You can’t tip a cow, but you can throw a cow chip
Life lessons you learn growing up in rural America
“Have you ever tipped a cow?”
Aside from being a cruel thing to do to a helpless animal, it’s physically impossible to run up on a half-ton bovine and knock it on its side, no matter how big or strong you are. For starters, cows do not sleep standing up. Then there’s the pesky fact that the dairy farmer’s herd dogs would raise hell the moment you entered the pasture. If you made it past the dogs, you had to worry about the farmer himself peppering your trespassing butt with buckshot.
So, no. I’ve never tipped a cow.
I get the cow-tipping question a lot from city and suburban folks who rely on sitcom writers and political pundits to create their opinions about life in rural America.
I grew up surrounded by corn fields and dairy farms in the then-rural community of Farmington, Minnesota. Back then, the town was home to roughly 8,000 people; today, it’s a suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul with 22,000 residents.
And some cows.
I still consider Farmington my home town, even though I lived there for only seven years.
It was a great place to be a teenager.
To be fair, I had some issues with Farmington at the time. Thanks to the entire premise of Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn” and acres of field corn behind my house, I had – and still have- an unhealthy fear of “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” and other scary crap hiding behind 8-foot stalks. I had an obscene paranoia about grasshoppers thanks to the swarms that covered the field – and our house – during the late spring. Funnel clouds and tornado warnings reduced me to tears because our house was actually a trailer tethered to the ground by a few straps and anchors
However, I loved the winter nights. Yes, they were Minnesota winters that would freeze the snot inside your nose and create icicles on your lashes within five minutes, but they were beautiful. The corn fields would be covered by a soft blanket of snow, and I would often bundle up so I could sit outside and look at the stars. I found peace under the stars and the glistening snow.
I also found peace with my friends and their families. During the spring and summer, I would make the 8-mile trip into downtown Farmington on my rusted out 10-speed. While there, I would hang out with friends or just sit quietly at the small creek, erroneously named Rambling River, which ran along the back of one of the original subdivisions.
My graduating class may have had 160 in it, but despite Farmington’s size and rural location, I still received a great life and academic education. Among the lessons I learned:
- Try everything. The small school gave me the opportunity to try everything, whether I wanted to or not. Everyone had to take shop class, which I failed miserably thanks to a little incident with a table saw and a flying 2×4. Nonetheless, I still managed to learn the basics about woodworking, electricity, repairs and metalworking. I made it on the girls’ gymnastics team because I could do a front walkover on the balance beam, but I had to quit after my 5’9” frame had a nasty fall from said-balance beam during the second practice. I also competed on the school math team because, well, in all honesty, I was one of a very limited number of math nerds.
- Don’t eat field corn. The corn behind my house was grown for animal feed. It was not sweet, and it was never tender, even when picked fresh from the stalk and boiled in water. My experiment with field corn helped me learn a lot about agriculture and the hard work our nation’s farmers do to feed us. Every year, I watched the farmer till the field, plant seeds, and harvest. He’d hire a bunch of tweens every summer to go row by row and remove the pollen tassels from the top of the plant. (This was the first job for many of my Farmington friends.) All of it was back-breaking, but necessary and valuable, work that few people today appreciate.
- Let people notice you. It was difficult to be anonymous at Farmington High School. Since there were only a few hundred of us, the teachers knew everyone by name and could easily notice when something was amiss. They could also notice when something had the potential to be amazing. My journalism teacher let me dive into a career I never would have considered. My gym teacher helped me realize I was not a wimp and applauded me after I hip-checked the school’s alpha-female bully during a broom hockey game.
- Go fishing. You can’t throw a rock in Minnesota without having it land in a lake. I spent many early mornings out in a canoe with a fishing pole, a box of lures and a small baseball bat I could use to stun the aggressive and toothy northern and walleyed pikes I’d reel in. Thanks to that experience, I learned about self-reliance. I learned how to catch and clean my own meals if needed. I can also portage a canoe, albeit a very small and light canoe.