External Photo Clues:
The afternoon was so hot and still that the only real signs of life were the locusts humming lazily in the trees around the neighborhood. Clifford, Eddy and their next door neighbor, Frances, were sitting in the shade of Frances’s willow tree, discussing their entertainment options, which were a little lean that day.
“Wanna make a lemonade stand?” Eddy asked.
Clifford took his sailor cap off and studied it for a minute, “nah, too much work,” he said, placing the hat carefully at just the right angle back on his head. He had won that hat the day before in a marble game and he was still relishing the win.
“I think a lemonade stand would be fun and we could make some money,” Frances said.
“Too much work,” Eddy answered, siding, as always, with his older brother.
“No, it’s not! And besides, what else is there to do? I’d rather be doing something than nothing!” Frances folded her arms and prepared to pout.
“Shhhh! Look at that!” Clifford whispered, looking in the direction of the alley.
Following his gaze they saw what he was so excited about.
The small calf hadn’t noticed them yet. It had come trotting down the alley, and deciding the grass growing in Frances’s back lot looked pretty appetizing, had stopped for a snack.
“Where’d it come from?” Frances asked, looking around as though she expected the rest of the herd to be right behind it.
“I don’t know, but let’s catch it!” Clifford whispered.
“Why?” Eddy and Frances asked at the same time.
“Because—-,” Clifford paused, choosing his words carefully. He knew that a successful ‘round-up’ depended on good, trail seasoned, rough riding cowhands, but he’d settle for Frances and Eddy.
“Because if we catch him, we can fatten him up and sell him. We could make a lot of money—more than selling lemonade.” He explained.
“Where can we keep him?” Frances asked.
“In there,” Clifford said, pointing to the old chicken house behind Frances’s garage.
It hadn’t been used in years; there wasn’t even a fence around it anymore, which Frances wisely pointed out.
Clifford wasn’t about to let a small detail like that keep him from becoming the ‘Cattle Baron of 19th street’.
“We’ll keep him in the chicken house and take turns taking him for walks,” he said.
“What’ll we feed him?” she asked.
“Grass,” Clifford answered, “calves like grass.”
“But I bet he belongs to somebody—maybe he belongs to Mr. Holden, he has a cow.” she said.
Mr. Holden lived in the next block and, yes, he did have a cow—–.
“Yeah, but I’ve never seen a calf down there—–Mr. Holden wouldn’t let a calf just run around anywhere it wanted to. This is a stray, nobody wants it. We’ll give it a good home ‘til it gets bigger then we’ll sell it and make lots of money”, he said, and then added, “More than selling lemonade.”
They all knew, even Clifford that the idea didn’t make sense, stray calves didn’t run around like stray dogs. However, he had said something else that helped lend credibility to the ‘strays calf’ part, those three little words that everyone understands—lots of money. They didn’t know the word ‘avarice’, but ‘lots of money’—-they understood. That day three cattle rustlers, under the guise of benevolent rescuers of calves, were born.
The first step in building their cattle empire was to catch that calf and for the first time since the lemonade stand bit the dust, Eddy expressed an interest in the venture with a question.
“How are we going to catch him?” he asked.
“I’m going to rope him,” Clifford called back as he headed home to get his rope.
The only thing Eddy had seen Clifford rope was the bedpost in their room, and even then there could be no movement or noise. He wondered how Clifford was going to explain that to the calf.
Soon he was back with a long piece of frayed cotton rope.
Francis and Eddy slowly moved around in front of the calf to get its attention while Clifford crept up behind it. Sensing something wasn’t right, the calf turned to run and ran smack-dab into Clifford and his rope.
When the dust settled the calf was heading for greener pastures, dragging Clifford behind him. Frances and Eddy were running after them, yelling for him to let go of the rope which he wouldn’t do, even when his prized sailor cap went flying through the air.
Finally, the calf began to tire and they were able to catch up with them and the three ‘wranglers’ were able to push, pull and bully the little ‘doggie’ into the chicken coop. After they managed to shut the door, the calf began bawling and kicking the wall.
They were discussing what to do next when Clifford, looking in the direction of the alley, muttered,”Uh-oh.”
The object of his attention was Mr. Holden walking across the back lot in their direction.
Now the words, “uh-oh” are not the words of someone who has finally located the owner of a lost calf. “Uh-oh” are the words of a cattle rustler caught changing the brand.
“Have you kids seen my calf?” he asked, looking at the chicken house that had some very un-chicken sounds coming from inside.
“What does it look like?” Clifford ask.
Francis and Eddy couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Was he crazy?! Stalling was only going to prolong the lynching!
“It’s brown and white,” Mr. Holden said as he opened the door of the chicken coop and replaced the piece of cotton rope that was still around the calf’s neck with one he had in his hand.
“Oh, that calf,” Clifford said, “we saw it go in the chicken house and we wondered who it belonged to.”
“Clifford, I told you that was probably Mr. Holden’s calf,” Frances said, her indignant tone proclaiming her innocence in this cattle rustling fiasco.
“I have a stomach ache, I have to go home,” Eddy said, preparing to leave the scene of the crime.
Mr. Holden took the calf and left, muttering to himself.
“Why’d you say that to Mr. Holden, you almost got me in trouble?” Clifford said.
“Because I did say that wasn’t a stray calf,” she replied, “next time listen to me.”
“Next time I’ll build a lemonade stand,” he answered, checking his skinned elbow as he picked his cap up from the ground, “it’s safer and we make a lot more money!”
About The Author:
Connie Breedlove wrote her first short story when she was ten years old. It didn’t impress the literary world but her mother liked it. Many years later she wrote a book,’A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Heaven’,and it was published by Zondervon Publishers. How nice for her!
Authoring For The Imaginary Family Project:
Are you interested in “finding” one of our lost vintage photos by authoring a story?
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Imaginary Family Project Author Request Form
About The Imaginary Family Project:
The 2011 Imaginary Family Project is a year-long collective art endeavor coordinated by occasional amateur artist Quentin Bomgardner and co-sponsored by The Red Dirt Chronicles. This project is based around “lost” vintage photographs, which have been acquired at flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, and eBay – heirloom collections, with no heir. Every week a different author will “find” one photograph by creating an imagined history around one of its subjects. At the end of the year, the collection will be compiled and presented as a group.