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Gates, Doors, Animals, and People

Monday 15 May 2017 at 10:45 pm.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for May 11, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Growing up in Dime Box helped me to appreciate the intelligence of animals. If you had neither a cattle guard nor a chain and lock on your gate, you couldn’t keep cows or horses in or out. Any bovine creature who wants out of the pen can easily figure out how to open a lift-up latch and let itself out.

            Equine creatures are even smarter. So you tie the gate closed with rope, because you know your horse is savvy about the latch, and, if he wants out bad enough, he’ll untie the rope with his teeth. You can count on it.

            Inside the house, if you have handles rather than knobs on your doors, with one leap the family cat will enter the forbidden room. You can count on it.

            Back in the 1940’s in Dime Box, we had a barn with a cowshed on the side, which was fronted by a pen to keep the milk cow inside. There was another wooden fence enclosing the area in front of the barn. The front door of the barn had one of those homemade latches consisting of a rectangle of wood with a nail driven through it. All you had to do to open it was to push the rectangle up or down.

            Behind that door was stacked the cow’s “groceries,” as our local Vet calls animal food, -- bales of delicious hay.

            Now this old cow would let you know when she was hungry by letting out a most pitiful “moo.” And if you didn’t attend to her cry of famishment, she would demonstrate her intelligence by finding her “groceries.” Latch on the gate of the first pen, -- just push it up with your nose. Sashay down to the gate on the second pen, -- again, just push the metal latch up with your nose. Enter the pen. Lope to the “pantry” door. One flip of your nose and the rectangle of wood is up and the door open. Eat your fill. And she did.

            Latches didn’t really matter when it came to gates to the chicken yard. Fence them in, and fowls simply fly over the fence. Sometimes roosters get rid of hens they don’t like that way.

            While animals can be very smart about opening gates and doors, there is no evidence available that they’re willing (or able) to close them.

            People are the same way. It’s my opinion that female Homo sapiens are better about closing doors (especially closet doors and junk room doors) in the house, and male Homo sapiens are better about shutting gates and doors on the outside (which they consider their domain, if, like me, they’re from Dime Box).

            “Don’t forget to close the gate to the back yard,” I say to my wife, my gardener, “the neighborhood dogs will use our yard as a bathroom and they will terrorize our cat.” Two days ago, I noticed the gate was open. It’s still open. Do you think I should close it?

            “Shut the door to the tool shed,” says I, “you’re going to have skunks, possums, and snakes bunking in there!” I think she likes the idea of turning the tool shed into a zoo.

            Back in the old days my parents were very strict about keeping doors shut, both inside and outside the house, especially outside. They had quite a few buildings between the house and the meadow. In addition to the barn and the chicken houses, there was the smokehouse and the outhouse. And the hog shed attached to the hog pen, if you want to count that, too. Since the smokehouse contained ham, bacon and sausages being smoked, and exuded a tantalizing aroma, to leave its door unlocked was to say goodbye to breakfast for the rest of the year. It would mean feast for the critters who got in and famine for us. In that respect, you didn’t have to worry about leaving the door to the outhouse open, as what critter would be lured its aroma.

            However, the privy had two latches, -- one on the outside and one on the inside, both made of rectangles of wood and a nail. When you entered, you latched the inside; when you departed, you fastened the outside. Of all the buildings between the house and the meadow, this one was the smallest and the hottest. My brother and I used to love to play tricks on each other, and on anyone else who deemed it necessary to use the outhouse, by closing the outside latch once the person was inside. To hear one of our aunts yell and scream was worth the spanking we got.

            Gates and doors keep bovines, equines, felines, critterines, and Homo sapiens in, and keep them out. And sometimes they don’t.

-0-

 Ray Spitzenberger serves as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis, after retiring from Wharton County Junior College, where he taught English and speech and served as chairman of Communications and Fine Arts for many years.

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