He moseys around his dung-dotted practice range, pointing out the landmarks. Large plywood cutout cows are nailed to the sheds and scattered over the pasture. "Over that way is Dino's Cliff," Landers says, indicating the short precipice off which a calf named Dino once slid into a ditch. "There's Jenn's Gulley," he says, wagging a finger at the culvert Jenn the heifer plunged into. "Want to see Willie's corner?" Poor Willie was his beloved dog, who met his end between the blades of a mower and was replaced by a mutt named Oleo.
"Why did you bring another dog home?" demanded Freddie.
"Reason is," Robert said, "if I'm out cuttin' wood and a tree falls and kills me, I need something to say goodbye to."
Robert and Freddie met 20 years ago at Mitchell's department store in Azle. He was the manager; she was a clerk. "I was dustin' some purses when I first laid eyes on Robert," recalls Freddie. "I thought, Oh, he is so good-lookin'. He's gonna be hung up on himself. Of course, we were married to different people then."
They became friends but not intimates. Then Freddie's son died in a car crash, and her husband left her for a younger woman. Robert says his own wife "hated golf, hated guns, hated me." He would skulk around town, digging his hands deeply enough into his pockets to scratch his knees. "Freddie and I realized we had a lot in common," he says. "We were both thrown-away people."
Tears formed in Landers's eyes as he related all this at the farmhouse dinner table. Freddie had set out steaming bowls of corn, peas and mashed potatoes. Robert jabbed a fork into a heap of brisket. "This is Gus," he tells a visitor. "He was an ornery little calf, so he's probably tough."
The kitchen is decorated in Early Holstein, festooned with cow clocks, cow cookie jars, cow pot holders, cow soap dispensers, cow teapots, cow planters, cow refrigerator magnets—even cow bowling pins. Since Freddie lost her assembly-line job a few months back, she has carved out a slender living painting cows on old tenpins. "I sell them at flea markets every Monday," says Robert, "in these parts, everybody collects cows."
Their collection of live cows runs to 45. Robert and Freddie bought their first calves seven years ago at Smelley's Dairy in nearby Springtown. "Freddie and I didn't know anything about milking them," says Robert. "So I'd milk the right side, and she'd milk the left."
Freddie christened each calf. "If they didn't have names," Robert says, "we wouldn't know who we was talkin' about." There was Spooky, Daisy, Rocky, Dino and Hope. "Hope was sick," says Freddie, "and we hoped she'd live."
In fact, the only one that wasn't sickly was Rocky. "One morning we went out to feed them," says Robert, "and Rocky was lying out there, and he was dead."