Cash Cow
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“Cash Cow,” New Era, June 2000, 47

Special Issue: Your Mission

Fiction:

Cash Cow

The four-wheeler he wanted so badly could have taken him lots of places. The ornery cow he got took him where he really wanted to go.

Carrying an empty grain bucket, Dallas Benson glumly closed the wooden gate on his Angus show steer and headed for the granary. He kicked at a pebble, and a puff of dust exploded about his feet. Though it was still the middle of May, already the sun was hot, the air dry, the grass and weeds lightly scorched.

Dallas took a deep breath and frowned. He had hoped this would be a fun summer, with his very own four-wheeler, but his father had dashed those hopes two days earlier.

“A cow!” Dallas had groaned as his father sat sharpening a shovel. “What do I want with a cow? I’ve got a steer. He’ll bring a good price at the county fair.”

“Your steer will give you money once,” his father explained, bending over and scraping some dried mud from the shovel. “But with a good cow, there’s money coming in all the time, as long as you milk her.”

“But I don’t want a cow. I want Jake Hawley’s four-wheeler. He’ll give me a good deal.”

He could see his father was far from convinced. “How much fun can a guy have milking an old cow?” he muttered. “Besides, we already have Ginger.”

“Ginger’ll give us milk for the house, but she’s not going to make any money. At least not missionary money.”

“I’ve got money,” Dallas protested. “And I still have time to get more. It’s not like I’m leaving tomorrow.”

“Four years pass quickly.” His dad pointed the file at him and counseled, “If you buy one of those four-wheelers, you’ll just be putting money in a hole. The only thing you’ll get back is a few thrills and maybe a broken neck. You put your money in a missionary cow, and when you’re 19, you’ll have your money. And you’ll have been thinking about a mission too.”

“But, Dad, can’t I have a little fun?”

His dad started filing away on the shovel’s edge. The only sound was the loud grinding of metal on metal. He paused, “If you’ll invest your money in a cow and milk her, I’ll provide the feed. The profits will be yours.”

Dallas licked his lips nervously. “Does that mean I can’t buy the four-wheeler?” he questioned.

“Son,” his dad began quietly, “you earned that money. You saved it. You’ve been planning for a mission too. That’s good. I’m proud of you. But it’s still your money. I trust you to do what you think is right. If you think you’ve got to have that four-wheeler … well, the money’s there.”

“Jake’s going on a mission too,” Dallas argued. “We’ve been planning since we were kids, and he’s got a four-wheeler. It isn’t wicked to have a four-wheeler.”

His dad scraped the file across the shovel’s edge a couple of times. “We’re not planning Jake’s future. We’re planning yours. Sometimes a person has to make a hard choice. Not between what’s good and wicked but between two things he really wants. He has to stop and decide which of those two things means the most to him. When you turn 19 and you have money put away for a mission, you’ll go.” He cocked his head to the side and pressed his lips together. “But if your money’s tied up in a four-wheeler … well, then you’re torn.”

“Come on, Dad,” Dallas moaned, “you’re trying to make me feel lousy.”

“No, I’m forcing you to make a decision. You see, you want me to make it for you. Well, I won’t. It’s not my money. It’s not my mission.”

Dallas pulled the granary door open and hung the grain bucket inside on a rusty nail. In the distance he heard the low, muffled putter of a motor. Gradually the noise increased, and soon he saw a four-wheeler bounce over the hill, careen precariously between rocks and cedars, and smash over clumps of sagebrush. It picked up speed as it reached the dirt lane leading to the Benson place. Dallas’s friend Jake burst into the yard, scattering the scratching hens, then sliding to a halt in a billowing cloud of dust and flying gravel.

Jake thumped the handlebars with the palm of his hand and called out above the idling putter of the engine, “How’s that for driving, Benson?”

“You’re going to kill yourself one of these days,” Dallas remarked.

“What did your dad say?” Jake asked.

Dallas kicked at the four-wheeler’s fat, puffy wheels. He glanced out past the stack of alfalfa hay and watched his father in a field harrowing, pursued by a hungry flock of seagulls. “He left it up to me,” he replied morosely.

“Great! When you going to get it?”

“I’m not.” Dallas dusted his pants. “I decided to get a cow from Brother Singer. For my mission.”

“A cow instead of a four-wheeler!” Jake gasped, shaking his head. “Why do you want a cow? You buy a cow and you’ll be married to her, twice a day, every day.”

“I need mission money.”

“Shoot! We can earn mission money later. After high school we’ll get good construction jobs.” Jake scratched the back of his neck. “If it were my money, I’d get the four-wheeler.”

