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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
Springtime in the Glen

Grandpa, there are some baby chicks out in the back garden. They’re yellow and fluffy. Come and see," Maggie squealed. She ran over and grabbed his hand, pulling him out of his armchair. "Come on, Grandpa. Come on. Hurry up!"

"I’m coming, Maggie," he sighed.

She pulled him out of the house and when she was sure he was going to follow her, she ran towards the chicks. They scattered about in front of her like a thousand dandelions being tossed into the air. There were little balls of yellow fluff everywhere.

Maggie chased them around. Feathers flew everywhere and fluttered gently to the ground like falling autumn leaves. Grandpa stood and watched, laughing at his granddaughter. "They’re too quick for you, Maggie," he chuckled.

Maggie kept chasing them but they all ran or flew away. She pouted for a few moments and then sat down on the ground near Grandpa’s feet. "I’m tired." She took a deep breath. "I wanted to catch a chick and play with it. I love baby animals, don’t you, Grandpa?"

"Och, aye, lass. I do. Say, would you like to go into the glen and see the Highland calves? I heard there were several born last week. I know the sheep are lambing right now too. Perhaps we’ll see one or two. Maybe you’ll have a chance to pet a lamb," Grandpa said.

Maggie’s eyes lit up. "A baby cow, Grandpa? I’d love to pet one. They have that long hair. Do they have horns when they are little?"

"No, they don’t have horns, but I need you to listen to me Maggie, this is very important. We can go and see the cows with their calves but we can’t go near them. Highland cows are very protective of their babies. They will charge us if we go too close," Grandpa explained.

"All right. We can just watch, but can I pet a lamb?" she asked.

"Sure, lassie. We’ll find one just for you to pet." The two of them walked hand in hand, leaving the cottage behind them. Maggie’s braids were tied with yellow ribbons. She wore a white cardigan with yellow daffodils embroidered on it and bright yellow round, plastic buttons. Her skirt was tartan, with blue, yellow, white and black stripes going different directions. She looked like a breath of spring. "You’re looking very pretty this morning," her grandpa said, looking down at his old brown corduroy pants and faded tan jumper; "which is more than I can say for myself."

"Thank you, Grandpa." Spotting a herd of sheep up ahead, Maggie squealed, "Grandpa, there are some lambs. Can we pet them?" She let go of his hand and ran towards them. The sheep, of course, scattered as she neared them, their lambs following, leaping across the grassy hillside.

"Lassie, come back. They’ll no come to you that way," Grandpa called. Maggie came running back to him. "Stay still. We’ve got to offer them some food. They know me. They’ll come soon." He pulled a bag of oats out of his pocket and poured it into his hand, which he then held out. "Come on. Come on," he called to them. "Hold very still," he whispered to Maggie. In just a few moments the sheep headed towards them. The lambs ran through the purple heather and wildflowers, coming right up to Grandpa’s hand. "Here, you have some too," he said, pouring some oats into Maggie’s hand.

The sheep moved closer. They were big and frightened Maggie. "Grandpa, will they bite my hand?" she asked.

"No, lassie. Just stand still and let them eat."

The sheep nibbled the oats. "It tickles," Maggie giggled, as she felt the soft, wet lips nuzzling the food from her hand. A lamb allowed Maggie to pet it. "It’s so soft, Grandpa and white. The big sheep have dirty looking wool," she noticed.

"Aye, Maggie. They do, but it washes up nicely."

They fed the sheep until all the oats were gone. They allowed Maggie and her grandpa to pet them for a few minutes longer, and then ran off, bleating and baaing, up the hillside and began munching on the grass. "Let’s go and see the cows now, Grandpa," Maggie pleaded anxiously. They walked up the hill and came down the other side. Before them lay a small valley or glen surrounded by birch trees. The grass was greener than the brightest emerald. "It’s so green," she said, awestruck.

"That’s why the highland cows come to graze here. They produce creamy milk, rich and buttery tasting. Look over there," he said, pointing to a huge highland cow and its calf. Its reddish brown hair was hanging nearly to the ground.

"It’s a baby cow and it has hair on it, just like its mum," she chuckled. "I can’t see the big cow’s eyes. There’s too much hair!"

"Yes, Maggie, they are hairy, but usually very gentle creatures. That reminds me, has your Gran every told you about when she was a milkmaid?" he asked.

"A milkmaid? What’s that?" Maggie quizzed.

