It’s summer, a humid Iowa summer morning. I am sitting in an aluminum fold-up chair and the cheap woven fabric scratches the backs of my legs. I run the sole of one foot along my lower leg to loosen the dewy grass clinging to it. It is a tiny yard where I sit, surrounded on three sides by a white mobile home, garden shed, and gravel farmyard. Stray onions sprout among the weeds along the shed, their sharp scent mingling with the smell of white gravel dust. The smell of wild onions will forever be linked in my mind with the country and old age, particularly warted old women in keds and polyester pants. My companion is, of course, just such an old woman. Short and quite stout with snowy white hair, I can see the large moles of her scalp. Old Grandma, my great grandmother, chews her way through a sleeve of Oreos. With a large and impressively hooked nose and hunched stature, she bears more than a small resemblance to a babushka from the old country.
Penned in the grassy lot further down the gravel drive, a black angus cow studies us absent-mindedly as she methodically chews her cud while nursing her young calf. Old Grandma pauses midway through a cookie to nod in the animal’s general direction. “You know not to climb that gate, to git over into where those cows are, eh?” Her high-pitched, grating voice interrupts the illusion of a kerchiefed eastern European grandmother, suggesting instead a green-faced, although not unkind, witch. “Them mothers are awful jealous over their own babies. Anyone standing too close gets them nervous. Do you know what a nervous cow is likely to do?” I shake my head dumbly, correctly anticipating a colorful story, perhaps not one my parents would encourage, to follow.
“I know of a young bride, got herself killed by being just so foolish. Thought she might like to visit the new calf in her husband’s pasture.” Warming to her story, Old Grandma leans forward, talking around a mouthful of cookie. “She and her dog jumped the fence and the cow got so agitated she trampled both the woman and dog to death. They didn’t even have a chance to try and outrun her. The farmer found them later that afternoon when he came in from the fields for his dinner, the cow all the while grazing nearby just as peaceful as you please.” She looks over at me, sternly, to make sure the moral of the story has struck home.
Unfortunately, the lesson has somewhat missed its intended mark on me. At four years of age, I already possess a very active if also inaccurate imagination and am hopelessly doomed to a sort of Gothic romanticism of my limited world. I thrill at the thought of a beautiful brunette laughing as she leaps over the red pasture gate, oblivious of the bloody fate awaiting her and her canine companion on the other side. My mind is fuzzy regarding the gory trampling, but it clears again with the arrival of the handsome farmer as he, weeping, clutches the broken body of his love to his chest. My honest reaction is to hope that someday I will be so lucky as to be involved in such a deliciously romantic tragedy.