There was an article in the New York Times this past Sunday entitled, “Where Cows Are Happy and Food is Healthy” by Nicholas D. Kristof. While I was reading, I was smiling. After I read it, I was smiling and kind of shaking my head a little.
I found it strange that this story that I could relate to so much was in one of the most-renown newspapers in the world. And, I found it oddly comforting as well. It was about a fifty-something, third-generation dairyman that was raising “happy cows” in Oregon. He had hundreds that grazed out in large pastures. He had names for all of them and could tell each one apart from the other.
He spends everyday with his “girls,” making sure they’re happy and give good milk. He switched to organic production eight years ago which meant not giving them antibiotics that pharmaceutical salespeople had told him all along was necessary in order to keep them healthy. He found the opposite was true, they thrived once going au naturel.
I grew up in wide open spaces. My grandfather was a farmer and a carpenter. He had cows — all kinds — and they were happy. Not hundreds like the big dairy farmer, but some. And he’d go out everyday and walk in the fields with some little Jack-Russell-looking pooch that was black/white or tan/white. I don’t know where he got these dogs but I guess when one passed, he’d get another one. They were named Pete or Joe or Sam or something simple like that. He’s whistle through his teeth and his dog would trot along side him as he walked amongst his happy cows. He named his cows too. They’d graze all day, eating grass. He’d milk some and at some point, some would go to slaughter. I don’t know who or how he did that, but I’m certain he made sure it was humane.
I’d hear him talk quietly to them. These are fuzzy, little-girl memories but I do remember he named one Brigitte. She was clumsy, a black and white calf. I remember her little spindly legs, her little maaw-www and how the fur on her head, the space between her eyes, felt thick, kind of curly and coarse. I was scared of the cows (not Brigitte, mind you) but the big ones. They’d turn their heads at me drunkenly, blinking slowly with their big doe-eyed, brown-eyed blankness. They kept quiet mostly but when I’d hear a loud moo, it would always startle me, scare me a little.
Grandaddy always dressed in khaki. Khaki pants and a long-sleeved khaki shirt with these hard-toed, lace-up boots, no matter what the temperature. He had dark-hair, almost black and an olive-toned complexion. He wore those glasses that you’d see news reporters wear — the big black frames with a little silver on them. I don’t remember his hair ever turning gray and he lived until he was in his 80s.
When he wasn’t walking in the fields, he and his pooch would get in his little Datsun-like truck and head “downtown” where he’d go to the small grocery/gas station owned by a lady, Mrs. F, with a wooden leg (I don’t know what happened but she always seemed elderly to me). I think her husband was killed in one of those freak accidents that happen in the country sometimes, usually to do with big farm equipment.
Anyway, he and his buddies would play dominos inside that little store. Mrs. F lived in the back of that small store and she’d slice bologna or ham or cheese that was wrapped in bright red wax on one of those huge silver, dangerous-looking slicing machines. There was one of those big freezer-type chests filled with coke and an opener on the front of it. People had “accounts” there. Sometimes I’d go in and tell her to put something on my Daddy’s account. It was the country and people paid sometimes, when they could, and when they couldn’t, well they couldn’t. But they would always eventually pay.
Yes, I Ate the Wrong Things
My Grandfather was a simple man — his needs were simple. He ate and exercised as books and programs tell us how to do now. He’d eat several small meals a day. He’d walk miles everyday, out in nature. My grandparents always had sweet sorghum molasses in their pantry. I’m sure it’s not good for you, but it was good.
Grandmother would make biscuits from scratch and Grandaddy taught me how to best enjoy sorghum. You poured a little pool of it on a plate, swirled butter (not fake, olive-oil good for you stuff in a tub), but butter. Then you’d dip that warm biscuit in. I remember them once even churning their own butter. My Grandmother made fried chicken in a cast-iron skillet using lard, yes white bad-for-you lard. It’s still the best chicken I’ve ever eaten. She made chili sauce that’d we pour over peas. Mom could never get the recipe from her because Grandmother would always say, “Well, you put a little of this, a little of that.” She lived until her mid-90s.