Dallas squatted down in the dust and started tossing pebbles. “It’s my money, but Dad helped me with it. He helped me with the feed for the steers I’ve raised. He covered for me here at home, doing my chores, while I worked for Brother Madison. He’ll let me do what I want with the money, but I know how he feels.”

“So you traded your four-wheeler for a cow.” Jake shook his head. “When you getting it?”

Dallas nodded toward the barn. “It’s there in the barn, waiting to be milked. Brother Singer brought it over before I got home from school. Do you want to take a look?”

Jake wagged his head. “I’ve got places to go and a whole tank of gas to get there.” He kicked the four-wheeler into gear, waved, and lunged up the lane with a cloud of dust chasing him. Dallas watched until Jake bounced over the hill and out of sight. Then he turned toward the barn.

The kitchen door slammed. Dallas turned to see his 10-year-old brother, Rusty, jump down the steps with a milk bucket in one hand and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the other. He skipped over to Dallas, licked at the jelly on his sandwich and asked, “Have you seen her?”

Dallas shook his head, still listening to the faint growl of Jake’s four-wheeler. “She’s a big one,” Rusty continued. “Looks mean too. I brought you the milk bucket. I want to see this.”

“Since when did you get interested in milking cows?” Dallas remarked.

Rusty grinned, took a bite, and said, “Since Brother Singer brought that monster he calls a cow. She’ll scare you to death.”

“Monster,” Dallas muttered, grabbing the bucket. But when he reached the barn and saw the big Holstein cow for the first time, he was surprised. Ginger, who stood in the next stanchion, was dwarfed by her. The monster cow was white with a splattering of black on her face and across her back, and when Dallas opened the barn door, she jerked back and eyed him menacingly.

“Brother Singer says she’s a little ornery at times,” Rusty commented from the doorway. “But she gives over four gallons a milking after she’s calved.”

“Well, she better get the orneriness out of her system with me,” Dallas growled, grabbing the one-legged stool he used when he milked.

“Brother Singer says it’s best if you hobble her.”

Dallas scoffed at the idea. “I’m not hobbling any cow I milk. If you can’t milk a cow without hobbles, you don’t have any business milking.”

Just as the first two squirts pinged into the milk pail, an enormous hoof lifted up and came down hard in the bucket, pulling it from between his legs and sending it clattering across the barn floor, filling it with dry manure and straw. Dallas sprang to his feet just as that same hoof struck with lightning force against the inside of his shin. The blow knocked him off balance, and just then the cow crashed to the right, pinning Dallas against the wall. Purple with pain and rage, he raised his two fists and was about to bring them smashing down on the cow’s back when she moved away from the wall and lashed out with a hind leg, smashing him in the thigh.

Dallas groaned, grabbed his leg and limped to the back of the barn where he dropped to the floor. Gasping for breath and trying to rub the throbbing pain from his thigh, Dallas glanced over at his younger brother, who was grinning widely at his suffering. “What’s so funny?” Dallas growled.

“Brother Singer calls her Kick-a-pooh Dan,” Rusty announced triumphantly. “Acts like a wild bull instead of an old milk cow.”

Dallas swallowed, limped over to the bucket, dumped a few flakes of manure and straw from it and turned to Kick-a-pooh. “And I traded a four-wheeler for you,” he muttered.

Dallas picked up the bucket and stool. For the next few seconds there was the rhythmic ping as Dallas squirted milk into the bucket. Soon all that could be heard was the cow’s loud breathing and the muffled swish as the white strings of milk fired into the foamy bucket.

“You just got to teach them who’s boss,” Dallas commented proudly to his brother.

“Somehow old Kick-a-pooh Dan doesn’t look like a fast learner,” Rusty remarked with smiling skepticism.

“I haven’t seen the animal I couldn’t …”

Before he could complete his brag, Kick-a-pooh’s manure-matted tail lashed out, cutting him across the face. Tears came to his eyes from the sharpness of the smack. He lunged for the offending tail, but before he could grab it, it whipped across his face again, and at the same time a hoof came crashing down on his knee, knocking him to the ground and sending the half bucket of milk slopping over his legs and onto the floor. Sprawled on the floor, he saw another hoof lash out at him. Ducking just in time, he scrambled to his feet and stumbled to the back wall, groping for the short piece of two-by-four he used to prop open the barn door.

“You got manure on your pants,” Rusty observed with delight, pointing at a patch of fresh green paste on both knees and the seat of his pants.

“You die,” Dallas shouted at the big Holstein, wielding the two-by-four club.

“Well, looks like you and Kick-a-pooh are getting acquainted,” a voice spoke from behind. Dallas whirled around to face Brother Singer, who was standing in the doorway.

