Merry Christmas…Damn Cows

My dad hates cows, and I can’t say I blame him. As the son of a farmer/ranger/milk cow raiser, my dad spent his youth feeding, herding and tending to bovine needs. I think he must have spent his free time, which wasn’t much, dreaming of the day when he would proclaim his freedom from cows. He might still be dreaming of it.

A smart man, my dad went to college for engineering and was within a couple quarters of graduation when he moved back to his hometown to work for the railroad. Moving home was good and bad for my dad. It put him close to his parents and brothers, but it also put him close to cows again. Back in the day, forty percent of my hometown’s geographic area was devoted to cow pasture. It might be thirty percent now, but it’s still a running joke that you can smell Minersville before you can see it.

One Christmas eve when I was around twelve, my dad got a call from my grandma. It had been a particularly cold winter and my grandpa, who frequently suffered from heart problems, wasn’t feeling strong enough to take care of the cows that night. My dad said something like, G** D**** I’ll take care of those SOBs, and slammed the phone back into the receiver.

In the true spirit of Christmas, my dad told the whole family to get dressed in our warmest clothes because we were going to spend Christmas Eve taking care of the D*** cows. So dressed in heavy coats, with and our feet wrapped in plastic bags inside our tennis shoes, we squeezed into my dad’s pickup truck and drove through snow and ice to get to the corral where my grandfather kept his cattle during the winter.

Karma just wouldn’t cut my dad a break that Christmas. When we got to there, we found the waterline had frozen and burst. “G** D*** it,” my dad said in holy reverence to the Christ Child, “We’re going to have to haul water into them too.”

The sky was clear that night, making for bitter colder temperatures. The moon was nearly full and it’s light reflected off the snow piled high around us, creating a luminescence which made flashlights unnecessary. My dad’s curses carried through the still air in a strange serenade as I hefted hay into troughs as I’d been taught to over the years. I kept moving, trying not to feel the cold in my feet, or how the hair in my nose had frozen solid. I worked until I was numb from the cold, carrying bucket after bucket of water to fill the troughs.

We worked hard for more than two hours that bitter cold night. When we got back into my dad’s truck to head home, we were all wet, cold and miserable. We’d missed out on our usual Christmas Eve traditions of delivering cookies, looking at the Christmas lights around town and lighting candles. All any of us wanted was to go home to bed, but we felt a sense of exhausted accomplishment too. We’d spent Christmas Eve helping cows that would have gone hungry and thirsty without us. We’d done something to benefit another of God’s creature and that’s what Christmas is all about.

Anxious to get back home to our central heating, my dad gunned the engine and mumbled something about being proud of our hard work that night. If his fingers weren’t half frozen, I’m sure he would have raised his middle one to those cows as we left, but even he couldn’t keep the smile from his lips he said, “D*** cows.”

 

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