They had a wooden table on their covered back porch where they glued vinyl atop it and they put green tomatoes there to ripen. I snatched that table, used a blow dryer to get the vinyl off the top and re-stained it. I have it now in my home. I have my Grandmother’s Ethan Allen buffet that she got from saving S&H green stamps. It’s gorgeous, heavy, well-made.
They had a grape-vine in their backyard. The kind that covered a rectangular wooden thing — one you could walk under — it was full of plump, juicy, sweet purple grapes. Beside that was a smokehouse where they cured meat. A clothesline was in the backyard. Beyond that was the fields where Grandaddy would walk and me and my sisters or cousins would sometimes venture out to.
There was a garden with vegetables. My sisters and I would have to pick veggies from that garden (we hated doing that, I remember it being hot). We’d sit on the porch with a big silver tub filled with purple-hull peas and have to shell them, our fingers would stain purple from them. My Mom and Grandmother would “can” the veggies, putting them in mason jars, then a pressure-cooker and sealing the tops with paraffin and screw on lids.
My grandparents would sit on their front porch in rocking chairs at the end of the day, watching the few cars that would pass by and knowing who was in every one of those cars that did. I have a pinkish-white scar on my thigh from mowing that yard. They’d pay the grandkids to mow the yard and I once when I was trying to mow under a barb-wired fence one of those points dug into my leg and bit me.
I couldn’t wait to get away from that small town stuff, but I remember those happy cows.
Brig, thank you for transporting me to this lovely world. I am jealous that you had that growing up. You should write more about it. Now I have to go find out where Oregon’s happy cows are! xoxo
You’re most welcome, Maggie. Not EVERYTHING was magical and wonderful, mind you. But I think the older you get, the more you learn to appreciate those “home” things and the lessons you didn’t even know you were learning. Funny, we grew up organic before there was even a name for that. Thank you, Maggie, for reading. Find those happy cows!!!
I kid you not….I was going to say the SAME thing….Thank you Brig!!! I just a had a mini vacation!!!
What a wonderful life.
It’s very similar to my own, and brought back amazing memories for me!
Did you hear that? Thank you!!!! I felt warm all over at this post.
I believe we’ve lost something in this fast world. I believe happy cows do make happy milk. The way animals are treated, transfers to US and our bodies.
My husband gets mad at me buying free range eggs…cuz they cost twice as much.
I don’t care.
I want freedom in my body…no cages.
I may have to read through this story again.
It made me THAT happy.
Lis, that’s so nice — thank you. I agree we have lost a few things. And of course happy cows make happy milk! Animals have souls, feel pain and feel grief too. So if an animal is treated horribly then what kind of sadness are you putting in your body, know what I mean? We all do the best we can, I know, but like you, I try to eat organic. It’s that whole mind/body/spirit thing — if one’s sick, then more than likely the rest will follow. I’m so glad I made you happy. You’re such a joyful and sweet person. xxoo
Oh Brigitte! A trip to the Green Stamp Store was like the best thing EVER! It’s a wonder I don’t have some kind of neurological disorder from licking the glue on all of those stamps. Oh wait, maybe that’s it. 🙂
Also, we did something called “pick on the halves” for a farmer who had fields and fields of purple hull peas. I made .75 cents a bushel or got to keep half of what I picked to take home, shell and “put up” god! my fingers were purple ’til way after Labor Day summer after summer. 🙂 Good Times!
Ha! I know, right?? I can remember having to shell so many of those freaking peas and complaining the entire time. We had such good veggies from our gardens and I didn’t appreciate it until I didn’t have it anymore. I miss those wide open spaces sometimes but I don’t think I could go back to that small, small town — not yet anyway. :). Thanks, Honie.
No going back – we’ve just gotta share that home-grown goodness out in the world 🙂 Funny how some things we know are good and it takes stepping away from them to appreciate just how good they are. Makes me smile.
