My Missouri cousin, whom we visited every summer, was an only child, like me. We were born three days apart. His name was Jay, and mine was Kay. I loved visiting them. His mom was, “Oh, let the kids go play, they’ll be OK.” My mom was a total watchdog and I couldn’t make a move without her approval or direction. Going to Jay’s every summer was like escaping from captivity.

Jay’s parents owned an incredible dairy farm, a big house, a majestic barn and all the other stuff that goes with that. They were very proud that their dairy herd had the highest butterfat content in the state … whatever that means. They had a baby grand piano in the living room and a laundry chute from the second floor. But, best of all, Jay had his own horse. And another horse for me to ride!

We lived on the outskirts of our town and I did have a couple of donkeys. We lived where we could drive into town in five minutes. So Jay considered me a “city girl.”

He knew exactly how to tease his “citified” cousin. You know, “Watch out for that cow pie!” etc. They had milking machines but reserved a special cow they milked by hand and squirted milk into the cats’ mouths. There were about eight cats to keep the rodents out of the barn, and they gathered around when my uncle went to “their favorite cow.” Jay’s daddy, my uncle, taught me how to milk a cow by the time I was 8. Jay always managed to squirt some milk on me and get my shirt wet.

The cows had a big watering tank out behind the barn. It was metal and about 3 feet deep. One hot day, Jay said we should go for a swim in the watering tank. I can’t swim but knew I could walk in it. He jumped in and I cautiously climbed in. It was horrible! It was covered with cow slime all over the bottom and Jay got a big laugh.

“You sure ain’t a Missouri girl. Right now you are one little fish out of water.”

I was insulted and wanted to do something else so I could prove my worth. Jay had a great idea: We would ride the horses down to the Spring Branch Creek and ride the horses while they swam across.

I thought that was cool, so we told the mothers we were on the horses but left out the part of crossing the creek. Jay had his own pinto and I always rode Molly, who was as gentle as could be.

We always rode bareback but with a bridle. We rode down the hill from the house, crossed the road, across another field, through some trees, and there it was – the Spring Branch. But it wasn’t as peaceful as usual. I guess there had been some rain upcountry and the Branch was very high and running faster than usual. But not that much …

Jay started across and urged me to follow. So, I did. Things were going well, then Jay signaled me and shouted, “I see three water moccasins swimming alongside. Keep hold of the reins but grab the mane, too. Put your feet out behind you on Molly’s back so you are out of the water … NOW!”

I immediately did as he told me to do and watched three ugly poisonous snakes swim by. We then got the horse up the side on dry land and we rode several yards away.

“Kay!” Jay spoke very solemnly to me. “You will never tell our mothers about this. Understood?” I nodded my head yes. We rode back to the house.

This happened 72 years ago, and now is the first time I ever told anyone.