Friday, October 9, 2009
Sue Weaver: Having a Cow
With Get Your Goat in Sarah Guare’s capable hands for copyediting, I’m segueing into my next book project, Have a Cow.
As I look around on a daily basis, I’m aware that I live in the perfect place for this project: the Ozarks are beef cattle heaven. Besides the ubiquitous Herefords , Angus, and black baldys (a nonregistered cross of those two) that dominate pastures throughout our land, our neighbors raise shaggy Highlands, speckled Longhorns and Corrientes, exotic Brahmans, immense Gelbvieh, and spectacularly horned Watusi, to name just a few.
As I spy a breed I am not familiar with, we stop and take a closer look. The cattle usually canter to the fence and stare back, making me wonder who is inspecting whom. I often come away thinking, “I’d like to have one of those.” The most tempting (so far) have been our across-the-road neighbor’s Brahman cows.
Brahman crosses are popular in the Ozarks as well as farther south, but I’ve never been up close and personal with purebred Brahmans before. Their kohl-lined almond eyes, droopy ears, and porcelain coloring intrigue me. I can see what Lord Krishna saw in such beautiful cows.
But maybe a love of cows is hot-wired into most women’s souls? In times past, a milk cow was a woman’s best friend, or so states Lori Winn Carlson in Cattle: An Informal Social History (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001), a book worth reading even if you don’t love cows. She points out that women had equal status with men in ancient cattle-herding societies, where deities were earth mothers and women cared for the clan’s valuable cows and bulls while their men were away waging war.
As recently as the early twentieth century, a dairy cow or two represented economic freedom to the country woman. She churned her cows’ rich milk and sold it as butter, an easily transported substance in high demand. That our foremothers here and across the seas treasured their cows is evident in the vintage photos I collect. These are typical.
Even now, when the average American woman has never felt a cow’s warm breath on her cheek, women are in love with cows. Think Elsie the Borden cow, an American icon who celebrated her 70th birthday this year, and the thousands of collectibles she’s generated since the 1930s — so many that it takes an entire collectors’ book to describe them (Coito, Albert, and Shelly Coito. Elsie the Cow & Borden's Collectibles: An Unauthorized Handbook and Price Guide. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1999). Or CowParade, the international public exhibit of art using life-size fiberglass cows as canvases — and the slew of collectible figurines it’s generated. Do men collect these items? Probably so, but most end up in kitchens across the land, where Holsteins are the critter du jour. A search today at eBay brought up 3,624 cow-collectible auctions. I’ll write about the favorites, like Elsie and cow creamers, in sidebars in my book.