My parents live in the wilds of Alabama, and one year, when the children were very small, we were driving up to the little Methodist church in town to see the Christmas Pageant. The traditional one, you know, made out of children, with nose-picking angels and a baby doll for Jesus because Tiny Mary cannot be trusted not to drop a live one on his head. I LOVE this kind of Christmas Pageant. Makes me think of Herdmans.
On the way to this one, we passed cows.
Well, of COURSE we did. It would be much more remarkable to tell you we did NOT pass cows. Out near where my parents live, if you spit in a direction, you are likely to besmirch a cow with your spittle.
Now Maisy was about three and Sam was eight. And they were VERY attuned to Cow Passing. Sam’s first imaginary friend, Ontag-the-Cow, still loomed large in the family mythology. Anytime we saw cows, it was a good Omen, which meant going to rural Alabama was FRAUGHT with good omens.
These particular cows were scenically dotting a green hillside in a field that came all the way down to the road. Except one. One cow had come down the hill, almost to the fence, so she was VERY close.
The children were excited to see her. They started burbling joyfully and yelling to her and waving.
Now, I look at this cow, and it is INSTANTLY clear to me that All Is Not Right With The Lord here in this bovine situation. This cow is thin and rheumy eyed and trembling and her face is…askew. She is standing at an odd, drunken angle and swaying.
I say unthinking, to Scott, “Wow, that cow looks really—” and then I hear the silence and feel the weight of four small, bright, cow-adoring eyes in the backseat, heading for a pageant. “Christmassy.” I end. “That cow looks so very, very…Christmassy.” And here, oh best beloveds, you understand that Christmassy means “about to drop dead.” Scott certainly understood it so.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “That is a Christmas Cow for sure.”
“Why is that particular cow a Christmas cow,” asked Sam. Sam at eight used words like particular and asked WHY in such long, long endless chains that his father would start making things UP, Calvin’s Dad Style..
“Because that is Moo-ey, The Christmas Cow, and it is her job to wait for Christmas,” Scott lied, smoothly, while I made alarmed eyebrows at him. I wanted to point the kidly attention to ANYTHING that was not a cow about to drop dead.
“WHAT DAT CHRISTMAS COW DO, DADDY?” Maisy peeped in her HUGE peep. Maisy at three had a high pitched little voice and a volume knob that was stuck at eleven. Eleven is one louder. Than ANYONE.
“Moo-ey just, um, waits for…Christmas,” Scott said, and here, oh best beloveds, you understand that “Christmas” meant, “Merciful death.”
SO we went to the pageant and it was great. So great I hoped it would eclipse MOO-EY, but on the way home, the children were VERY EXCITED to see Moo-ey again. As we approached, I saw that while we were at church, Christmas had indeed come over Moo-ey. Moo-ey had crumpled into a pretzelly, spraddle-legged, ungainly, completely dead heap at the bottom of the hill. INCHES FROM THE ROAD. Tangled into the FENCE.
The thing about a dead cow is, there is so MUCH dead cow. Huge. Looming. Horrifying.
“O, YAY!” I said, very loud. Louder than even Maisy. It was as if I had just discovered my volume knob went to twelve. “MOO-EY HAS ALREADY GONE TO SLEEP! THAT MEANS SANTA HAS LEFT! IN HIS SLEIGH! IT IS AN OMEN! WE MUST GET INTO BED VERY QUICKLY BECAUSE WHEN MOO-EY GOES TO SLEEP, YOU KNOW SANTA IS ON THE WAY AND LOOK! SHE SURE IS ALL THE WAY ASLEEP.”
“Dead asleep,” said Scott, dead pan, and it hit me in the right all kinds of wrong way, and I started laughing. And then Scott got tickled, too.
Why is that funny?” Sam asked.
“WHY YOU LAUGHIN?” Maisy peeped.
And so, to keep their eyes on me, and also because I am Deeply Troubled, I said, “HEY KIDS want to learn the MOO-EY THE CHRISTMAS COW SONG???” and they began clamouring to learn it, which distracted them from the horrible carcass as we passed.
So I sang a verse of it, which I invented on the spot. It genuinely has the most cheery tune to it, especially at the front The name MOOEY, especially, is sung all SPRY and gleeful, and then by the last line, it gets a little weirdly paced and eerie:
Moo-ey the Christmas cow,
Sliding down the hill
Waiting for Santa Claus,
Solemn… Silent… Still
That cracked Scott up, and so he made up the next verse,
Moo-ey The Christmas Cow
Waiting all night long
Quietly lying down
I regret to inform you that this went on for the whole drive home. We kept on making up verses that indicated in code to each other that a cow was dead via a ghastly little jingle that flew right over our children’s dear, dear, innocent little heads.
FOR YEARS. Years, ya’ll, The children would warble bits of the Moo-ey song when we passed whole crowds of perfectly alive cows at Christmas, and it always just SLEW US. Scott and I, we would laugh until tears were rolling down our faces, and our kids never got it. It was just THIS YEAR, at almost 13 and almost 18, that we let them in on the joke.
Sam thinks it’s hilarious. Maisy is moderately affronted, but affirms our choice to hide the cow’s demise from her.
SO. MERRY CHRISTMAS, and Who is right?
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