“Doing Something Big,” July 26, 2022

Do you ever dream of doing something big, but find yourself feeling too small to try? When I feel that way, as I often do, I like to think about Darleen. I first told this story 20 years ago. If you recall it, your memory is better than mine. It goes like this:

Long after it was over, folks liked to speculate about what exactly possessed her to do it. Some said it was the mower. Others blamed the bull. But there was more to it than that.

While visiting family in the Carolinas one summer, I wrote columns at a friend’s house surrounded by cow pastures, where I’d be free of distraction. At least that was the idea. I’d arrive early, work hard, then go have supper with my family.

One morning, I’d just written a promising lead, when I heard a truck coming up the road. It was Jason, the teenager my friend hired to mow several acres of her yard. I’d not met the boy, but I grew up with his daddy.

“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, I heard the mower stop. I looked out the window and saw Jason sprinting across the yard, flapping his arms like Big Bird on fire.

“Lord help us!” I prayed, “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 last 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 outnumbered. 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 big 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 much greener pastures.

What do you think? Did she do it for love? Or for adventure? Or just 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 mostly for one good reason: Deep down inside of her big, bovine heart, Darlene believed in herself.


  1. Curtis Ayres says

    LOL! Great story, as usual!

  2. John Rhoads says

    Your story is just too familiar:
    When uncle Garland would pen his cattle and work them in the lots, he would often separate them, some to a north pasture, some stayed south; sometimes he would separate out a few head to go to market. Garland’s cows were pretty much his pets – many of them would eat cow cake out of his hand. Having been through the Depression and the Dust Bowl era, shooting his granddad’s cattle because they were starving with no relief was in sight, I can understand his relationship with his cows, cows that produced a little revenue to sustain himself and his family – and me since he had taken me in. I could work the lot gates and turn the cows and calves that wanted to go someplace other than where Garland wanted them to go. And then one day Garland offered to go help a bigger cattleman he knew in the area (Howard) gather and work his cattle over at Kamay, Texas. Off we went. Howard’s working lot fences were some taller than Garland’s – I want to recall them being close to six feet tall; Garland’s were more like five feet tall. Howard’s cattle were not “pets”. It turns out some fairly large percentage of Howard’s cattle were Brahma cattle that hadn’t seen people in a while. What I most remember about that day was encountering “Darleen’s” distant cousin Aashvi. She was a young Brahma cow and she was not supposed to go out the gate I was guarding. So I threw up my arms to make my puny little 120 pound, six foot 18 year old body look larger and bluff her into turning back. Just like Darleen, ole Aashvi lowered her head, twisted it to one side and sized me up. When that “fiery hot gleam in her eye” showed up and she charged, I cleared that six foot fence. Howard, uncle Garland and all the cowboys there just laughed and laughed. I do believe I could have successfully competed with Jesse Owen in the high jump that day.

  3. Kate Sciacca says

    Darlene had a plan, and executed. Smart girl 😂

  4. Ha ha. Dari g Darlene. Cattle run on my property, too. It is usually the young steers who jump or sneak under the fence. I shoo them back thru the fence. I do Not Want them in my flowers, for sure. When they won’t cooperate, I call their owners & leave the rest to them. If on the farm. What fun we have.

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