Rusty sang out, “Boy, she’s a mean one. Every time Dallas gets a few squirts, old Kick-a-pooh knocks the bucket on the floor and stomps all over him. This is more fun than a rodeo. Dallas says he doesn’t need hobbles with Kick-a-pooh.”

“What I need is a club,” Dallas shouted. “I’ll break her leg off. Once I’m through with her the buzzards won’t want her. I’ll break her …” He turned on Brother Singer. “Why’d you sell me her? How can I earn anything if all the milk ends up on the barn floor? I might as well have a four-wheeler.”

Brother Singer laughed. “Those old four-wheelers are more ornery than a cow and twice as dumb. They’ll steal your money and break your neck to boot. At least Kick-a-pooh will get you on your mission.”

“If I spend much time with that bag of brittle bones, I’ll be cussing a blue streak. I won’t even be able to pass my interview with the bishop. I should have planted corn. It doesn’t kick.” Dallas looked down at his soiled, smelly pants. “And it doesn’t stink.”

“That’s a good cow, Dallas,” Brother Singer said, suddenly serious. “She’s the meanest, orneriest, most stubborn beast I’ve got. But she gives the most milk. If you can stand a few kicks and swats with her tail, she’ll make you money. However, there are a couple of things you’ve got to know.”

“Yeah, like have a club ready before you sit down.”

“I’ll admit she’s a little jumpy. That’s why you hobble her. One other thing, when you milk a cow, which side do you get on?”

“The right,” Dallas mumbled indignantly. “I’ve been raised on a farm.”

“Wrong, at least with Kick-a-pooh. As near as I can tell she’s blind in the right eye, or at least she doesn’t see too well. She goes crazy if you get to fussing around on her right side, but she’s a whole different cow if you approach from the left side. In fact, you can generally milk her without hobbles. Of course, I’ve learned not to trust old Kick-a-pooh. I’d use hobbles either side.”

Dallas glared at his newly purchased cow. Brother Singer slapped him on the back and remarked, “By the way, Dallas, I got a mighty good Holstein bull over at my place. I’d like to contribute to your mission, so you got free use of that bull. Before long you’ll have the best dairy herd in the county. Old Kick-a-pooh will put both you and Rusty on missions.”

Kick-a-pooh Dan was never docile, but Dallas did get to the point where he could get through most milkings without leaving a puddle on the barn floor. Once he was able to make it out of the barn with the milk in the bucket and not on the floor, then the money came.

Summer arrived and brought with it the heat, the long days, the gnats, and the endless labor of the farm. But Dallas did find a few snatches of time to slip away and go four-wheeling with Jake. Of course, riding behind Jake was not the same as riding his very own machine, but there were some thrills. However, all too often, just as the fun really got started and Jake pointed the four-wheeler up the mountain for one last daring ride, Dallas had to head home to milk Kick-a-pooh.

“Come on, Dallas,” Jake would demand. “That old cow can wait a few minutes. It won’t kill her. You pamper her like a baby.”

“She’s a fussy old bag,” Dallas explained, just a little embarrassed. “But if I’m not right there at five-thirty, she’s a monster. Then she doesn’t give nearly as much milk. I’d sure hate for her to dry up.”

“But we’re just going to the mouth of the canyon.”

“I can’t, Jake.”

As the summer progressed, Dallas still liked Jake’s four-wheeler, but he was beginning to reap the profits of a good cow too, even if she was an ornery one.

It did appear that Kick-a-pooh came between him and Jake. Though Dallas no longer harbored serious regrets about Kick-a-pooh, he did feel bad that Jake didn’t come around as often now. Too many times when he had come, hoping to go four-wheeling or to drive into town to play video games at Benny’s Corner, he had ended up standing around watching Dallas milk or shovel out the barn.

Summer passed and faded into fall, and soon winter set in. Five-thirty in the morning was always cold and miserable when Dallas trudged through the muddy snow and stomped into the barn to milk Kick-a-pooh and leaned his head against her warm, steamy flank and dozed. As soon as his eyes closed and he began to relax, Kick-a-pooh would flip her mucky tail across his face and bring him wide awake.

Toward the end of March, Jake invited Dallas to go with him and four other friends to a late movie. Dallas was counting on it. It had been a while since he and Jake had had some good fun together. But as usual Kick-a-pooh refused to cooperate. She was threatening to calve that night, and Dallas was too nervous to let Mother Nature pull off the operation by herself.

When Jake pulled up to Dallas’s house and honked, Dallas was in the barn with Kick-a-pooh, wringing his hands and chewing his lips. He shuffled out to Jake’s car. Jake rolled down the window and asked, “Aren’t you ready yet? Or were you planning on bringing your cow for company?”

