The Cow That Went to School

When I was growing up, the arrival of Halloween night held a far different meaning for kids than it does today, and probably for good cause. Instead of cloaking ourselves in some gruesome costume which was suppose to evoke so much fear in the hearts of people that they would gladly hand over candy and other goodies in order to escape some dire terror that we might heap upon them, we set out on a reign of tricks which ranged from playful to downright destructive. Every kid my age knew that P&G soap was by far the best for soaping windows, Vaseline worked best on doorknobs and outdoor toilets were fair game for everyone. As we grew older, we graduated to more inventive ways of exercising our vandalistic efforts on that one night each year when we could go freely under the protection of a King`s X.

On this particular night of goblins, ghosts and witches, my cousin and I decided to allow the residents of Stinnett a respite from our normal bag of tricks, which usually involved outhouses and other movable buildings. We had grown tired of the more common things like nailing outhouse doors shut, turning them over or moving them back just far enough so that the when the owner answered a midnight call from Mother Nature, they would stumble into the hole. Besides, some of the older boys were way ahead of us and had already hauled a couple of them up to Lawyer Tate's house and nailed them down on his porch.

I doubt that there is a person alive who is smart enough to know or explain the process by which boys come up with their ideas on how to get themselves in trouble. If boys bent on mischief directed the same level of effort and inventive genius in more productive directions, the world would be populated by teen-age rocket scientists. On this particular night, any latent thoughts about the problems involved in putting a man on the moon were completely swept away by our sudden inspiration to put a cow in the school building. What made it an even better idea was that since Halloween came on Friday night that year, it was most likely that the cow wouldn't be discovered until Monday morning.

My cousin and I, like every boy past the third grade, knew how to open the back door of the school with a pocket knife faster than the janitor could do it with a key. Equipped with this knowledge, we tended to come and go at will after everyone else had left for the night. Our clandestine entries usually involved nothing more than playing basketball in the gym while wearing street shoes or running and skating on the waxed floors in the hall. Both of these activities were highly frowned upon by the school officials and anyone caught doing so would be sent home for a couple days to think about their foul deeds. It also gave us quite a thrill to sneak into the girl's rest rooms because they always smelled so nice and clean, nothing like the boy's which always smelled like dirty socks and stale farts. Once in a while, we would go down into the basement where the janitor stored his supplies and steal a few bars of soap to whittle on. On one occasion, a bunch of older boys wrote dirty words on all the blackboards but the principal recognized their handwriting and raised such a stink with them that they never tried that again.

We knew better than to put a cow that was giving milk in the school because not being milked for a whole weekend would really cause a problem. After all, we certainly didn't want to cause a cow any misery and pain, just have fun. Also, since we had grown up around cattle, we knew that she would need something to eat and drink over the weekend. We swiped two bales of alfalfa hay from behind the feed store and dragged them up to the school. We left them in the downstairs hall, along with several of the janitor's mop buckets filled with water.

Finding a cow to put in the school was the least of our problems because Mr. Barrett, who owned the dairy, always kept his dry cows in a pasture with a bull directly behind the football field. That way, they were already with a bull whenever it was time for them to breed so they could have a calf and start producing milk again. While most of the other boys in town were soaping windows and doing other dirty deeds, we stumbled around in the darkness until we found a big old Holstein cow and got a rope tied to the ring in her halter. She had spent her life being led around by a rope so she followed after us like a huge, black and white dog. She probably figured that we were taking her someplace to feed her and dutifully plodded along behind us.

Evidently the old cow smelled the fresh hay the instant we led her into the darkened hall because she perked up her ears and headed straight for it. We pulled the door shut and quietly joined a bunch of other boys who were unloading an outhouse on the fifty yard line of the football field. They had hauled it there on a freight wagon swiped down at the depot. The main thing that we wanted to do was establish an alibi in case we became suspects when the cow was discovered. We knew that no one could say for sure that we hadn't been with them all the time.

Saturday came and while most of the adults in town were involved with searching for missing outhouses, washing soap off windows and putting air back in flat tires, my cousin and I were anticipating how much fun we were going to have on Monday morning when the cow was discovered. We had a burning urge to let some of our buddies in on the secret about the cow in the school but good judgment prevailed and we remained quiet. Had we told a single person about what we had done, within an hour it would have been common knowledge with every boy in town.

Sunday came and it became almost impossible for us to keep our secret. We even discussed going up to the school just to check on the cow but decided that if anyone happened to see us there, they would know that we had been involved.

When Monday morning finally came and we arrived at school, all the students and most of the teachers were standing around on the lawn in front of the building. Several of them were crowding around windows, trying to see what was going on inside. All the women teachers were huddled together, talking in whispers about what a mess there was in the building. The principal finally came to the door and announced that it would be at least an hour before classes could begin, which brought a shout of glee from all the students. My cousin and I were dying to know what was going on but knew better than to ask. A couple of the older boys came running around from one end of the building and yelled, "Hey guys! Come around and look through the side doors. You never saw so much cow-crap in all your life."

