Teenage Life


CHAPTER SIX – Teenage Life

Winton, CA: Moved here beginning of Freshman year in high school. My family was still living in Winton when I left for college. Life on the farm in Winton, CA.

High School Romeo: A note to begin. While high school is the place to really develop your oats and allow them to flourish, I never had a date in high school. Yes, yes, parties, but no single dates. I guess I was chicken. I was a funny guy. Everyone liked me. But I was not handsome, was not an athlete, did not let my brain show its ability, and was not a lover-boy. Socially insecure. Lesson: No matter your circumstances, you must learn who you are and how to use what you have.

Cow Milking: When I was a teenager living in Winton, CA, Grandpa Wuehler (my father, nicknamed GW by my children) bought a cow. It was a Jersey milk cow. Grandpa milked the cow in the morning, and I milked the cow in the afternoon. Milking was done by hand. Grandpa had “built” a stool upon which to sit while we milked. He found two pieces of wood, nailed one under the other for a leg. So, we had a one-legged stool for sitting while we milked. Get the picture? Sit on the one-legged stool, and your two feet would make a three-point balance for the sitting. Plus, I held the milk bucket between my knees as I milked. Generally, a dairy has a stanchion into which the cow’s head goes. The cow is given some time to eat during the milking process. The stanchion keeps the cow from leaving. We had no stanchion—just a box into which some grain sweetened by molasses went. The cow loved it.

The trouble was that the cow finished eating the grain long before I finished milking. She would grow impatient, slap me in the head with her tail, and shift her feet as if about to leave. Check it out! I am rocking back and forth, sitting on the one-legged stool, balancing with my two feet, my head leaning against the cow’s belly to help with stability, and squeezing the bucket between my two knees not to drop it. Then, the cat (for whom I had no love) would look for a handout. I would squirt a shot into the cat’s face, aiming for the eyeballs. The cat would run its tongue all over its face to get the milk. The scene would have gone over well in a Keystone Cops movie.

My hand grip became very strong as I squeezed milk into the bucket. Once finished, I took the milk (between one and two gallons) to my mother. She would strain the milk and then put it into a pasteurizing apparatus. This “cooked” the milk without boiling it and killed any germs. She would then put the milk to cool in the fridge. The cream would rise to the top. Mother would skim off the cream for various desert projects. We would drink the skim milk. The skimmed milk was probably around 1% or 2%.

Sometimes, the cow would need to take a dump before milking was finished. You always had to know the tell-tale signs of the coming dump and get the bucket out of the way. One time, the bucket got splashed into by, shall I say, foreign material. I did not get the bucket out of the way in time. Instead of dumping the milk (the cat would have loved that), cleaning the bucket, and starting over, I just took the half-full bucket into my mother. She commented that ‘the cow did not give much today’ and dumped the milk into the strainer. She got the surprise of the hour, and I got a chewing out. Even if she was mad, it was pretty funny! 😊 Lesson: Enjoy yourself no matter what comes your way in life.

Crow Shooting: We lived on a two-and-a-half-acre farm in Winton, CA. An irrigation canal ran along part of the backside of the property. There was a 50-foot-tall eucalyptus tree next to the canal. Crows used to gather up in the tree. It must have been some political meet. They were up there crowing, cawing, ranting, and raving about who knows what while looking down upon us unfortunate land-locked animals. The crowing and cawing were irritating. But the thing that got me irritated most was the mess (if you catch my drift) they dropped all over our swimming hole at the canal. I decided a little justice needed to be enforced.

I would go out the house’s back door with my .22 rifle. But these black-feathered politicians were no dummies. They would immediately spy the gun, and off they would fly. The birds returned as soon as the rifle came back into the house. I needed to be smarter than the politicians! (Reportedly, crows are very intelligent for a bird.) One Saturday, I had left my rifle in the barn on purpose. Later, I went out the house’s back door, looking like I was heading out to do some chores. I was carrying the milk bucket, even though it was not time yet. I figured those crows would think I was just an early bird (how is that for a pun 😊). Into the barn I went, which is where the cow would be for milking. The subterfuge worked. Those crows were not as smart as they acted. I picked up the .22 and loaded it with a few bullets (did you think I left a loaded gun in the barn with my younger siblings running around). I walked to the back of the barn, where I could see the tree but had plenty of cover. I put the scope’s crosshairs on the chest of what looked like the head crow and squeezed the trigger. The noise caused them all to take flight, including the head politician in the crosshairs.

Nuts! I thought I had missed it. But then, after about 10 feet of flight, that crow came crashing to the ground—one less feathered politician messing up my swimming hole.

Interesting thing. My eucalyptus tree was no longer used as a political meeting place. The canal bank where we would swim did not need cleaning every day. The crows did not come back for a long time. Lesson: If you do not like what is happening, do something about it. Whining is of no value.

Timber Timber was the name of the Alaskan Malamute dog my father brought back from Alaska, where he had been on a TDY assignment for his boss, the US Air Force. What a great dog—strong as an Ox, the kind of dog that would pull sleds in Alaska. We named him Timber because he had the impact of a falling log. There are many great stories about Timber.

