The following is a true story. The names and locations have been changed to protect the stupid. By guilt/association as the author, I admit that the “I” of this story is actually “I.” I mean, “me.” Slight embellishments have been made so that my early life seems a lot more interesting than it was.
The spring of 1991 wasn’t significant in any particular way. I pretty much just coasted through my high school years in a divine state of blissful ignorance. (Now a-days, I can still claim ignorance, but woefully the bliss has left me). Granted, this was between two dramatic blocks of time in my life, and I was sincerely glad that if the bread was all moldy and gross, at least the slice o’deli meat that was my later teen years seemed to be wholesome and tasty.
Family life was … complicated. The child of divorce, my father had remarried. Thank God in all her carnations that he married an angelic woman whom I still adore. His new wife brought a son into the marriage who was a mere six months younger than me. Together with the existence of a two-years-older brother (no matter how I’ve tried to deny it since then), this meant I had gone from being the baby to being the underappreciated middle child. (Note: I still suffer this condition.) Due to some logistics of broken marriages, my younger step-brother spent his youth living with his father in the foothills of Appalachia. My step-mother was a tarheel (she’s since had extensive therapy by a qualified Yankeeficator) by birth. In order to provide her with as much opportunity to visit with her son as possible, most of our school holidays were spent staying with her mother and father in the Blue Ridge Mountains outside Ashville, NC.
Did I mention remote Blue Ridge Mountains? Yes, they were remote, but not really blue. In fact, during spring break in March, they were rather green and verdant. The ample vegetation and mild climate made it an ideal location for raising cattle.
And barns. They raised a lot of barns.
For reasons of economy, during this period in my life, my dad and step-mother believed the ideal diet for two growing teenage boys and a widening teenage girl was a steady stream of Taco Bell tacos and other faux Mexican (Fauxican?) knock off foods. Though it was 10-mile drive to the nearest location (yes, uphill both ways), it seemed to be our lunch every third day. If you were curious, the other days were bridged biscuits and gravy and grits. And house tea. Gallons of house tea.
On Thursday afternoon, the sun was shining and the tacos were hot. Instead of driving all the way up the mountain, we decided to drive out into the middle of the gracefully grazing cows and take our lunch al fresco. My two brothers and I sat on the hood of the car while the adults sat strategically behind the wheel listening to pre-season baseball talk radio.
Barry, my younger step-brother and intellectual semi-equal, took a bite of his processed cheese-strewn crispy-shell and asked, “I wonder what grass taste like? Seems it would be pretty gross.”
And Scott, my older brother and intellectual minion, answered, “If you were a cow, you’d think it was good. They probably think whatever you eat is gross.”
A half-smirk, brandished taco and bad idea was all it took for Barry to jump to his feet and begin stepping purposefully towards the herd. It was probably the only time in the history of human-bovine relations that the two species shared a mutual WTF moment. We looked at Barry’s back, and the cows looked at Barry’s front and, more importantly, the taco in his hand held aloft like he was the fast food franchise version of the Statue of Liberty.
Now, by virtue of their very nature, cows are gentle creatures. But, it should be understood that this is decision they make because when you’re a cow, there’s really not that much worth fighting for. If you have a pasture of grass and some fresh water, life is good. At that moment, the herd looked at my mis-stepping step-brother and the symbol of mass bovine assassination in his hand, and decided to act very unnaturally.
As though he were an ancient Sumerian flaunting the bloodied, severed scalp of his enemy before his troops, Barry hoisted the various-vegans-vertibly-verging-on-violence victual high in the air and declared, “TAACCCCCOOOOO!”
A tail flapped, and bull huffed, and then all shell broke loss.
We heard the engine rev under us before Barry managed to turn around and start running. Unfortunately, the cows were spry. The herd was on his tail. Um…. His tail was to the herd, and we were already in the car gaping at the wall of bovine death approaching. The taco was nowhere in sight, and I remember feeling that was probably a good thing. Barry barely made it to the car in time to jump through the window, Dukes-of-Hazard style, allowing my dad to gun the gas and flee to freedom.
I learned many things during my childhood visits to Appalachia. I learned how to make proper biscuits and gravy. I learned how to clog to bluegrass, pre- or post-tequila. I learned that it’s nearly impossible to grow healthy, bumper crops in Carolina red clay.
But, most of all, I learned never, ever to meander into a herd of cattle and offer them an opportunity to experiment with cannibalism.
Never shout taco to a cow.