Tell Me a Cow Story
Fresh Ink 2007)
In the Prologue of Sue Monk Kidd’s, The Mermaid Chair, she
writes, “They say you can bear anything if you tell a story about it.”
Writers understand this concept better than anyone. Even when a distressing
event is simply chronicled in a personal journal, it becomes more endurable. When
a writer incorporates life’s difficulties in a story, fiction or non-fiction, they take on a certain clarity that may
elude us otherwise. It is possible to find peace of mind through the written
In a lighter vein, frustrating
or irritating situations can be instantly transformed into funny stories once they are over.
I have always enjoyed telling stories about personal events in my life that may not have been particularly fun in the
moment but were hilarious in hindsight—especially my cow stories.
When I was a young woman,
my husband and I raised baby calves (along with two daughters, three cats and a dog).
Each fall, we would buy these babies a few days after they were born from the local farmers and then raise them lovingly
throughout the coming winter. Come spring, they were turned out to pasture and
grew into 600-pound adults, which we sold by the end of summer.
Until they were ready to eat grain, we bucket-fed
the calves. The buckets had long nipples protruding from the bottom, and we had
to warm the milk first. The newborn calves did not appreciate this substitution
for their mothers, so we would have to hold the bucket with our left hand, stick our right little finger into their mouths
to encourage them to suck and then squirt the milk with the rest of our hand. If
this sounds complicated, trust me, it was.
Since my husband left no later than five a.m. to
go to work, he took the evening feeding, and I had the morning shift before leaving for the School Board Office where I worked. Many mornings, I had to straddle the calf, hold the bucket, squeeze the nipple
and pray that both of us didn’t end up on the barn floor. Sometimes all
went well; many times it didn’t. As I walked back to the house to change
my clothes (often through a snow-covered field), I felt as though I had put in a full day’s work.
By the time I got to
the office, however, something mysterious had happened. My exhaustion had turned
into renewed energy, both physically and creatively. I had a story to tell. Our superintendent was an Icabod Crane type of man, tall and skinny, with a great
sense of humor. In those days, we actually took twenty-minute coffee breaks. Often in the afternoon, after a stressful day, he would join us in the coffee room,
sit beside me, lean against my shoulder and say, “Libby, tell me a cow story.”
And I always had a story to tell.
Throughout the year, the story
would change, especially when spring came and the now adult cows would decide the grass was greener in the next field and
jump the fence. But no matter how far we had to chase the cows or how frustrating
our cow adventures, everything was amusing the next day.
Our stories may not always
be funny, but once we write them down, they can become something we are able to bear—and that is the one of the many
gifts of the writing life.