I was a five year old boy growing up on a dairy and cattle ranch in California’s central valley amidst California’s heyday. We were in the height of World War II, and we had all kinds of rationing. The most difficult thing for our farming family was the cutting off of electricity during the nighttime hours. Dairy cows do not understand wars. They want to be milked when they are ready, dark or not.
Lights were forbidden an hour after sunset just in case the Japanese Zeros could see them and bomb our homes and barns. Stories were abundant about reported sightings of Japanese war ships, and we expected an invasion almost anytime. The invasion rumors and sightings were nearly all false, but hearing them scared a five year old anyway.
I had wonderful parents, but they did not realize how fearful I was. My real buddy and comfort was Ginger, a four year old reddish-brown Cocker Spaniel dog. Ginger loved and followed me everywhere. Dogs were not allowed in our house, but after my parents went to sleep I would frequently sneak Ginger into my bedroom for the night. She had the softest coat. It was very slick, and I loved to stroke her head. Her eyes were the most beautiful, clear brown. I knew in my heart she could understand what I was thinking and saying when I talked to her.
It was early spring, and she gave birth to four brand new puppies. Their eyes were not even open. We never figured out who was the father, but they all looked just like Ginger anyway. The nights were still cold. Every morning ice formed over the water trough and frost covered the blades of the grass. By ten o’clock in the morning the sun was warm, and a spot on the south side of our home out of the wind was really comfortable to relax. Ginger would often lie down there next to our outdoor brick barbeque and oven my dad made for my mom’s birthday.
It was there Ginger would bask, and I would go get the puppies from under the house where she kept them and bring them to Ginger to nurse. Even at five years of age I could tell there were enough nipples to handle more puppies than to which she gave birth.
“I wonder what doggie’s milk tastes like?” I thought. “She has extra nipples. Maybe I could just taste it.”
Yet, in my head I argued this idea with myself. “Oh, no! I could never do that! What if someone saw me? They would tease me, and I would never live it down.” Quickly, I tried to force the thought back into my mind, but the temptation was too great.
Getting up, I casually strolled into the house. My hands were shoved deep into my pockets, and I started to whistle a little tune. Even at five years old I liked to whistle, and so it did not seem out of acting normal.
Mom was sorting clothes for the wash in a Maytag washer with the wringer. Dad was out working with the cows. I tried to look just as innocent as a five year old boy could look who had mischief on his mind as I strolled nearby in the house to verify her location. Slowly, I walked back outside and across the patio to where Ginger lay nursing her brood. I lay down as flat as I could to avoid detection, and I put my face down on her breasts and sucked one of her nipples. Nothing came out, so I sucked again really hard, and I got a few drops of milk in my mouth. It tasted kind of yucky, a little sweet, but not good.
“Yuck!” I said to myself as I got up on my knees and wiped my face and mouth on my sleeve.
Suddenly, I heard someone behind me. Clumsily, I stood up, turned around, and there was Mom laughing with an all-knowing look on her face. My face was hot and probably blood-red. I began to cry, “Please don’t ever tell anyone, pleeeease! I just wanted to see what it tasted like.”
Mom put her arm around my shoulders and spoke softly. “Why didn’t you ask me Steve? We could have milked some out before she started to nurse this morning, and put it on a teaspoon to taste.”
“Oh, Mom, if Daddy ever finds out, I’m Dirt! I’m Dirt!” I wailed.
Mom hugged me. “You see Steve, when you were little, about the age of those puppies, you nursed your momma too. That’s how you got food to eat, and mom’s milk probably did not taste very good either, but back then you thought it was great. That’s all you had to eat, but it probably tasted just about like Ginger’s milk.”
Mom smiled amusingly, “When you came walking so strangely through the house whistling and all, I knew you were up to something you didn’t want me to know about. I quietly followed you out here.”
I sniffled as mom’s face became a little sterner. “You should be embarrassed, because in your mind you were already feeling guilty. It is alright to have secrets, but not when it is about doing something you think could be wrong.”
“Being curious was not wrong. It was the way you went about it that was wrong!”
Mom patted me on the head, and then gave me another hug. “I think the puppies are through nursing, so why don’t you put them up.”
We started to walk back to the house and I felt a little better. “Isn’t it interesting how much human babies and little animals are alike?” Mom asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“C’mon and help me do the wash. I need some company!” she invited. “The neighbor called and said they could turn the power off a little earlier today. We will both need to help Dad with the milking this afternoon so he can get done in time.”