The side doors of the building opened into the hall which ran the length of the building. It was amazing how one cow could convert only two bales of hay into so many meadow muffins. There was hardly a square yard of the waxed tile floor which did not have at least one large cow plop on it. While the men teachers were busy scooping up the piles of manure and carrying it outside, the janitor mopped the floor. One would think that with all that manure, there had to be a cow around someplace, but search as they might, she was nowhere to be found. It was as she had vanished from the face of the earth, or at least from the school.

When the place was finally clean, the students were allowed to go to their classes and school returned to more or less normal except for the occasional fits of giggling which would strike whenever someone thought about all those piles of cow-poop in the hall. Suddenly, during the change of classes after the first period, bedlam broke loose in the upstairs hall as a bunch of girls came running out of the girl's rest room, screaming to the top of their lungs. They had found the errant cow.

Evidently, after she had converted the two bales of hay into compost, drank all the water from the mop buckets and wrung herself dry on the hall floor, she became restless and started exploring the place. She had climbed the stairs to the second floor and nuzzled her way into the girl's bathroom, where she was trapped when the door swung shut behind her. The janitor tied a rope to her halter, thinking that he would simply lead her back down the stairs and out of the building, but the cow had other ideas. As soon as she took one look down those stairs, she planted her feet and refused to go another step. When the janitor tugged harder on the rope in an effort to make her follow him down the stairs, she flopped down on her side and refused to move.

He finally gave up on trying to get her to come down the stairs under her own power and decided that the only way was to carry her down. Carrying a reluctant half-ton cow down a flight of stairs was going to be no easy matter and all the muscle power available would be needed for the task. Finding the necessary manpower to carry the cow down the stairs posed somewhat of a problem because most of the male teachers under the age of about fifty, as well as all the boys in the last two grades of high school who could pass an army physical, were gone off to the war. The principal finally went down to the pool hall and cafe where rounded up eight or nine men who evidently had nothing better to do at ten in the morning than shoot pool or drink coffee. Mr. Barrett, who owned the cow and was more than a little interested in her welfare, was also there.

The day had turned into complete chaos as far as school was concerned, so the principal dismissed classes for the rest of the day and told everyone to go home. Since carrying a cow down the stairs and out of the building was going to be the most exciting thing to happen around Stinnett in quite a while, none of the kids were about leave and miss any part of it. Everyone was crowding in the halls to watch.

All sorts of suggestions were made as to the best method of getting her down; like putting a blindfold on her and leading her down, tying her feet together and sliding her down the stairs on a blanket and building a scaffold to lower her with a rope. After a great amount of discussion, each was rejected and they finally decided that the only logical solution was to resort to pure muscle power to pick her up and carry her down.

A thousand pounds of cow divided more or less equally among ten men comes to about a hundred pounds each, which is no small feat considering that a cow offers so few good places to grab. The four strongest men each took a leg while the rest reached under her belly from either side and grabbed hands. The principal, with no other place to lift, decided to control direction by hanging onto her tail.

Cows, no matter how gentle and forgiving they might be, really object to being picked up. The instant her feet left the floor, she humped her back and unloaded about ten pounds of manure all over the principal's suit and shoes. For some reason, we kids found that a lot funnier than did the principal and he ordered everyone not involved in carrying the cow down the stairs to leave the building. Since they had picked the cow up to where her feet no longer touched the floor, there was little that she could do except to struggle and bellow her displeasure.

The stairs, like those in all schools, went half way down to a landing where it reversed direction before going the rest of the way to the first floor. This is a safety feature to prevent kids from falling down more than half a flight of stairs in any single accident. When they reached the landing and put the cow down so they could rest a bit, she immediately climbed back up the stairs to the second floor. The second time they carried her down, they knew enough to tie her firmly to one of the banisters before they let her feet touch the floor.

The barnyard smell still hung heavy in the air when the Superintendent launched an all-out investigation to find the culprits who committed the great cow caper. Figuring that it must have been someone on the football team, he began grilling them one at a time. He would call one of the players into his office, browbeat and threaten him for half an hour before finally letting him go. When he ran out of football players without finding the guilty party, he started questioning the oldest boys in school first, working downward toward us. A lot of people were suspected of having done the dirty deed and rumors flowed almost as thick as what the cow had left on the floor. Fortunately, the school's homecoming game and Thanksgiving holidays interrupted his search to the point that it was finally forgotten before he got around to questioning us. Had he done so, we would surely have been found out because there was no way that we could have kept a straight face while protesting our innocence.

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Copyright 2000 by Jim Foreman