I hear you, Honie and I agree. Makes me smile too. :).
I found the article. Yamhill isn’t that far from me, very beautiful country. I had no idea that Nicholas Kristoff was from here!
That’s it!! Small world, huh? I’m a firm believer in the foods you eat have an effect on your body and spirit. Who wants to eat animals or drink milk from badly-treated, drug-filled unhappy animals? We are supposed to take care of them, not abuse them.
I changed to organic dairy when my girls were little b/c of all the hormones in the milk. I believe it makes a big difference in children’s development.
I agree! And in our bodies as well. Years ago, I wrote an ebook for someone about the chemicals that’s in our foods, cosmetics, etc. It’s scary. I don’t know what happened!
It is really really hard to find non-animal tested cosmetics although shampoo, conditioner, household products are getting more accessible. Even at my cheapo grocery store, you can find that stuff and it’s not more expensive than buying Revlon or whatever kind of commercial products.
Maybe if we all start buying that, the other shite will go away. It’s been around for awhile, we’re just finding out more about it now. I heard last night BPA — used in plastics and in canned foods is some bad, bad mojo. WTF?
It’s wonderful that you’ve retained so many memories of your grandfather and your time with him. So many of my memories have vanished. Where they’ve gone is anyone’s guess. Oh, and that sorghum sounds soooo good. 🙂
I can pull out a few fuzzies from my memory bank. And the sorghum thing, it was good, Carrie, so good. Just like that chicken. Sigh. Now we eat baked chicken with olive oil.
Yes, we do. But as long as I get my small treat after the baked chicken, I’m fine. 🙂
I read that Nicholas Kristoff piece, too and enjoyed it very much. I think there was even a Times video, but my mind is such a blur maybe I just imagined a video because he’s such a good writer. I enjoyed your memories about what life was like on your grandfather’s farm, but the Green Acres lifestyle would be torture for this born and bred city slicker. That said, I’m sure the quality of the food was far superior to anything processed or packaged, even if it did include a lot of butter. I’ve never had fresh churned butter in my life. That must have tasted great.
Wasn’t it great? We get the NYT every Sunday and there’s so much good stuff in there — tons of ideas to write about. Trust me, it was small-town living and I wouldn’t want to go back to that “green acres” kind of stuff. I’d be more like Ava Gabor and want to throw dishes out the window instead of wash them. HA! But like anything else, there’s good and bad. And some of those childhood memories are sweet. All that food that’s been deemed bad for us was good. I think long life has alot to do with being at peace and being happy. But what I do I know? Thanks, V — I wish you’d share a “growing up in the city” memory.
My site is pretty much focused on life in present day New York City, where I’ve resided for 30 years as of this past August, which blows my mind. As for reflecting what life was like growing up in San Francisco, I liked it, but from a very early age — about 3 when I saw my first film, “West Side Story”, I was determined to move to the Big Apple. This frantic, sooty, neurotic fast-paced place is just much more me. Mellow is not my thing. I did once write a Lame Adventure about my youth and my childhood dog. My father and grandmother figured prominently in it, too:
Yep, I’ve noticed that from the brief time I’ve been following you (which glad I found you btw). 30 years in Manhattan! I can’t imagine that, but your stories are hugely entertaining, V. Thanks for the link — I’ll take a read about your grandpop. :).
Glad you found me, too, Brig and I’m glad you’re so good natured. You’ve got classic Southern charm. I know that shilling an old post on another blogger’s site is the height of blogospheric arrogance.
I loved this post Brigitte! It made me feel wholesome and virtuous just reading it. It stirred up a lot of my childhood memories while visiting family in Mississippi and Texas. The S&H Green Stamp store, the clothes line, shelling peas on the front porch and running through the pastures of my Aunt Mable’s farm… Such sweet childhood memories! This post is heavenly, right down to the butter and biscuits. I wish I could snap my fingers and return to that time and place. You did a great job transporting us to that sweet stress free time.
