I had never considered myself to be a particularly funny person. Oh sure I could tell a joke if I was forced into it, but I was more known for the bizarre way I looked at things. (See Temperature or The Law of Unintended Consequences). I followed the writing of Dave Barry to the point where his humor began to permeate my every day conversations with people and those who also followed him would pick up on the references right away. My references to light bulbs as “dark suckers” is the classic example. Add to this the tangential nature of my father’s sense of humor and you can see how all this developed. The following story is just one result.
I had met my future wife at a conference in San Francisco and we both returned home, she to Maryland and I to Cape Cod. But the relationship grew, I proposed, (she accepted) and she moved to Cape Cod. I had spent some time in western Maryland meeting her family and enjoying the western Maryland Appalachian Mountain countryside. While there, I tried to take in all of what I saw and remember it for the special time that it was.
One of the strange things I noticed was the number of cattle ranches throughout western Maryland. There certainly was enough open land but it was not the traditional flat open spaces that you would normally associate with cattle ranching. In fact, there wasn’t a flat spot anywhere since one hill led to yet another hill, and so on. I had a wonderful visit with my future in-laws and then began the 400-mile drive back home. But I kept thinking about those cows. There was a story in there somewhere; I just had to find it.
Then there came an occasion where my new fiancé Karen and I were to go out to dinner with my stepsister Donna and her husband Bob. This was part of the process of my family getting to know the future newest member of the family. We were having a pleasant dinner and amidst the normal conversation I happened to mention that I had seen the strangest thing when I had gone to western Maryland. I went on to describe how this was the only place I had ever seen cattle grazing on hills and that they had appeared to adapt to that situation. They all seemed to graze horizontally to the hill and that I had not once observed any of them go either up or down a hill. Further, they all seemed to be perfectly balanced and upright in their stature. My only conclusion to what I had seen was that the downhill legs on these cows had to be longer than their uphill legs. Clearly it was an equilibrium problem that nature had solved through an evolutionary path that allowed these cows to survive on such steep hills.
When Donna replied, “What, really?” I knew I was on to something. Bob was instantly on to me and I gave him a quick look and shake of the head. Karen had a quizzical look of ‘what in the heck are you talking about’ but my stepsister seemed to be genuinely interested. Since neither Bob nor Karen gave me away, I continued for the rest of the evening, inventing likely scientific reasons for these unique cows. These pseudo-freaks of nature then became known as Maryland’s short-legged cows. The subject of Maryland’s cows never came up again and I’m not really sure if Donna ever got the straight story from Bob. But Bob, Karen, and I often joked about it over the years. Whenever I would start a new story about something I had seen, one of them would usually interrupt and ask if this was another “short-legged cow story.”
This story spawned several others over the years including one on the nature and origins of truffles and a parody on the origins of electricity from Dave Barry. But it was always the original ‘short-legged cow story’ that has been told and retold countless times over the last 30 years and remains today as the prime example of our family sense of humor.
© J T Weaver