We lived on a small farm in the country. Timber was an active dog and liked to play. Timber would look for something to do when the family was all gone, something to amuse him. My father often had to pay the neighbor for chickens Timber killed. He was only playing them. He did not eat any of them and did not develop a taste for blood. He would pounce on them and smash them. He probably thought it was great fun, chickens running to and fro, squawking with Timber jumping and squashing. But paying got old, plus the neighbor was unhappy about it. So, my dad decided to chain Timber to a big, stout, eucalyptus tree. (Not the same tree as the one used by the crows.) The trouble was that Timber would get bored and leave. He would pull the chain loose from the nail holding it to the tree. He was off for another adventure. Lesson: A simple nail will not contain a strong dog.

The Three Greyhounds My father loved to raise things; he particularly wanted to raise some Greyhounds. One day, he brought home three purebred Greyhounds, one male, and two females. (My brother says he remembers two males and two females, but I am not telling my brother’s story.) This was after he brought home Timber, the Malamute who had become the “cock-of-the-walk,” so to speak. Having his territory invaded by these interlopers did not set well with Timber. The Greyhounds saw no reason to respect Timber’s authority. They thought themselves to be the new bosses, particularly the male. The growling began almost immediately. My mother told my father that he should fence the dogs off but close enough together to become familiar. My father’s response was simple: “Naw. They’ll figure it out.” After a few days of growling, the Greyhounds thought they had figured it out. There were three of them (or four, if my brother is correct) and only one Malamute. The Greyhounds attacked, intending to take power. The fight lasted ten or fifteen seconds, with the Greyhounds running off howling. Now, the Greyhounds knew who the boss was, and it was not them. After the fracas, the four dogs lived happily together. My father was correct. Lesson #1: Dogs, like people, need to learn who the boss is for themselves. Lesson #2: Three (or four) against one is not always an unfair fight.

Another Timber/Greyhound Story Our small farm in the country was bordered on one side by a peach orchard. It was fun to watch Timber chase the jackrabbits and cottontails that would tempt Timber into a chase. Timber would oblige. Peter Rabbit would run a bit, then stop, look over his shoulder, and wait for Timber to catch up. Just as Timber would arrive, he would take off again. I bet the rabbits loved teasing Timber. The rabbit’s life changed when the Greyhounds arrived. The rabbits were unfamiliar with greyhound racing, where they chased a mechanized rabbit around a track. Those poor rabbits just saw more four-legged animals like the one chasing them. They were skinnier and had less fur but the same look. They thought there was now more entertainment. So, a rabbit would approach, and the minute a greyhound would look their way and chase, the rabbit would run. As before, the rabbit would stop, look over the shoulder with a smirk on its face (if rabbits could smirk). BUT…BIG TROUBLE!!! The skinny four-legged animal was on top of them. The skinny ones were faster than the furry one. With a shriek, off went the rabbit. The only thing that saved them was the ability to dart among the peach trees. Still, after a couple of temptations, Peter Rabbit and his friends moved on. Lesson:  Just because you have control in one situation does not mean you have control in all situations.

Carp hunting in Winton Canal There was an irrigation canal behind our house in Winton. We used to go swimming in the canal. When the water was stopped, pockets of water would remain in depressions in the canal bottom. One day, my good friend Jack Smart and I were out in the canal trying to catch/stab carp fish that had congregated in the depressions. The water was about 6 or 8 inches deep. I had a carp pressed against the bottom with my left hand, attempting to stab the fish with a dull knife in my right. I was not having much success. Have you ever tried to stab a carp? It is not easy, cowboy. Seeing my failing efforts and wielding a barbeque fork, my friend Jack said, “I’ll get it, Wuehler.” What are friends for? To be helpful. After this, he stabbed my fish, sending one prong of the barbecue fork he was wielding through the ring finger on my left hand before it arrived in the fish. Ouch!!! Luckily, he just got skin, no bone. Jack was distraught that he had stabbed me. But I did not suffer much. I was 16. Sixteen-year-old males do not suffer pain. 😊 Lesson: Make sure your weapon of choice is capable of the task assigned; otherwise, another weapon may injure you. (Maybe that is why I have been married twice and divorced twice. The barbecue fork put a curse on my ring finger.) 😊

High School Fun I remember high school, Atwater High School. Fun times. Some guys had poked a hole in the wall between the boy’s and girl’s dressing rooms, trying to get a peak. I never looked. I got caught flying paper airplanes around the business law room while the teacher stood in front of her desk reading the textbook. The varsity football team lost each Friday night, and afterward, they were out getting drunk to celebrate (???) the loss. In PE, you had to dress and shower or get demerits. One day, a couple of guys were pushing and cussing each other in PE class. The teacher took us all out behind the PE building, gave the two antagonists a pair of boxing gloves, and they duked it out… when they were done, they were friends. You could never do that these days. Cancel culture would freak out, woke people would be screaming (even if it was two white boys), people would be fired, and lawsuits would come from every direction. What has happened to sensibility in this country?  Lesson: Teenagers are learning how the world works. Stop getting in their way.

High School Friends I had many friends in high school, but my two best friends were one black and one white. Castle Air Force Base was in Atwater High School’s jurisdiction, so we were a diverse youth community. We were not politically correct, but we were good to each other and treated others with respect. I drove by Atwater High the other day, 59 years after I graduated. School is still there; we must not have destroyed it. Lesson: School and life go on if we do not destroy them.