So glad, Lisa. Wholesome and virtuous is a good thing every once in a while, yes? HA — just a memory that was sparked from reading that NYT article so I thought I’d put it to paper. I’m so glad it took you back. Thanks, friend.
I know I say this to you a lot, but I really mean it. You are a beautiful writer. I loved this.
Fish, coming from you and loving your writing style so much, I take that as a huge compliment. Thank you, my friend.
It sounds like my childhood, although my parents were 1970’s self-sustaining hippies from the city who moved to the country. And lard and butter instead of olive oil hybrid margarine? I know which ones the body recognises as real food. I love this yummy post Brigitte 🙂
Sara, thank you! Your parents sound very cool. :).
No, of course not – they are my parents 😉
Loved your memories. Reminded me of my paternal grandparents. They were simple farmers–dry farming in S. Utah and raising Herefords. I loved visiting them and lots of your memories match them.
Hi Char, thank you — glad you enjoyed!
Isn’t it funny how something like reading a newspaper article can trigger such a flood of memories? I love the story you told of spending time with your grandparents. You are a natural storyteller. 🙂
Hi J, yeah it is strange but it certainly did. Thank you — since you’re such a great storyteller yourself, I consider that big compliment!
What beautiful memories, thanks for sharing them. I bet that although you couldn’t wait to get away at the time, you long for some of that again now. Am I right?
Hi D, thank you. Sometimes I think I do, but I’d probably go nuts from boredom if I lived in such a small town now, although I find myself gravitating to a more small town feel wherever I go. :).
Brig, I have been trying to read this all day. I’d sit down, start reading, and then the baby would wake up/ the phone would ring/ the timer would go off on the stove, etc. But finally I have read it and I am so glad I did! This is delightful and it reminded me a lot of visiting my grandparents in rural Tennessee when I was a kid. We were all happy cows. Is there a better way to be? I think not.
Hi Em, that’s okay, baby always comes first! Ha! Some of those childhood memories are sweet huh? :).
what do I say that has not already been said? I love the way you transported me back and infused me into your sweet memories. One thing.. dominoes(ok) cheese and coke? really? cheese and coke? (smiling)
and I agree with Fish.. you are a beautiful writer
Audra, glad you enjoyed. Maybe cheese, crackers and coke? No? That’s so nice — thank you. I find myself surrounded by many beautiful writers (yourself included).
Your words = a painting/picture in my mind = a job well done by Brigitte (as usual)
Hi Lillian, thank you friend.
I remember those green stamps, Brig! My grandmother would save them and then we’d all sit around the kitchen table to paste them in the books while she told stories about her childhood. Your Grandfather reverie sent me on a reverie of my own. Thanks, dear friend! By the way, Nick Kristof is one of my favorite op-ed columnists. He’s definitely shined a spotlight on Africa in the past few years! xoxoM
Simpler times maybe, but “harder” times sometimes too I guess. So glad you enjoyed, Margarita. I know, isn’t he great?? I want to read more of him — it’s so easy to read and takes you right there. Thank you! xxooB
That sounds idyllic. I grew up in a small town, but nothing quite as beautiful as that. It sounds like the lifestyle I would love to lead.
Hi R&R, it wasn’t always idyllic! As you know, growing up in a small town, it was stifling sometimes, but I just bet you could pull our a fuzzy memory yourself. Thank you so much your your sweet comment — it is so appreciated.
Like several people commenting here, this wonderful post brought me back to memories of my childhood in Georgia. Shelling black peas, clothes on the clothesline, homemade biscuits, butter, and homemade apple jelly (or muscadine). Just last week, we found some wonderfully fresh okra at Whole Foods and I dredged it in cornmeal and pan fried it – really, there’s nothing better. Thank you, Brigitte. A sweet and lovely set of memories. I know what you mean, it wasn’t always idyllic, but with forgiveness and understanding, I’ve found that I remember more of the good stuff these days.
