Fair season is upon us and this morning I thought about a moment, about five years ago, when my then-little nephew embarked on his first moment in the show ring.
I was so lucky to witness it and I’m glad I wrote it all down:
Coop rested one of his John Deere boots on the edge of the pen, slightly moving aside his coordinating John Deere hat so he could wipe the sweat from his brow.
“It’s pretty hot out today, huh, Joey?” Coop asked.
Joey didn’t respond – he doesn’t talk.
But somehow, Joey and Coop have quite the conversations.
That’s because Coop does all the talking.
Joey does all the listening.
“You’ve got some straw on you, but that’s OK, I’ll brush it off,” Coop said, lovingly wiping it from Joey’s side. “I’ll get the comb and take care of everything.”
“He’s my best friend,” Coop said, as he wrapped both arms around Joey’s head.
Joey didn’t care . . . he seems to love it when Coop accosts him.
“Coop, should we go to the camper and get something to drink?” Coop’s father asked.
“No, I’m good,” Coop responded. “I’m just going to stay here with Joey.”
And then he proceeded to literally lie on top of Joey, who in turn almost seemed to purr like a kitten.
Joey and Coop are a duo to be reckoned with.
They haven’t known each other for all that long – just since February. But it’s been a friendship that transcends age, knowledge and literally species.
Three-year-old Coop met Joey on a brutal winter night.
“It was so dang cold out,” Coop’s father recalls. “That’s when I brought Joey home.”
Joey was born that night, on the feed lot just north of where Coop lives.
“He had to be brought in out of the cold,” Coop’s papa continued. “And that’s when Coop met Joey.”
There was an instant bond. Coop could barely contain his excitement as he took it upon himself to care for the young calf.
Who chose the name for Joey?
Well, Coop, of course.
“We don’t know how Coop came up with calling him exactly that,” his father said, laughing. “All I know is that all of a sudden that calf’s name was Joey and Coop was going to make sure Joey was alright. He said he was going to take care of him.”
And care for him, he has.
“Joey is my bucket calf,” Coop said, as he lovingly stroked his counterpart’s neck.
What does Coop feed Joey? He rattled off a list that included a combination of pellets, a specific rationing of hay and “lots of water. Joey’s a really thirsty guy.”
Because Coop’s older brother, Logan, shows cattle in 4-H, it was only natural for Coop to decide it was time for halter training.
“There they are, day after day, in the yard – Coop and Joey,” Coop’s father said smiling. “That calf is so trained, he’s more like a dog now. He will go anywhere, do anything Coop wants.”
So each evening, when the summer temperatures begin to become tolerable and the sun prepares to set in the west . . . Joey and Coop walk about, with Coop incessantly talking and Joey consistently listening.
Over time, Joey’s size surpassed Coop’s stature. But Coop doesn’t care that his best friend is many times the size he is.
“I’m still the older one,” Coop explains, “because I’m three and he’s only been around since the winter. He might be big, but he’s really still a baby.”
Someone near Joey’s stall turned on a water spigot and water began to spill from a nearby hose. Instinctively, Joey’s head rose in earnest and it was clear the calf was excited about seeing the water.
Turns out, Coop has given Joey so many baths over the course of the summer, the calf now becomes energized at the sight of water and the thought he might be up for some grooming.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Coop’s father said. “Nothing like it. The calf loves a bath.”
As people went about their business, taking care of their livestock at the end of the fair day, no one worried about Coop’s whereabouts. They knew exactly where he would be . . . sitting by Joey’s side, offering stories about his friend to any passersby who might be interested.
Coop is too young to even be a Clover Kid . . . but he began begging months ago to lead Joey into the ring during the fair. His parents eventually reached out to the people in charge, asking that their three-year-old be allowed to show with the other young ones. They obliged and the big day came.
Coop knew exactly which halter should be used. When offered the fancier version reserved for special occasions, he declined.
“No, Joey doesn’t like that one,” he protested. “We will use the one he wears at home.”
Joey and Coop entered the ring, and the duo calmly walked the circle as they had done countless times before. The only difference this time around was that there was a crowd watching.
“And there was a judge,” Coop’s father said. “The judge stopped Coop and crouched down to his level. He asked Coop a question.”
No one in the crowd could hear Coop’s answer, but his father knew he stammered a little because he was nervous.
But Joey stood perfectly still and Coop’s free hand naturally stroked his buddy.
Joey and Coop walked out of the ring with a green participation ribbon – Joey’s black hair shimmered as much as the pride in Coop’s eyes.
The day I met Joey for the first time, I was walking behind my brother and nephew on the way to the barn. I marveled at how Coop imitated his father’s gait and adjusted his hat at just the right times.
And then out of the blue . . .
“Dad, you know what?” Coop asked.
“No, Coop, what?” my brother asked his son.
“Oh Dad, I love Joey,” Coop said with so much enthusiasm it made me want to laugh and cry at the same time.
“I know you do, Coop,” my brother said, reaching out to grab the little one behind the neck.
“I love my bucket calf, so much!” Coop nearly squealed with excitement and genuine affection. “I can’t wait to give him water. I think he probably needs a bath, too.”
“Yeah, because he’s only had about five baths this week,” his father responded, chuckling.
“Yeah, only like five this week,” Coop said. “It’s probably time.”
As they walked further, Coop said, “Dad?”
“He’s the best bucket calf in the whole world,” Coop said. “We are such good friends. I love him. We are kind of like a team.”
“Yes, you are,” my brother responded. “You are Joey and Coop.”