Viehscheid: When the Cows Come Home (2/2)
Next down the mountain came a large herd whose herder was carrying a small calf in his arms. The calf had a tiny bell around its neck. It was wearing the herder's hat. The herder danced around in circles while the calf bawled. The crowd roared with laughter.
"That's Herr Hoffman," laughed Emma's mother, "he's such a clown!"
Emma liked Herr Hoffman's family; she went to school with his daughter, Bridgit.
The lead cow in the next herd had no flowers around her neck. Instead, she wore a black cape. A hush fell over the crowd. The black cape meant the herder had died.
"Such a pity," someone said. "Franz was too old to herd anymore, and his heart was bad."
Sometimes there were accidents on the mountains. Last year a herder had fallen into a ravine and been killed. Herding on the steep mountains is a dangerous job.
At last Emma's father and brother came into sight, walking beside their herd.
"It's Dad and Karl!" cried Emma. "Oh, look at Dad's beard."
It was the longest, thickest beard of all. And such decorations on the cows. Emma's own cow, Mitzi, had a blanket of Alpine roses on her back.
Emma's father won the prize for the longest beard. Karl won the prize for the best cheese. After the prizes were given out, many cows were driven into pens for the cattle sale. People came from far away to buy the well-fed animals. People also came to buy the cheese that the Bavarian villagers are known for.
That night there was dancing and singing until very late.
"Aufwiedersehn," said everyone, as they walked home. Next year they would meet again to celebrate, when the cows came home.
-- Bonnie Taylor, Swiss American, Lebanon, Oregon. Her cousin attended the festival last year. Photos: Shraddha Fischer, Alp Stierva, Switzerland.