By Mary Maranitch
As I begin my story I start to snicker. My fondest memories as a child growing up in the Midwest were of visiting grandpa’s farm in a tiny little town called Stuart, Nebraska. It’s one of those towns were everyone knows everyone else, or is related, and, unfortunately, when city kids came to visit, EVERYONE knew. I think it was actually their form of entertainment to see what we city kids would do next.
It was back in the 1970’s. The big news story around those parts was that farmers were losing their livestock to a cult that would kill cattle and mutilate them for their sex organs. Sounds a little deranged even for the 70’s but that’s what was happening.
My grandfather became very ill. He had to have an emergency Appendectomy. Because the appendix had actually burst, his recovery was long and difficult. He could not care for himself, and living way out in the country was out of the question. So, he grudgingly went to a long term care facility (the nursing home) in town to recover.
While my grandpa was healing from the surgery, he needed someone to watch over the farm and feed his 2 dogs. My older brother, Pat, my cousin Cindy, and I decided we three would all go help Grandpa recover and take care of his farm for him. We each packed our bags for a week, which presumed a rather quick recovery for grandpa.
Grandpa’s dog, Duke, was very old. He couldn’t see or hear. He limped around with arthritis, and his fur was all matted down; But Duke was Duke, and we all loved him.
Grandpa’s other dog, Punk, in contrast was a young mischievous adolescent and a handful. He had a weight tied on his neck so he would learn not to chase the chickens. It wasn’t much of a deterrent, and it seemed to cause more trouble than good.
Everyone hated it when Punk came running up to greet them with that weight swinging from side to side. It would inevitably connect with your leg, leaving a big bruise. But the weight had been a simple solution to the chicken problem for my grandpa. No more lost chickens to Punk.
My mother loaded us three kids in the station wagon, and we headed out of Omaha for a 4 hour ride to Stuart. We played the usual games in the car as we drove through the towns of Fremont, NE, Scribner, NE, O’Neill, NE, etc.
We were finally arriving. Driving down the very long, straight dusty roads to grandpa’s farm, we passed the Kramer’s farm. Then we beheld OUR domain, the open fields of Grandpa’s farm, the tall loosely piled haystacks (made exclusively for our climbing, of course), cattle to talk to (MOOO at them, and they’d MOOO back), horses to ride, and barns to explore (had some awesome “hide and go seek” games in those barns).
We dropped our luggage off at the farm, each claiming our own room. Each room had an iron bed frame and a closet with squeaky doors.
Grandpa’s living room had a rocking chair with a towel over it and little, black and white TV with rabbit ears. The vinyl floor always seemed to have a layer of sand on it.
Grandpa’s chair was next to a window just above the cellar door outside. When you sat in the chair, in the distance you could see the old outhouse, which was now only used in extreme conditions. You had to be pretty desperate.
I wonder if it is still there. It had a lot of spiders, which was pretty scary. I dreaded the thought of having spiders crawling on me while I was doing my business.
After I unpacked my bags, which was the equivalent of opening my suitcase, we drove to the nursing home to see how Grandpa was doing. He was glad to see us and gave us kids a list of to do’s and to don’ts while staying at the farm. One clear, big rule was, “Don’t drive the tractor!”
Mother was going to be leaving the next day, and we’d be there by ourselves for one whole week. That meant we three teenagers were in charge of the farm!
My brother Pat was old enough to drive (just barely) so he agreed to pick up grandpa each day and bring him back to the farm for the day and return him in the evening to the nursing home.
Mom left for Omaha the next day and we promptly went to town in grandpa’s pickup truck to retrieve him for the day. My cousin Cindy and I had to ride in back in the bed of the truck since there wasn’t enough room for all of us in the cab. Lucky for us it wasn’t raining that day!
Now, I don’t think grandpa realized that we were aware of the stories involving the CATTLE KILLERS, but it was very present on our minds. As I said earlier, these sick people would mutilate the cows for their sex organs, which was pretty scary stuff to us city kids, a 16 yr old boy and two 14 yr. old girls.
These mutilations were occurring somewhere in the Midwest, and quite possibly in Grandpa’s own backyard. At least that’s what we imagined at the time.
Everything was going smoothly for a couple of days. We would pick up grandpa, bring him home and cook his meals, which were comprised primarily of a whole lot of pork chops since they were cheap. I hate pork chops to this day because of that week.
After dropping grandpa off for the night we went home and both Cindy and I decided we would go for a walk. We headed down the road about a 1/2 mile and saw some headlights in the distance. Out in the Nebraska countryside, the roads are long and straight. With only a few trees or farmhouses for miles, you can see anything that comes up on the horizon while it is still far away.
Cindy noticed that the lights had come to a stop. Of course we could only assume one thing! If we could see them then they could see us. We both knew without saying a word that it was the CATTLE KILLERS.
We spun around and high tailed it for the farm, which felt like it was 5 miles further going back than it had been comin’ … especially because we were running in thick, sink-your-foot-in-it, gravel.
We didn’t bother running up the long driveway which would have been easier. No, we were down in the ditch, back up and over the rusty barbed wire fence – the most direct route back to the farm house. Even the dogs must have been scared since they were nowhere to be seen (right when we needed them). We ran into the farmhouse with the screen door slamming behind us.
We imagined that once we were back in the house with all the lights blazing, we’d be safe. Nobody could hurt us now, right? But, where was Pat? He must have gone on some walk-about. The truck was still here. So, he didn’t leave in the truck.
There was no way that we could let him know that he was also in grave danger.
After a few minutes, Cindy and I decided to try and calm ourselves down with a game of checkers. We placed the checkerboard on the foot stool, and sat on the floor. We played the game for about 15 minutes – long enough to calm our fears and begin to forget about mysterious headlights in the distance and of our frantic dash back to the house in the dark.
Our peace was suddenly and rudely interrupted by an ear piercing, loud rumbling noise! “What’s that?!” I screamed.
We both jumped up, checkers went flying everywhere. Two bright headlights were beaming in through the window and headed straight for us.
Run and hide was all we knew to do. “Quick! Into the closet!”
We crouched behind all of grandpa’s clothes. Sitting, crouched down in darkness, we whispered to each other, “It’s the CATTLE KILLERS!”
After what seemed an eternity of hearing nothing other than our own breathing, we heard the screen door slowly open and then close with a slam. Footsteps plodded closer and closer.
This is it. It’s all over for us!
But wait a minute! The foot steps stopped. The intruder sat down. He turned on the TV. What nerve! They were watching grandpa’s TV!
We looked at each other (by then our eyes had adjusted to the darkness) and at the same time said “It’s PAT!!!”
Sure, enough. We walk into the living room and Pat was sitting in the rocking chair. “What happened to the checkers?”, he asked with this big smirk on his face.
The next day we all got up early to go pick up grandpa. Cindy and I noticed the tractor had been moved and Pat was hanging up the keys to the tractor. The mystery of horrific rumbling noise was solved.
Nothing more was said about it. We wouldn’t tell on Pat, if he wouldn’t tell anyone how scared we had been of the cult of the CATTLE KILLERS.
This post was submitted by Mary Maranitch.