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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Les and Verna Cottle

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Published on 27 February 2019

The summer I turned 10, Dad sold the farm, bought a small motel, and I became a city kid. Accustomed to dealing with milk cows morning and night, tractors, hay balers, combines and irrigation ditches, I was out of my element.

The boy-powered reel lawnmower made the move with us from the farm. I think it was that first summer a Montgomery Ward, cantankerous, gasoline-powered rotary lawnmower was purchased. I remained the boy who pushed it.

I remember Dad grumbling that with milk cows you only had to be home twice a day; with the motel someone had to be there 24-7. In the town where we moved was a couple from Mom’s hometown of Eden, Utah. Verna Cottle, always respectfully addressed by my siblings and I as “Mrs. Cottle,” soon became the one who would babysit both the motel and the kids when my parents needed to be gone.

Her husband, Leslie – or Les as the guys called him – had the last draft horses I remember that were actually used for more than parade duty. The Cottles had a large garden, and Les preferred the horse-drawn implements to cultivate the garden over using his tractor. Les would grumble about one team. His favorite cultivating team, he said, would pick their feet up so as to not step on the plants, “… while these clumsy oafs seem to step on the plants on purpose.”

Les always wore what I thought were impressive Western-cut shirts, either working, going to town or white shirts worn to church. I found out Mrs. Cottle made all his shirts for him. Years later, after Les had passed on, I got her to show my wife some of the shirts she made. My wife, Elli, tried her hand, and I proudly wore the couple of shirts she made for me.

It made quite a splash at college when I let my classmates know they were homemade. That, added to the time I had barn duty as part of the swine production class where Elli showed up to help because she thought the little piglets were cute, had my classmates jealous of my wife. One asked, “What do you do to that poor woman to make her come with you?”

“Make her come with?” I retorted. “She would kill me if I neglected to bring her. She loves little animals, especially the little pigs.” They shook their heads in disbelief.

Cold cash took on a new meaning one day when I got home from school. Mrs. Cottle had been sitting on the motel for a few days, and that day my parents were due home. I was instructed to take over when I got home so Mrs. Cottle could go back to being Les’s girlfriend.

She called me over by the refrigerator and showed me two plastic glasses inside, which, she showed me, had a few $20 bills hidden between them.

“There got to being more money in the money box than I was comfortable with in case the joint got robbed,” she said.

Another time while she was riding herd on the motel and us assorted rapscallions, as she was supervising the doing of the dishes after supper, I grabbed a glass and poured myself about a half-glass of milk. As I placed the glass in the sink, she tilted her head slightly to the side, looked at me askance and said, “You’d dirty a glass for that?”

Glass of milk

The Cottles were in a square-dancing group. They also liked to just go dancing to country music. The only problem was: About the only places that had live country bands were also bars. Garden City, on the west outskirts of Boise, Idaho, had live bands. Garden City had kind of a “reputation” at that time, so one needed to be aware of his or her surroundings.

I overheard Mom telling Dad of a happening that had Mrs. Cottle fuming and snorting for days. Seems that Leslie had excused himself to use the men’s room, and when he returned, he said to Verna, “See that woman in the red dress?”

“Yes. What about her?”

“As I was coming back from the restroom, she asked me if I’d like to come with her into a back room.”

“And what did you tell her?”

“I told her I’d have to go ask my wife first.”

And with that, Les and Verna Cottle cut their evening short and went home.

The refrigerator at my house now is about nose-high to my 6-foot-4-inch frame. That’s where I keep my assorted pills, vitamins, etc., including a plastic glass I use for taking pills, then rinse and park there upside-down for the next use.

Someone asked me why I did that. 

“Because I don’t want to have Mrs. Cottle come back from the grave and get me for dirtying a drinking glass.”  end mark

PHOTO: Getty Images.