"Sit down right here on that stone. Keep your eye on the cows and I’ll tell you," Grandpa said, collapsing to the grass. Maggie sat on the round stone and listened carefully. "When your granny was a young lass, a wee bit older than you are, she lived on the other side of Loch Ness. Her father had a large herd of Black Angus cows. They were big cows, lassie. Your granny and her sisters had lovely voices. Their father, your great granddad, started having them sing to the cows. He’d heard cows liked music. Once the lassies started singing, the cows gave more milk. Every morning he got them up, had them go and herd the cows into the barn and sing to them as they were being milked." He stopped talking, as if thinking back in time. Continuing, "Oh she was a lovely lass, your granny. Her long red hair sparkled in the sunlight and she looked very pretty in her milkmaid dress. The cows loved your gran. They wouldn’t give milk unless the lassies sang to them."

"Grandpa, that’s funny. Whoever heard of someone singing to cows," Maggie laughed. "I’m going to ask Gran if that’s true."

"Its true, Maggie. She was bonnie. She still sings, you know. If you ask her, she might sing you one of her milking songs," Grandpa suggested.

"I will, when we get back to the cottage." Maggie looked at the mother cow. Her horns were long and curved. The calf didn’t have horns yet. "Let’s go home, Grandpa. If I can’t pet the cow, then it’s not so much fun. Anyway, I want to ask Gran if she was a milkmaid."

Without argument, Grandpa stood up and took Maggie’s hand. They walked back to the cottage. As they neared, they saw smoke billowing out of the chimney. The whitewashed walls of the cottage looked startling against the solid blue sky. Several black crows sat on a branch of a very old oak tree. "Your granny has been cooking. She’s got the fire going strong this afternoon.

When Maggie opened the door, her granny was just pouring herself a cup of tea. "Oh, there you are. Would you like some tea?" Gran asked them. Maggie looked at the kitchen counter. It was piled high with fresh carrots, potatoes smelling of newly dug dirt, and a few turnips with the green tops still on them. Hot, fluffy scones sat on a plate. Maggie took a deep breath.

"I’d love some," Grandpa said, heading for the soft chair in front of the fireplace.

"Yes, Gran. I’d like some too. Those scones look delicious, Gran. Are there raisins in them? Oh, before I forget, can I ask you a question? You have to tell the truth," Maggie said.

"Why sure, hen. What would you like to know?" Gran answered, "and yes, there are raisins in the scones. They’re for supper though."

"Today on our walk we saw some highland cows. One had a baby. It didn’t have horns, but it had long hair, like its mum. Grandpa told me that when you were a young lass, you were a milkmaid and sang to the cows. Is that true? Did you sing to cows?" Maggie asked, giggling.

"Och, that was a long time ago. So your grandpa remembered, did he? Aye, hen, I was a milkmaid. Every morning my father made us girls get up and go out into the pasture to bring in the cows. We had to do it, even if it was snowing or raining. Some mornings it was bitter, but we did it. It was our job. We’d put our boots on under our dresses and coats, because sometimes the pasture was nothing but mud. Sometimes I didn’t want to get out of bed. We’d get the cows to the barn and as they got milked, we’d sing to them and pet them. Their hides were black and tough. They did love our singing," Gran smiled, remembering fond times. "Would you like to see a picture of me in my milkmaid dress?"

"Oh, Gran. That would be wonderful," Maggie said.

Gran went into the other room and came back with a photo in a frame. It was old and yellowing. Maggie took it from her gran’s hands. "That’s you? You were beautiful," Maggie said. "Will you sing me a cow song, Gran?" Maggie asked, still staring at the photo of her grandmother.

"Let’s see if I can remember one. Och, aye, I remember one," Gran said. She sang a pretty song for Maggie.

"That was funny, Gran. If I were a cow, I’d give milk too. Your voice is very beautiful, Gran." Maggie looked up. Gran had a few tears trickling down her cheeks. Maggie ran over to her and hugged her. "What’s the matter? Why are you crying? Do you miss the cows?" Maggie asked, very concerned.

Gran wiped the tears away. "Lassie, I’m getting old. I’d forgotten about those days when I was a young lass, like you. Today you helped me remember something very precious to me. The years I was a milkmaid were some of the happiest of my life. Give me another hug," she begged. Maggie squeezed her gran tightly.

Outside the cows grazed on the tall grasses in the pasture, the sheep frolicked about the mountainside, and life in the highlands of Scotland went on.

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