truck shot across the field.
The bull snorted and backed away. I kept moving toward him, pushing him back. I got him as far away from Pa as I could. Finally the bull turned its back. I shifted into reverse and pulled alongside Pa.
Pa could barely stand. I hefted him up with all the strength I had and pulled him into the truck. That’s when I heard it: Thunk! The bull was back. Now he was ramming the pickup! I climbed back into the driver’s seat and shut the door just in time.
My parents, who’d rushed home from work, ran to the pasture with my sister. Pa was so banged up he had to be airlifted to a trauma hospital. “He’ll be okay,” the paramedic told us later.
Everyone was calling me a hero, but I couldn’t get over how easily things could have gone the other way. What were the chances that school would be cancelled that day? And what would have happened if I hadn’t heard my grandpa’s voice say, “Use the truck”?
That’s the oddest thing. The next day I went to visit Pa in the hospital. He was still in bad shape, bandaged up with IV lines running into his arms. “I don’t remember much,” he told me, “’cept seeing the wheels of the truck coming toward me. You saved my life.”
“I just listened to you, Pa,” I said. “You told me to use the truck.”
Pa shook his head slowly. “I was too busy trying to stay alive,” he said. “I couldn’t have said a word.”
I heard a voice that day. But it wasn’t Pa. I reckon it was someone who makes sure we hear him when we need to the most. Someone who spoke to me in a commanding voice I couldn’t ignore.