Janet Sheridan: Consorting with cows
In July, Joel and I drove out of central Missouri toward Craig on a two-lane highway edged by farms, traveling on a day so hot pastured cows had crowded together in scanty patches of shade or the shallow water of small ponds. Later, driving between two larger fields, I noticed all the cows on the right side of the road were black, while on the left they were red, as though sorted for a game of checkers. Then, when I saw a long line of cows walking doggedly up and over a small hill in a dispirited game of Follow the Leader, I accepted my fate, turned my mind to cows, and found I had much to think about.
I grew up on a small farm in the company of three milk cows, the most popular being a Guernsey Mom named Bray’s Bonny Best Bucilla in honor of her excellent milk production. The docile Bucilla also let my siblings and I ride her until we got a horse. Carolyn and I took an occasional spin on Bucilla, drank the milk our cows produced, and enjoyed the butter and desserts Mom made from their cream, but caring for them was considered men’s work. On occasion, I’d help out by carrying a bucket of milk to the house for Bob, and Carolyn secretly learned to milk when she thought some barnyard kittens looked underfed.
My favorite cow activity, however, was driving around the countryside listening to Dad comment about the cows of others: “That’s a herd of Jerseys, good milk cows. Your dear mother’s partial to Jerseys for reasons I’ll never understand.”
“Those are French Charolais cows. Being of French lineage, they’re probably fussy about their cuisine.”
“Over there you see Black Angus beef cows, raised to be eaten. My steel-plant buddy, Sweenamun, tells me Angus are half crazy, but the same could be said about him.”
At the time, I had no idea that 15 years later, I’d imitate Dad’s cow commentary as a way to impress a boy from Burley, Idaho. I met Randy in college and fancied myself in love with him. I don’t know if I was more attracted to his 1956 Chevy with flames painted on its fenders or his long, lanky frame, which topped mine by three inches, but I was thrilled when he asked me to go home with him for a weekend.
Randy grew up on a farm. Every farmer I knew kept milk cows or raised beef cattle, so during our lengthy trip, I proudly commented about the cows we encountered: “There’s a herd of Guernseys. We had a cute part-guernsey calf named Sweet Alice, but she turned into a contrary cow. We thought her nasty nature came from her Ayrshire father.”
“Those are Holsteins, good milk producers; I’ll bet the farmer who owns them has a big smile on his face and a new Cadillac.”
“Hey, what kind of cow goes beeeeep, beeeep?… A Texas longhorn! Get it? That’s what those are.”
Arriving at Ricky’s farm, however, I saw huge cellars and nary a cow. When I asked about the cellars, Ricky replied, “They’re for storing potatoes. We’re potato farmers.” Well. Instead of reviewing my cow lore, I should have brushed up on reds, russets, and Yukon golds.
Back at school, I continued dating Ricky, though my infatuation with him had lost its glow, until he made a comment about me to my best friend. Staunch friend that she was, she repeated it to me with great indignation.
“I don’t know about your friend, Janet,” he’d said. “She seems to have a thing about cows. She talked about them all the way to Burley except when she took a nap. Then she mooed in her sleep.”
This from a gangly boy with a cheesy car and the same personality as his potatoes. The next time he called, I mooed. Our relationship ended.