Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What I Learned on the Farm

Mom and I have been talking about going to our family reunion in Texas this summer. It doesn’t look like we’re going to make it this year, but the discussion has brought back a lot of old memories of visiting my Grandaddy’s farm in west Texas. For a kid from urban Arkansas, the farm was the coolest place on earth to visit. Not only did my Granddaddy get up before dawn to take me to Dairy Queen for an ice cream breakfast (as long as I didn’t tell my mom or my little brother), but he actually owned chickens and cows! These were mythical creatures only read about in nursery rhymes and at my Grandaddy’s farm, I could walk right up and touch them if I felt brave enough (I rarely did). Coincidentally, Granddaddy also had a whole herd of miniature bull terriers, a super climbing tree and an endless parade of horny toads for us to chase around the yard. It really was a magical place.

One of my most vivid memories of the farm happened when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Grandaddy loaded the kids into the back of his pick-up (with no seatbelts, y’all!) and drove us out to the pasture to “help” feed the cows. It so happened that one of my step-cousins of about the same age was also visiting that farm that day and he tagged along with my brother and I. I don’t remember the kid’s name, but he was full of mischief and he was a boy which meant I didn’t care for him much. In my mental picture, he has a Dennis the Menace cowlick, but I’m pretty certain that’s an exaggeration that my imagination has cooked up over the years. Nevertheless, I’ll call him Dennis for this story’s sake.

As the three of us bounced around the truck bed between large bags of feed, a discussion began about what cows eat. None of us were really sure. I glared at LB (4 or 5 at the time) and insisted that cows, most definitely, eat people. I don’t think he bought it, but he scooted closer to Dennis, just the same (perhaps hoping the cows might devour the larger meal rather than nibbling on a little morsel like himself). Anyway, Dennis smugly pointed out that the cows ate the food contained in the very bags we lounged against. Once we got to the pasture, I keenly noted that the cows did, indeed, seem to enjoy the mere presence of the bags as my Granddaddy unloaded them. The question then became, “What’s in the bag?” While we waited for the chore to be completed, I tore open a small corner of one of the bags and pulled out a small chunk of hard brown feed....sort of like a power bar for cows.

We marveled at the food for a while before Dennis finally took it from my hand and broke it in two , “I’ll eat half if you eat half” he sneered. I was never the type of kid curious enough to taste the dog’s food. The food was his and in his bowl and that always seemed ok with me. I’ll admit that face-to-face with this snot-nosed, dirty, Texas, know-it-all, redneck boy made me consider his proposition. I dismissed him by sticking out my tongue and declared that he should eat his first. As boys always do, he responded by mercilessly taunting me. I was too scared...or I was just a girl...or I was a cow, so I shouldn’t be afraid to eat cow food. You get the idea. It wasn’t long before little LB was in on Dennis’ fun too. Finally, I got so annoyed and stubborn and angry...and all those other things that I’m prone to do in such situations. I scooped up a fresh log of Bovine Bar and I promptly ate the whole thing. I am still ignorant as to what cows really eat and what was really in those bars, but I can tell you that I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be manure with a little straw and hay mixed in for fiber regularity. I resisted the urge to spit. I resisted the urge to make faces and I resisted the urge to cry. Then I very calmly turned to the shocked boys and asked for another. They just stared at me. Just to add a little flare to my victory I let out a loud “MOOOO” that would make any Bessie proud. Dennis jumped right out of that truck and ran off to tattle to my Granddaddy. To this day, I am probably still known as the weird step-cousin who ate an entire bag of cow feed (I’m assuming his imagination has also exaggerated over the years). Still, I was so proud of self-righteous, defiant stunt.

A girl can learn a lot about herself on her Granddaddy’s farm. I learned that I can do anything I set my mind to when my pride is on the line. I also learned that boys really do drool and girls really do rule. This, my friends, is why I must ride 25 miles in the Tour de Cure. Oh sure, it’s a great cause and Mom deserves it, etc. etc. But the truth is my pride will not let me fail. PK doesn’t think I’ll make it and that he’ll beat me to my fundraising goal. My friends all smile, but they look skeptical too. But they don’t know the Cow Chow story. It's all about a little dignity, y'all. I can eat a cow's lunch and I will make it 25 miles. I may even stick out my tongue as I cross the finish if I have enough energy left to do it!

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