Introducing Ox Buzzard

The first time I saw Ox Buzzard was at church.

Grandpa had a neighbor, Oxnard Buzzard, called Ox not only because of his name, but because of his gigantic proportions. He stood a full head taller than my over six foot uncles and had shoulders "wide as a barn door." Golden brown hair curled to his shoulders and his beard was a thing of beauty, flowing in rippling waves to the middle button of his shirt. Even his eyebrows were bushy and curling and beneath them his piercing blue eyes twinkled with the joy of living.

Ox, for all his great size and strength, was a gentle man. Animals trusted him. His skill with a sick horse almost equaled Uncle Lonzo's and they often worked together at blacksmithing. Ox could be riled tho. Lonzo enjoyed telling of one instance when Ox lost his temper. The two of them had gone to another town to see a team of horses Grandpa was considering buying. Some of the young men standing around decided Ox's long hair made him fair game for teasing. After a considerable time of ignoring their comments on his curls, Ox rounded on them, lifted the two gravest offenders, one in each hand and shook them like a terrier with a rat.

"As the Lord endowed me, so shall I live. Learn respect for all men before you loose your tongues." His voice was booming and heard by all, near and far. Consequently there was quite an audience to see those two hapless fellows lifted over a six-foot fence and deposited in the horse trough on the other side. Whereupon Ox returned to the business at hand, inspecting the team of horses.

On Sunday Ox with his junoesque wife Clorinda and ever increasing covey of children filled the two front pews right under the pulpit. This could prove unnerving for a timorous itinerant preacher, but preachers were a hardy breed and nearly all survived. Ox couldn't read a word but he knew every hymn in the book and every verse thereof. There was no first and last verse singing in that church. It had been tried and proved futile. When the piano played the first note, Ox threw back his mighty shoulders, raised his leonine head and with his overpowering but melodious baritone led the congregation through verse after verse, ending with a resounding AMEN.

At prayer time while others around him knelt with bowed heads, Ox, on his knees still taller than any other man in the room, raised his head and gazed through closed lids straight into Paradise. Of this a small girl, peeping through her fingers, was certain for his face seemed transfigured. If the preacher didn't keep us on our knees long enough in Ox's opinion, he would begin a loud prayer of his own, going on till he considered a proper time had elapsed. His prayers were often more beautiful and meaningful to us than were the preacher's.

No one knew exactly where the Buzzards hailed from. One day they weren't there and the next, they were. Ox bought a farm which lay half on the hillside and half in the valley, paying for it in gold. He and Clorinda lived in an old pioneer cabin at first. As years passed and their family grew, they added to the original building, creating a rambling comfortable home.

Almost yearly a new little Buzzard entered the nest. As his family grew so did Ox's farm prosper. He was well liked and respected by all as an industrious, God-fearing man.

Neither Ox nor Clorinda ever spoke of the families they must have left behind nor of where they left them. Both spoke a form of English archaic even in the 1870s. They had arrived barefoot and wearing the simplest of homespun garments with their "plunder" tied on the backs of two enormous work-horses. They seemed well supplied with gold and soon adopted their neighbors form of dress, in public at least.

Uncle Lonzo was perhaps the best friend Ox had. His six-foot plus came closer to Ox's towering height and his skill with horses approximated Ox's own more than did any other man's in the community. The Buzzards were always welcome at the Big Farm and I, sitting on my stool at Grandpa's knee, often overheard friendly speculation about them.

The first time I went to the Buzzard farm was rather an unexpected occasion. Ma and I were visiting the Big Farm during a spell of open weather in late March. I must have been eight at the time. The sugar-bush was running and the men were all busy with that. Ma and Grandma were doing some sewing for me. How I hated having dresses fitted and pinned.

I was standing on the kitchen table that afternoon, staring out the window and wishing I could be at the sugar shed instead of being pinned into a new dress. Suddenly I saw Ox Buzzard coming down the road, his horses at a dead run as he turned in the Big Farm gate. He fairly leaped from the wagon seat as Grandma opened the door. Ma stripped off my half-finished dress regardless of pins and stitching as we listened to his story.

Clorinda's baby had begun its earlier than expected arrival the day before. Despite six or seven others having arrived safely with no help except his, she was frightened this time. So was Ox. He had come for "Aunt Mandy" whose capable hands had smoothed many an infant's troubled entry into the world.

