‘Jim Binder, the Bull Minder’
My father's spirit resides in the farmlands along Cave Neck Road, which leads into Milton. A man with a deeply tanned, leathery face and smoky-green, twinkly eyes, he had the countenance of a tobacco store Indian chief.
Back in the days before seat belts and car seats, kids could huddle on the ledge next to the back window of the car. I would lie gazing at the stars. One night he told me they were the Northern Lights, the beginning of my fascination with Scandinavia and the Sámi reindeer-herding people.
Jim Bounds was known to the migrant workers at the King Cole Cannery as "Jim Binder, the Bull Minder." He managed all of their farms in Sussex and even Kent County, getting up at dawn and returning home late at night. We would be motoring along Cave Neck Road in his dusty company car with the radio and antenna, and the car would suddenly come to a stop with no warning. He'd get out without a word and walk into the fields on some unknown mission.
On one memorable occasion, bloated cattle lay in the field. He motioned for me to come over and assist him. He unrolled a leather pouch and revealed a mysterious silver tube. Striding above the cow, arms raised above his head, he expertly plunged this tube into the abdomen of the suffering cow, which had appeared to be long gone. The cow's abdomen deflated with a rush of air, and it staggered off, apparently cured.
This operation he performed on the rest of the herd. A man of few words, he turned to me and said simply, "clover bloat." He was a god to me then! This was an ancient shepherd's technique which took great skill. I saw it later in the 1967 version of the movie, "Far From the Madding Crowd." I also read about it in the book of the same name by Thomas Hardy.
I used to assist my dad in his veterinarian-like rounds, birthing calves and shoving pills the size of hockey pucks down the giant-toothed mouths of resisting cows in muddy barns. In lighter moments, he used to tease his mother-in-law (my maternal grandmother, who lived with us) with his cattle prod.
He spoke of harvesters and combines at the dining room table, where he tried to explain the mysteries of algebra to me. I never got it, and he kept a box of pencils labeled “Valiant Fertilizer” from his time as a salesman nearby. These he used to break in half in frustration at my lack of ability to understand this obtuse (to me) discipline. One after another would be snapped in half, and he had hundreds of them!
He used to make me go to church with him, but I would pretend a fainting spell and had to be taken to the rooming house next door where I was served the best coffee in Sussex County, poured for me while I read the Sunday Bulletin. He finally gave up when I made 50 cents’ change from the dollar he gave me for the collection plate.
I really loved this Marlboro man of a father, though! I used to sit on his lap in his big reclining chair, the only place he could find rest with all the calls of cows getting out all night, my face pressed hard against the pack of cigarettes in the pocket of his flannel shirt.
He dropped dead of a heart attack late one night when I was a senior in college in New Mexico. My lord protector was gone! At his funeral, a long line of mourners snaked around the block at Short's Funeral Home in Milton. Eighty-three bouquets of flowers were counted in his memorial book, one from a former governor, much older, who had outlived him.
The many cannery farm workers who stood outside the doors of the funeral home expelled a sad utterance in unison, "Jim Binder, the Bull Minder – rest in peace." I had not taken college seriously until then, caring more for painting and socializing in the coffee house, listening to poetry to the beating of bongo drums, but I put my mind to it then. Except for algebra, my old Achilles heel.
The dean of women pulled some strings and let me pass algebra in honor of my recently deceased father. He had visited her one time to ask her to help me get a tutor (which didn't help), and he had charmed her with his twinkly eyes.
Whenever I see people who remember him, they are usually in Food Lion. Whether of high or low birth, they usually remember him the same way – He was a fine man.