Why I Had a Dead Cow in My Shed for Two Years

When I was a first year teacher, I was incredibly eager to please.  I still have a a tendency towards it, but at that point in time I took it to extremes.

The band room at the private school I worked in used to be a morgue when it was a hospital.  There were only two teachers in the basement, myself and the art teacher, Barb.  It was a miserable place to be.  The doors didn't work properly, it flooded twice with rain or freshwater while I was there, and I was only there one year.  I had the better end of the flooding deal.  Barb's room had flooded more than once with sewage, and my understanding is that it's flooded with sewage since I left, too.

One day, Barb and I were chatting.  We talked a lot since we were so isolated.  I had talked to her before about the type of art my grandmother does, which is painting western scenes on bones.  I mentioned in an offhand manner, "Wouldn't it be cool to get a whole skeleton, have a different kid paint each bone, and then wire it together?"

"Yeah!  That's a great idea!"

I thought for a second.  "You know, I think my dad mentioned that he had a cow die a couple of months ago.  I'll see if the bones are all still there."

I called my dad.  "Well, I peeked over there the other day.  It's been picked pretty clean, but all of the bones are there."

"Great!  I'll tell Barb," I said, picturing the sun bleached, slightly scattered bones that I usually find out at the farm.  Barb was thrilled, and I said I would nab the bones the next time I would be out.

I drove out to the farm in our little station wagon.  A pickup would have been better for transporting a body, but I figured I could get the bones in a garbage bag or two.  When we went to go collect the bones, I realized that Dad's and my definition of "picked clean" varied rather drastically.  I felt rather like Brendan Fraser when he popped open the Mummy's sarcophagus.  The head was still swollen and juicy.  The meat was pretty well gone from the rest of the carcass, but all of the tendons and ligaments were still there.

"I, uh, have to take this back in the station wagon," I said. "I was planning on using garbage bags."  We grabbed the biggest ones we could find, but the backbone was too long to fit.

"Oh, I'll just do this," he replied, and cracked it half over his knee.

Resisting the urge to blow chunks, we packaged everything up and threw it in the back of the station wagon.  The carcass didn't smell out on the open prairie, but in the confines of my Saturn, it was...pungent.  The day was warm.  We went to church, and then to lunch at the Shamrock in Wibaux.  Thank God you don't have to lock your car in a small town, because I had every window down to keep the stench from building up.  Dad couldn't resist bragging to the undertaker about my makeshift hearse.

We get it back to my home in Billings, and my husband and I back up to the shed, feeling a little like Ted Bundy unloading a victim.

"When is she coming to get this again?" he asked, a little grossed out by the sloshing sound coming from the bag with the juicy head.

"She said she'd pick it up soon."

So, a month or two pass and Barb never came to get it.  I reminded Barb, and she said she'd grab it, and I think she promptly forgot.  I was afraid to be a nag and ask her again, and it had grown ripe.  We didn't have a pickup to haul it out.  Though we could borrow one, I had no idea where we could dump the body.

Finally, Aaron put his foot down.  I worked at a different school by then, and thankfully Barb was still at the same one.  I called Barb again.  "My God, you still have that thing!  I'm so sorry!  We'll swing by this weekend and haul it out for you."

We loaded the remains into the back of her pickup, and I was just sure the neighbors would call the police.  One of the bags broke open while we were unloading.  Thousands of dead beetles poured out with a rustling hiss and showered my shoes.

We do stupid things because of anxiety.  I was secretly afraid that if I didn't follow through with my word that Barb would look down upon me, and I had always been taught to honor one's elders.  I liked Barb, and didn't want to nag her as it seemed disrespectful.  Dad went out of his way to help me get the carcass, and I was afraid his extra efforts would be for nothing if I just threw the carcass away.  Both fears were stupid, but they were compelling enough for me to force my husband to trip over a juicy cow's head for two years whenever he mowed the lawn.

Tonight, I finally resolved a major anxiety, and I look back at all of the years that it grasped my heart in an ice-cold fist.  I can't believe how stupid I've been.  Almost all of my anxiety is about what other people think. It is a hungry monster, and it grows if you feed it more fear.

Do yourself a favor.  Starve the little bastard.


  1. Oh, do I understand. Besides the usual collection of antlers and such from my husband's hunting trips, I had a road-killed pheasant in my freezer the entire eighteen months my brother-in-law was deployed to Iraq. He was so impressed with the size of that big ol' rooster he was sure he should have it mounted, even though he'd bagged it with a Ford F150. My husband was supposed to deliver it to the taxidermist, but somehow it kept getting put off. If I remember right, it ended up being a rush job so we could slap it up on the mantle the night before he got home.

  2. Oh, Lord! My first boyfriend's dad was a taxidermist, and his mother would occasionally go downstairs to the freezer to get meat, and find something slightly less edible in the freezer, like snakes.

    Hey, the nice thing about getting pheasant with an F-150...if they fall into a snowbank, you've got yourself some flash-frozen fowl!


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