“Darlene on the Run,” Jan. 31, 2023

(This column is from 2022.)

Do you ever dream of doing something big, but feel too small to try? Whenever I feel that way, I like to think about Darlene. I wrote this story about her years ago. It goes like this:

Long after it was all over and done, folks still liked to wager on what possessed her to do it. Some said it was the mower. Others blamed the bull. But there was more to it than that.

One summer, while visiting my family in the Carolinas, I stayed at my sister’s house, but spent a few hours each day writing at my friend’s place.

Jane lived out of town on a few quiet acres surrounded by cow pastures. I’d show up early, we’d drink coffee, then she’d leave for work and I’d stay behind to write, free of distractions. At least, that was the plan.

One morning, I’d just written a lead, when I heard a truck coming up the road. It was Jason, the teenager Jane hired to mow her yard. I’d not met the boy, but I knew his parents.

“Hey, Jason!” I said. “I’m glad to see you were lucky enough to get your mama’s good looks!”

He laughed, thinking it was a joke. I offered iced tea (in the South, not to do so is a sin.) He said, “No thank you, ma’am,” and fired up the mower. I watched him cut a strip by the fence. Then I went back to work.

Minutes later, the mower stopped. I looked out the window and saw Jason sprinting across the yard, flapping his arms like Big Bird on fire.

“Lord help us!” I said, “the cows are out!”

For the record, I grew up with cows. I could still milk one, maybe, if need be. But milking is a far cry from catching.

Once, as a child, I got chased up an apple tree by a nasty herd of Herefords that held me hostage until I handed over every apple in my bucket. Since then, I’ve been a bit wary. It’s not that I don’t like cows. I just don’t trust them.

Still, I’m a country girl, born and raised. When cows are on the loose, I can’t ignore them. Besides, poor Jason was pitifully out-numbered. I’d have given better odds to Custer.

The culprit was Darlene, a sassy little Holstein, all black and white and full of herself. For some reason, she’d apparently decided to jump the fence and lead her sisters in an unarmed, four-legged rebellion.

“Jason!” I shouted, running out the door, “What’s the plan?”

“I’ll try to cut ‘em off!” he yelled. “You go call Mr. Lee!”

I found the number. A woman answered on the third ring.

“Tell Mr. Lee his cows are out,” I said, “and it looks like they mean business!”

Meanwhile, Jason, bless his heart, had managed to corral most of the escapees under an apple tree where they now milled about munching apples, looking all guilty and glum.

Suddenly, in the corner of my eye, I saw a black and white flash moving fast: Darlene was making a break for the road!

Not one to be cowed by a cow, I grabbed a stick, planted my feet and met her head on.

“Stop!” I ordered. Much to my surprise, she did.

Lowering her head, she turned her muzzle to one side and stared, as if sizing me up. And then I saw it: A fiery hot gleam in her eye. When she twitched her tail and charged, I threw down my stick and ran.

Darlene never looked back. She kicked up her heels, trotted across the road and jumped clean over a barbed-wire fence to join Bubba, the neighbor’s bull, in what I hope for her sake were far greener pastures.

What do you think? Did she do it for love? Or for adventure? Or because the mower scared the bejeezes out of her?

No. I saw the gleam in her eye that day. I wish you could’ve seen it, too. She did it for one reason only: Deep down inside her big, bovine heart, Darlene believed in herself.


  1. Katie Musgrave says

    Darlene was in love …no stopping that! Too funny now, not then!

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