Old Daddy Turner was not anyone’s father, at least as far as the people in town knew. Maybe he’d had children once upon a time, a hundred years ago, but no one had ever seen any children at his house. Thought, who knew how old Old Daddy Turner’s children would be? It’s possible some of the endless line of old visitors he had were his children, all in their 70s and 80s. But people called him Old Daddy out of respect.
Old Daddy Turner, it was said, could cure any ill by giving you a mixture of milk, tea, and whiskey, which he spoke some words over. Everyone joked about this, because who wouldn’t feel better, with enough whiskey?
It was how he got the milk that made some folks uncomfortable. Every morning, he would take a dishtowel and go out in the back yard, near his cow pasture. He’d shake that towel in the direction of the cow pasture, and then he’d go back in the house. He’d tie a knot in each corner of the towel, and when he wanted some milk, he’d just give a little tug on one of the knots. At least, that’s what people at church said.
“Well, I can do that,” said little Sarah Hanson.
“No you can’t,” Jennie Melvin scowled. “It’s magic and you’re not a witch.”
“Old Daddy Turner’s not a witch, either,” little Sarah Hanson said. “Boys can’t be witches. So, if he can do it, why can’t I?”
So, all the kids from the town, at least it seemed like that many, followed little Sarah Hanson out to Old Daddy Turner’s house. She carried with her, flapping like a flag in the wind as she pedaled on her bike, one of her mother’s dish towels.
When the children got to his property, they left their bikes by the side of the road and sneaked into his back yard. They hid behind his garage.
“Okay,” little Sarah Hanson said, her heart racing. Right when she felt like she might chicken out, she ran across the open lawn, past the clothesline, and up onto the porch. She stood there for a second, catching her breath, trying to calm herself.
And then she held out the towel in front of her, walked toward the cow pasture, and whispered the word she was pretty sure she’d heard Old Daddy Turner say. Then she tied her four corners and pulled on one.
She pulled on another and another and the last and nothing.
“Well, shit,” she said to herself, trying to make up for her disappointment in the magic not working with her pleasure in cussing. It didn’t work. She threw the towel down in disgust.
And then she heard a noise, just a little squeak, and she squatted down next to the towel, which was now squirming. She picked it up and found a tiny gray kitten. She screamed.
Old Daddy Turner came running from the kitchen, where it’s very likely he’d been watching this whole thing, to see what might happen. He stopped short at the sight of the cat.
“What’d you say?” he asked her. He didn’t sound mad, but his voice was serious. Little Sarah Hanson wanted to be any place other than in that back yard with that grouchy old man. But here she was, so what could she do but continue to be brave?
“Your word,” she said. “Malkin.” He wrinkled his great grey brows, and then snorted loudly.
“Melken. My word is ‘Melken.’”
“Oh,” she said, scooping up the gray kitten in her arms.
“You’ll have to try that word next,” Old Daddy Turner said, “Because your kitten will need some.” And then, as he turned to walk back toward the house, he said “Young Momma Hanson.”