“Kick-a-pooh’s going to calve, Jake,” he said.

“She can do it by herself,” Jake growled. “Cows do it all the time. Come on. Tonight’s our night to howl.”

“I can’t,” Dallas insisted, suddenly feeling uneasy, as though he were talking to a stranger and not his best friend. “Can’t lose this calf. It might be Rusty’s missionary cow.”

“Missionary cow!” Jake muttered angrily, jamming the car into gear. “That’s the trouble with that cow. She’s always got you worrying about a mission. You’re not a missionary till you’re 19. Why spoil the rest of your life?”

Dallas was taken back by Jake’s outburst, and for a moment he thought he detected a faint whiff of … but he couldn’t be certain. Besides, this was his friend Jake. However, his suspicions were aroused, and there was something disturbing about the way Jake was trying to conceal the brown paper sack partially pushed under the front seat. The other four were smiling unnaturally.

Dallas was hurt by the brusque farewell, and long after Jake’s car disappeared into the night, he remained outside thinking, wondering if he was missing something, wondering if Kick-a-pooh was messing things up for him.

Kick-a-pooh didn’t have her calf until late the next morning, and when she did she didn’t need any help. It was a healthy heifer. Dallas was rubbing the wet, wobbly thing down with a ragged bath towel when Rusty burst into the barn. Kick-a-pooh tossed her head at the intrusion, so he stayed in the doorway and watched in wide-eyed fascination for a minute.

“Is it mine?” he finally asked.

Dallas smiled. “If you take care of it. And I hope she’s blind in one eye and as ornery and disagreeable as her mother.”

“Why?” Rusty whined.

“So she’ll be a genuine missionary cow,” he laughed. “After you’ve milked her for a few years, nothing on your mission will be hard.”

Rusty crept closer to the new calf, reached out and touched its soft, damp fur. “Did you hear about Jake?” he asked furtively.

Dallas stopped working and glanced at his brother. “What’s there to hear?”

“Tim Linn called a few minutes ago. He said Jake wrecked his dad’s car. Rolled it. Tim’s big brother was with him. Broke his arm.”

“Did Jake get hurt?” Dallas asked, tossing the towel in the corner.

“Tim didn’t think so.” Rusty looked around to make sure they were alone and then whispered, “I think they’d been drinking.”

Dallas stared out the barn, across the corrals, and over to the hills where he and Jake liked to do their four-wheeling. He shook his head, and yet the news didn’t come as a surprise.

“Jake does a lot of things you don’t know about,” Rusty explained further. “That’s what Tim Linn tells me.”

That afternoon as Dallas was going out to check Kick-a-pooh and her calf, Jake came roaring into the yard on his four-wheeler. He had a Band-Aid on his chin and a bluish lump on his forehead.

“Did she drop her calf?” he yelled as he slid to a stop and shut off the engine.

“Come in and see,” Dallas invited with a smile. “If you’re interested and the price is right, maybe Rusty will sell her to you. He won’t take a trade-in on a four-wheeler, though.”

“I don’t want a cow,” Jake snorted.

“It’s a good investment,” Dallas smiled. “By the end of the year, I’ll have my mission paid for.”

Jake grinned suddenly and changed the subject. “Hey, I came over to see if you wanted to buy my four-wheeler. I’m getting a road bike, one of those big Honda 450s. All I need now is enough for a down payment, and then I’ll get a job at Market Center. I should be able to pay it off in a couple of years. I’m selling my four-wheeler cheap. If you’re interested, now’s the time to buy.”

Dallas stared for a moment at the four-wheeler that a few months earlier had intrigued him so intensely. He did some quick calculating, reviewing his funds. He was suddenly excited by the prospect; then just as quickly the excitement faded as he realized that the lure of the four-wheeler had diminished.

“I’m looking at another one of Brother Singer’s cows,” he answered.

“For your mission?” Jake scoffed.

Dallas shrugged. “A four-wheeler will never get me there.”

“I guess you’ve fallen in love with old Kick-a-pooh Dan,” Jake remarked sarcastically.

Dallas sighed. “Not really. She’s still the same ornery old beast. But she’ll take me places a four-wheeler will never go. I guess that’s why I stick by her.”

“Well,” Jake said, starting up his engine, “just wanted to see if you were still interested. If you change your mind, let me know.” The four-wheeler jerked into gear and roared out of the yard and down the lane towards the hills.

For a long time Dallas listened to the muffled growl of the engine. Then Kick-a-pooh drowned out the distraction with a demanding bellow, and Dallas turned back to the barn and his missionary cow.

Illustrated by Steve Kropp