During the holiday season, I am always grateful for the kind cards and gifts that clients send into the office. Let me tell you, a box of chocolates or pair of Christmas wool socks goes a long way after drudging in from the snow and ice following a particularly tough calving or colic case. Every once in a while, however, a gift will come in that is, shall we say, rather unique. Allow me to further elaborate.
I once had a client who lived not too far from my house, once you got out of the subdivision and into the countryside. This family had a small dairy farm and sometimes found it hard to make ends meet. Driving to their farm, I frequently had to watch out for tires and chickens and goats in the road; there always seemed to be a mix of animals and items everywhere.
However, as it is with many low-income farmers, these folks were extremely generous in spirit. Always friendly and welcoming and forever concerned for their animals’ wellbeing, it was often a pleasure visiting their farm. In the summer, we’d talk about the county fair and growing vegetables and in the fall we’d discuss canning.
Now, these folks weren’t just any canners. It soon appeared to me that they’d can or jelly or pickle just about anything. These were Canners Extraordinaire. Occasionally, the bill would be paid in part with cans of tomatoes or beans. Sometimes, if I set out medicine at my house for them to pick up while I was out on call during the day, I’d return home to find a handful of cash and a container of some sort or sorts of veggies.
Then once, as autumnal conversations turned to how they were going to store their leftovers from the garden over the winter, we started talking about fish, which was odd considering they didn’t have a lake on their property. White fish was great canned, the wife was explaining to me. On toast for breakfast or for dinner — you couldn’t beat it. Nodding more as a segue into cattle health rather than as affirmation, I tried to steer the conversation toward the calving I was there to help with rather than a proposed dinner menu all from canned foods.
With the calving a mixed success (we got a healthy bull calf out, but the cow’s severely infected udder had turned into a blood infection with a very poor prognosis), I was sent home with a bag overflowing with garden vegetables.
A few months went by and Christmas rolled around. Standard Christmas cards were arriving in the mail, and as I arrived home one evening, I found a full plastic bag waiting for me on my porch. Opening it up, there were as many different cans and jars as could fit in the bag, all containing some kind of fish. Canned fish for Christmas! I knew immediately whom it was from, despite an apparently missing note or card.
Calling the dairy clients, I thanked them for their gift as I peered through the glass jars at my bounty. Unsure of the age of the fish or the canning methods used, I was more than a little reluctant to dine on pickled fish and toast that night for dinner but smiled at the thought of the dairy family tucking into the same thing. It’s always the thought that counts, that’s for sure. Besides, I have more than enough Christmas wool socks.
Dr. Anna O'Brien