Herschel and the Schermerhorn Sisters
Friso Schermerhorn is well known around Skagit County for the fine herd of milking cows that he and his father before him have been breeding for fifty years. His father was most proud of the unusual Dutch Belted milker, a black cow with a wide, white belt, which he inherited from Friso’s grandfather who had her shipped at great expense from the Netherlands. When she was old enough, Friso’s father began breeding her with bulls of other breeds from the neighboring farms. Some crosses gave higher butterfat and some higher yields, but he especially liked to see how each different cross appeared. Some were short and compact, others lean and rangy. Their coats were sometimes belted and sometimes not. Shortly before he died, Friso’s father discovered how to keep the belt true to form while the different genetic material expressed itself mostly in shape and size.
Friso carried on this work, and eventually settled on one conformation that was pleasing to the eye and gave plenty of excellent milk. Quite by accident he discovered that with careful matching of his cows with specific bulls, he could retain these good traits while altering the coloration alone. Over the years he developed white cows with black belts. A little bit of Friesian gave black cows with white belts that were spotted with black. A bit of Dutch Blaarkop gave black cows with startling, blood red belts. Black Angus yielded a black cow with a black belt. He liked them all, but his all-time favorite came about when he tried a brilliant orange Stihl (ste′-ull) from Germany. A black cow with a bright orange belt is a sight you’re unlikely to forget. His neighbors liked this particular mix as well as he did and you can see these Stihl-Belted cows here and there all over the Puget Sound farmlands.
As they grew older, Friso’s daughters developed into master cheese makers. Their prize-winning farmstead cheese, made with milk from their father’s motley herd of belted cows, is highly sought after. The three sisters, Leentje, Saartje, and Wilhelmina are large women, of sturdy farm stock, little diluted in the three generations since their great grandparents emigrated to the United States and thence on to the lush farmland on the Skagit River delta. To say they were large is a misstatement. Parts of them were very large, indeed. They had soft, round bellies and wide hips. Breasts the size of cantaloupes. County Fair, blue-ribbon cantaloupes. As they walked, their buttocks alternately climbed up and over each other, describing a sideways figure eight or perhaps a lemniscate, otherwise known as the infinity symbol. And they were prolific! They had a dozen children (more or less) between them and they were barely 30 years old. Herschel Meyer, a tall, muscular lad, often accompanied his mother on her weekly trips to town and they always stopped to get a wedge of cheese on the way home. Herschel had never seen anything quite like these women. He spotted Saartje quietly fingering chords on a well-worn guitar and casually mentioned that he played guitar, too. Herschel was just barely eighteen, Saartje a good deal older. She was pleasant, but restrained, like her sisters. Friso, who was puttering around with the worn latch on the cheese display case, had often seen Herschel and liked the look of him, although the two had never spoken. Noticing his furtive glances at Saartje, Friso asked Herschel if he’d like to come the beach on Sunday for a picnic with him and his daughters. Herschel had been home-schooled and never away from his mother for even a few hours, and so he was terrified of being away from home, even for an afternoon. But when Saartje looked up from the fret board and he saw her big blue eyes, he stammered an assent. She suggested that he bring his guitar so they could practice together.
It seemed to take weeks for Sunday to roll around. When the big day came, he arose at six, showered, and scraped at what few chin whiskers he had. He rode the three miles to the beach on his bicycle and got there several hours early. He whiled away the time picking blackberries and working on his chords. When the Schermerhorn family rolled in at noon and began unloading their gear, Hershel couldn’t believe his eyes. They had a whole set of steel patio furniture complete with thick cushions, several propane barbeques, a half-dozen ice chests of various sizes loaded with soda, ice, and food, sacks of groceries, hot dishes galore, and toys enough for several dozen kids. More stuff than he’d seen in his life. Saartje was there with her guitar. Her father, two sisters, and an assortment of children worked methodically for nearly a half hour getting everything unpacked and in order. Friso took charge of the entertainment, alternating between games and children, trying to interest one in a kite and when they got it airborne he snagged another and tried to instruct him in Bocce ball. Then he went on to another and then another. It bore little fruit; because about the time the third child got started at badminton, the first one let the kite fly free and wandered off to play in the sand. Then the second one abandoned the Bocce balls as the fourth one was starting horseshoes and so it went. Herschel thought there was something strange about these children, but couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
Herschel approached Saartje and nervously suggested that they play their guitars. She assented with ambivalence. They started playing, but the music, if you could call it that, started slowing as soon as it started and got quieter and quieter until it just died out. She didn’t seem terribly interested and he wasn’t really concentrating. He couldn’t help but notice just how earthy the Schermerhorn women were. They were very casual in both dress and manner, quite unlike his Mother. They sprawled about on the furniture, lolling languidly with their arms and legs splayed. They seemed unconcerned that their luxurious underarm hair was obvious to everyone or that when their shorts rode up they revealed a disturbing lack of underwear. My God, his mother would have had a seizure! He began to tremble and couldn’t breathe. Something got Herschel’s head to spinning and he had to lie down for a little while. He didn’t realize that it was an overdose of estrogen and pheromones. When he came to, he sensed the women taking stock of him. He smiled weakly, but they never really smiled back or even acknowledged him. He felt they were judging him nonetheless.
Repeated attempts to get to know Saartje better never really got anywhere. Herschel laid it off to his inexperience or maybe the difference in their ages. She had more or less encouraged him to come, but now that he was there, it seemed that she wasn’t really interested and took his presence for granted. As for Herschel, he was simultaneously exhilarated and repulsed at this preponderance of flesh and the heady aromas of these women. All three of the women were attractive, they were industrious, and they obviously could cook. They were all attentive to the various children that accompanied them. Although the children were well fed, clean, and neatly dressed, the mix struck Herschel as a bit odd. There were three half-Latinos, all the same age. Three were half Black, a year or so older. Three were redheaded and light-skinned, older yet. And finally three more were stocky with curly hair and short arms. But, with the exception of Friso, there weren’t any men. And strangely the children didn’t seem to be attached to any one of the women in particular. It almost seemed as if they were community property. He asked Friso who belonged to whom and he replied, smiling, “Well, the girls have always shared everything.”
Herschel had no idea what that evening had in store for him.
by STEVE DAMEWOOD