I cannot recall how our cow was called “Red”. Maybe it was because of his color. Red was really a bull, but I prefer to call him a “cow”. At the time Red was acquired I was still an infant. My vague memory of Red was at three, close to the concluding years of World War II.
There were trees and bushes around the clearing in the forest of Cotabato. The sun was bright and warm. Red was lying down on the grass under the shade of a tree. He had horns (like a Texas longhorn) so he must have been a bull, but I prefer to remember him as a cow. My older sister Norma, was standing on his head, holding on to a tree branch, while she picked fruits. A dog napped near the cow’s belly.
Towards the end of the war, the evacuees have settled to a semi-permanent site in the middle of the forest. Huts were built from trees and dried cogon. There were no nails, so they were tied together with balagon. We had a trusted dog named Blackie. He would accompany Tatay on group hunts for wild or stray chickens and for wild pigs, using traps – no guns. Evacuees hid from the Japanese as well as rebel groups. The forest was not without its dangers.
One lazy day, our parents noticed our absence. They called out but no response. Nanay began to panic, but Tatay calmed her down and called for Blackie. No response. Then Tatay calmly said, “They’re fine. Blackie is with them.” My older sister, Norma, and I were often known to take Red to graze in the forest and Blackie always tagged along. We would be gone for hours and when we returned, I would be holding on to the rope attached to a contented cow, and tailing behind would be my sister, tapping a twig on Red’s rear end, and behind her was Blackie. This Rockwellian picture sits comfortably in my mind. I have even titled it, “Home From The Graze.”
Red was an extraordinary beast of burden. He was bought to pull our wagon. Why Tatay chose a cow instead of a carabao like everyone else, was because cows can go longer without water. Cows are more intelligent too. The other evacuees would use whips to get their carabaos to go faster. With Red, Tatay would only shout “Dali, Red, dali!” and he would run like hell!
Red was gentle too. He was our playmate. Norma would climb all over to the top of the animal’s head, and he would lay very still. A slight movement could cause her to slip off and hurt herself. I was never a climber, so I would just slide over his back or snuggled on his belly. They say smell is an indelible memory, and since I cannot recall an unpleasant smell with Red, I assume he must have been a very clean animal. At least Nanay kept him so. But I do recall the smell of the forest; the fresh grass and the smoke from cooking pits.
Red and Blackie were constants in my early childhood memories. This snippet affirms their existence. Our survival during the war years in Cotabato had largely been with their help, loyalty and companionship.