Thursday, October 06, 2011

In Conversation With...Doug, Betty & Breanna Curry

(First published in The Oxford Journal on August 31, 2011)

Inside the farm house, a tiny grey kitten with white markings and bright eyes saunters across the kitchen floor. 
“That’s George,” Doug Curry says. Great name for a cat. “I think my granddaughter’s got names for all the cats.”
As Doug settles into a chair at the table, Betty takes a seat in a rocking chair. A break from their preparations for more than a week of Exhibitions in Truro and Oxford.  
Doug and Betty (Patriquin) Curry live on 200 rolling acres in the Wentworth Valley. Married for 50 years, this has been their home since 1963, when Betty’s father died and they moved in with her mother. Both Doug and Betty were working, and would continue to work, full-time jobs in Amherst. 
“When I was a young boy, we lived out Tyndal Road. When Dad came home from the army, he had dairy cattle and a few horses so I knew what it was about,” says Doug about their move to his in-laws’ dairy farm.
He added eight Angus to the herd but these days, the milkers are gone, replaced by 48 head of Angus and Hereford that the Currys raise for breeding. It was the draft ponies that cultivated their garden, however, that got Doug started with showing at the Cumberland County Exhibition in 1965. Those ponies are a smaller version of the horses that perform in the horse pulls, the event that traditionally draws the biggest crowds at an exhibition. 
“It’s so exciting,” Doug says of the Thursday night event. “People love to see who can pull the most weight.”
Doug’s favourite competition, Tug-of-War, has been off the schedule in Oxford for a few years. The reason for that, Doug says, is that “There’s no more fools like me anymore that will get on the rope.” 
Betty rolls her eyes so Doug adds, “I was the most hated person in this house the whole time I pulled.”
“It’s hard on the body,” Betty asserts. 
“I never missed a pull,” her 74-year-old husband interjects.
“It gives you back problems, you know. There’s a lot of pulling, you put a lot of strength into it.”
“I’d do it again tomorrow,” Doug insists and Betty shakes her head. He had triple bypass heart surgery last year.
But that tough-guy image doesn’t influence his philosophy about animals. 
“They claim an animal is stupid but you can talk to the animals and they know everything you say,” says Doug. “I’m in favour of TLC: tender, loving care. That’s the best results you’ll get out of an animal.” He leans forward in his chair. “For example, this morning four of our 4-H heifers got out. They know her voice and my voice. So we just let out a roar and called one by name and they came out of the woods and back up to the barn.”
“He’s always fed them so he just shakes the bucket, ‘Come, boss, Come, boss’ and they come,” Betty adds.  
When asked what he has learned from animals, Doug answers immediately: “Patience. They are great at teaching you patience if you are willing to work with them.”
“You’re kind,” Betty adds, and suddenly 50 years of marriage comes into sharp focus. Patience. Kindness. Family. 
And grief. One name is mentioned and it’s like the house lets out a held breath.
“Byron always told Breanna, ‘When you’re working with an animal, when you’re dressing it, showing it, you’re in the ring, keep your voice low, talk in low tones. If you raise your voice, they know there’s a difference,” Betty says.
Breanna is the teenaged daughter of their only son, Byron, who died in late April at the age of 45. His absence is like an empty space between these people but just as strong is the sense that he is, somehow, present. Breanna, who has lived mostly with her grandparents since the age of three, passes through the kitchen on her way to harness one of her show heifers for a photo and Doug nods his head as she goes out. 
“There’s a young girl right there this year has broken three steers to go to shows. She has one for Oxford, she took one of my black ones. She broke all three, clipped them, bathed them.”
The pride in his voice is clear but so, too, is what is missing: her father, his son. Gone but living on. In this space and in this girl.
This is their first fair season without Byron, and Doug mentions that Breanna hesitated about going without her father.
“I’ve done pretty well so far,” 15-year-old Breanna admits when she returns to the kitchen. “It’s going to be pretty hard [at Oxford]. I’d always go into the ring with the heifers and come back out and my father would be standing there watching me. He wouldn’t say anything but he’d have this certain look on his face and I knew he was proud of me. Now it’s not going to be the same.”
Out in the yard, Breanna leads the black heifer back into the barn. While she’s out of sight, fetching a Hereford, Doug murmurs, “You don’t know how much I miss him.” His son, Byron. “I hope I get to live another 10 years to see her grow up.”
Breanna reappears, trying to convince the less cooperative Hereford to exit the barn. “She works like a man,” Doug proclaims proudly.
Indeed. Like one particular man. 
Back in the house, Doug sits back down in his kitchen chair and picks George the kitten off the floor with those thick tug-of-war hands. Without a sound, the tiny ball of grey fur nestles into the lap of tender, loving memories.

by Sara Mattinson

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