It took Grandma just five minutes to get ready and Ma no longer. There was nothing to be done but to fetch me along so off we sped, leaving a note for the family on the kitchen table. The road to Ox's farm turned off the main road about a mile from the Big Farm. It wound up the hillside, growing rougher by the minute till our bones ached and teeth rattled despite the straw in the wagon-bed where Ma and I sat. Grandma perched on the wagon-seat beside Ox with the same composure as she sat in church.

Rounding a bend, we drove into a large, neat barnyard but there was no sign of a house. Ox led us to the bank of a snow-swollen stream over which a felled treetrunk served as a bridge. Gathering all our courage, we crossed the cold, rushing water and followed Ox's broad back up a steep path to the house clearing.

As we entered the kitchen a girl about my age but taller by half, came to meet us. Six other children clustered around a trestle table, eating their evening meal. The girl, Roxy, took me to join them and I found I had an enormous appetite for the fried pork, hot biscuits with honey and still foaming fresh milk the others were enjoying.

Ox. Grandma, and Ma disappeared through a far door. Shortly Ox came back and sat heavily on the half-log bench before the huge fireplace. Roxy took him a cup of coffee and a plate of food. Both lay untasted on the bench beside him.

I whispered to Roxy that the team had been left standing in the barnyard. She nodded and laying her hand on her father's sleeve, repeated what I had said. It was a moment before he seemed to understand, then he rose and called the three boys, Sim, Nate, and Lonnie, to help him. While they were gone, Roxy washed up the dishes in a pan on the table. Four year old Maddie dried them carefully and I played with Nimmie and Hannie. They were giggling at my handkerchief doll when Ox and the boys came back, bringing a blast of cold, snow-filled air through the door with them.

Shrugging off his heavy coat, Ox smiled at his children. Suddenly came the loud, out-raged wail of a new-born infant. Ox fell on his knees, raising his clasped hands in prayer then remained frozen in amazement as a second wail joined the first.

A short time later I stood with the other wide-eyed children as their twin brothers were washed in the dishpan and dressed. As each was wrapped tightly in his warm blanket, the protesting shrieks died away and soon both slept in the big hooded-cradle at one side of the fireplace.

In the bedroom, Ox held his Clorinda's hand as she slept. Then he, too, fell asleep wearied by hours of watching and worry. Outside a spring snowstorm raged. There was no hope of our returning home that night even had Ox been awake to take us.

Roxy brought quilts, plump goose-feather ticks and pillows to make "shake-downs" for Grandma and Ma. I, in my shift and drawers and wrapped in a shawl, climbed to the chilly loft to share a bed with Roxy and Maddie. What an adventure it seemed, sleeping in the rough, unfinished loft with two new friends.

Outside the wind whipped snowflakes wildly, tumbling them over and over before plastering them on every tree and bush. Below in the fire-lit kitchen, Ma and Grandma settled on their pallets to rest a little, rising often to tend the babies and look in on Clorinda.

Sim, Nate, and Lonnie slept on their straw mattress across the loft and little Nimmie and Hannie nestled like two rosy bear cubs in the rough crib beside the chimney. Despite my determination to savor this strange night, sleep claimed me. Under Roxy's out-flung protective arm I slept deeply.

Ox's voice calling the children to prayers and breakfast woke me to momentary bewilderment. Wrapping the shawl snuggly around my shivering shoulders I followed the others down the steep stairs to the kitchen. The cradle had been moved to Clorinda's room, much to my disappointment, but I was allowed to peek in later to see the twins again.

As we ate breakfast, mush with 'lasses, fresh milk, fried potatos and slices of pork, Uncle Lonzo's voice hailed the house. Obeying Grandma's instructions, he had gone after Miz McCoy, a motherly widow-woman who helped out folks when they needed extra hands, as she put it. Together they had made the trip to the Buzzard farm over snow covered roads.

Uncle Lonzo's oft told description of getting Miz McCoy's not inconsiderable weight heaved into and out of the buggy, and of her crossing the log bridge, was hilarious. She took over with dispatch, enchanting the children, bossing Ox, and mothering Clorinda to her heart's content. As a matter of fact, she remained and became part of the family for the rest of her life.