How I got to Michigan are not important here. My service time nearly complete, I was there. While there, I had a farm, 160 acres, 65 hectares. I raised and bred horses, and had a few head of beef cattle, a couple of pigs, chickens, and a cat. Her name was Sheba. She was my barn cat. To feed my animals through the long winter, I also grew timothy and alfalfa hay, and oats.
Even on the coldest winter days and nights, Sheba remained in the barn. Her job was to control the population of mice. She was very good at her job.
Every morning, when I went to the barn to do my chores, to feed the animals, to clean their stalls, to visit with all of them, I would pick Sheba up, snuggle her, then place her in the hood of my parka. She would ride with me, purring, while I was in the barn. I had to work every day at the base; so I had only an hour or so with her and the other animals. I would return to them in the late afternoons.
My animals were my family. I had no one else. Sheba was among my favourites. The pigs, bullies, both of them, were my least favourite.
For two years, two winters, Sheba was with me. Just as the snow was beginning to melt that second year, when I went out to the barn, she was not there. I called for her. Looked all around for her, calling, I asked the animals if they had seen her. Then I heard her, calling for me. She sounded hurt. I ran towards the sound of her voice. Behind the barn, I found her. My heart sank. I fell to my knees before her.
It is difficult for me to type this, to tell this story. I cannot hold back my tears.
My dear Shaba had gotten her hind leg caught in a trap. With the melting snow, farmers were putting out traps to protect their smaller animals from predatory carnivorous weasels, wolverines, raccoons, and foxes. Sheba’s hind leg had been severed. I picked her up, and held her to me. She had suffered a lot. She was weak. She had lost lots of blood. Her eyes begged me to end her misery. With the heaviest heart I have ever felt, with the knife from my pocket, I cut her throat. She died instantly. I continued to hold her, heaving with grief, sobbing as if she were my dearest sister, dead in my arms.
I brought her body to my shop, and placed it lovingly on a gunny sack. Talking to her, with some old wood, I made a box to hold her body. When I had finished the box, I made a bed in it of clean straw, and laid her inside. I said, goodbye, then closed the box.
I then brought her to my forge, where I fashioned horse shoes as a farrier. Heating, bending, and welding, I wrought a circle of iron, with a five-pointed star inside it. I then welded an ‘S’ superimposed upon the star. That would be her grave marker, buried with her.
The ground had begun to thaw, but was still quite cold. At the edge of my apple orchard, with difficulty, with pick and shovel, I dug a hole big enough to accommodate the small coffin, at least three feet deep. My tears had diminished while I was attending to her box and memorial; now they began again with an intensity that nearly broke my heart. On my knees, I thanked her for her service, her companionship, her camaraderie, her love. I placed the box in the hole, then rested the memorial ring with star and ‘S’ on top of the box. It was the most solemn of moments. I filled the hole with dirt, making sure to tamp the dirt down firmly. I did not want wild animals to smell what was beneath, and begin to dig. When finished, I stood there, my head bowed, and thanked the universe for giving me such a wonderful and faithful friend. I turned, and walked back towards my barn and house.
I had to go to work. Sheba would never again meet me at my barn door. She would never again ride with me in the hood of my parka.
To this day, I still grieve. Grief is earned. I loved her that much.