Hi Cathy, thank you. What is that Kurt Vonnegut said? Something like people tell you stories of the past, brush off the ugly parts and give them to you to help you understand….something like that. Yum, fried okra! Now I want some! It’s nice to indulge that every once in awhile. And yes, I’m like you. I want to remember/focus on the positive. It feels better anyway! :).
Green Stamps! I forgot about those! My mom “bought” a silver tea set with her Green Stamps. My job was to lick them and stick them in the savings book. Thanks for the memories~!
You’re most welcome, Robin and thank you. Hope you’ll come back and again soon and that things are settling down for you a bit. xxoo
I hope to be back soon and often. Bear with me for a bit tho. Deal?
Of course, my friend!
I can’t say much that hasn’t already been said, but it bears repeating. Your writing is stunningly beautiful, B. And I would love to read more pieces like this as well. I love reading things like this not just because it’s a wonderful snippet of a different time and place but also because yours was such a different upbringing from mine, since I grew up in Queens. The only real grass I ever saw was in Flushing-Meadow Park or Central Park when we went into the city. Reading this was so enlightening, and it even made me nostalgic for something I never even had! And I especially love the part about the happy cows. Cows should always be happy.
Well thank you, Weebs — what a nice thing to say! Isn’t it odd how differently we grow up? I have the same kind of nostalgia for people who grew up in or near a big city. I know there’s advantages/disadvantages to both but then we find out that we share the same “inside” stuff, huh? I met someone once who’d never even seen a cow which to me was bizarre, but to him perfectly normal. We are as different as we are the same. I hope you’ll share one of your memories — that would be fascinating to me. xxoo
This is beautiful. What nice memories, and it’s nice that a newspaper article could take you back there.
I grew up (and live) in a semi-rural area. I live in town, But I can see cows from my front door (and hear sea lions at night). As a kid, I raised chickens with my step-dad, and a pig for 4H. I really got an idea of how much hard work goes into farm life. It definitely wasn’t for me (I raised a sow rather than a boar because I couldn’t bring myself to castrate the thing), but it was a great experience.
I’ve seen a lot of happy cows in Oregon (and Washington and California). The unhappiest cows I ever saw were in New Mexico. Seriously, they looked like very unhappy cows.
Hi Smak, well thank you very much! Those semi-rural and rural areas are nice. I was in 4H too! I wouldn’t have the heart for that castrating thing either, but I guess someone has to do. I think good farmers have a relationship with their animals — in a kind, humane way — the whole circle of life thing. I wonder why NM has unhappy cows. Hmm. Thank you for your nice comments, friend.
What a wonderful story! I’ve had a small herd of cows for a couple years, and they have been quite the learning experience. They are extremely spoiled- petted, hand-fed, plenty of grass and hay and alfalfa- so I’d say they are excessively happy. We even have the same type of country store on the corner; all the old guys go up for biscuits and coffee and gossip. Moving from a large suburban area to a tiny rural area was torture for me at first, but I’ve really come to enjoy the simplicity and the wide open spaces.
I’ve enjoyed browsing around. I loved the Nemo letting go post and The Cranberries song and the blog etiquette post, and well I loved them all, but you had me at “Maaw-www.” I’m happy to be a new follower! – Christy (RoS)
Hi Christy, thank you so much! I’m so glad you have happy cows. Sometimes I miss it (that small-town) but not sure I could really go back, but I do miss wide open spaces. That “Nemo” post is one of my favorite ones I’ve written and I’m so glad you enjoyed it as well. Welcome, my friend and I’m very flattered you decided to follow me and read my ramblings and musings — thank you so much.
And I thank you for the warm welcome.
We have a few mutual blogging connections, so I’ve seen your kind comments and cute little gravatar floating around. I’m happy I decided to “check you out.” (insert wolf whistle, hahaha)
I love the “just keep swimming” mantra- as a runner I often say to myself, “just keep running, running, running… you love to run!”
Have a wonderful day! -Christy