34. The Cows

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

About J T Weaver

The author of "Uphill Both Ways," a thought provoking series of stories about life, family, and growing up.
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53 Responses to 34. The Cows

  1. Too funny….moo funny.

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  2. Judy Guion says:

    I believe that stories and family traditions are the “glue” that holds families together. My family is blessed with over seven years of letters and stories written between 1939 and 1946 and they are the basis of my blog. I know that you are getting close to publishing your stories – that’s why I’m reading them in big blocks. Don’t ever doubt that there is no value or interest in your family’s stories. My first book is almost done and I have five more in the works, so keep writing stories. I can’t wait for the book.

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  3. With a story like that, you MUST be distant kin of mine!
    Thanks for following “The Wild Ride.”

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  4. Anne says:

    I love this story. It makes me think of Gary Larson, who did for cows what I hope to do for pandas. I also think Dave Barry is one of the funniest people alive. Short legged cows….:o)

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  5. lportolano says:

    Hi JT. Thanks for following my blog. You have a good idea here with the numbered stories for your kids. Maybe you can make it a book 🙂 . I love stories like the short-legged cow one that take on personal catch phrases that become part of family lore.

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    • J T Weaver says:

      Thank you very much. Maybe once you have read the whole story 1-37, you could reaffirm that you think it should be published? The idea has come up before, I’m just not sure about it.

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  6. allysonyj says:

    Thanks for following my blog. Out here in the west we credit Paul Bunyan with breeding special cows who could graze easily on the steep mountains of the Coast Range because the legs on one side were shorter than the legs on the other.

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  7. cricketmuse says:

    Cows are the udderly perfect subject for humor. I’m glad you were able to milk the story for all it was worth.
    Blue Skies
    Cricket Muse

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    • J T Weaver says:

      [sic] Once you start down the road of cow humor there is almost no way to stop. Therefore, I award 1 pt to Cricket Muse, and gracefully back away. 🙂

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      • cricketmuse says:

        Having lived 12 years directly across from a dairy farm I felt inspired enough to create (or improve upon) over 100 cow jokes. What is it about cows that makes them fodder for funny stuff? Thanks for the point. You sure you don’t want to try a round or two of bovine humor? 🙂

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        • J T Weaver says:

          Thanks, but no. However I am currently spending the week in the Shenandoah and (camera in hand) I will be on the lookout for a short-legged cow. If I can catch one on film I will post it for all my doubters that such a thing exists. Ah, final vindication!! 🙂

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  8. Barneysday says:

    Great story. Did not Paul Bunyon invent cows with inside legs shorter than those on the outside, so they would continuously circle the hills to feed?

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  9. drybredquips says:

    Thanks for following my blog and for cluing me to short-legged cows. I live near the Maryland border and have been through that country. Never saw any of those cows, but will be on the lookout. Not sure, but I think Barry started writing for a relatively small newspaper in West Chester PA before becoming a syndicated humorist. Hope other quips fit your interests. Best to you and your blog..

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  10. fgassette says:

    Welcome! Thank you for subscribing to follow my blog. I hope you are encouraged, inspired and enjoy the photos I take of life’s events as seen through the lens of my camera.
    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

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  11. skinnyuz2b says:

    Yes, JT, it’s always too tempting to tell tales to the gullible. And so much fun! Who can resist? I know I never can.
    I moved to Vermont (land of many mountains) for a year, and told the same short-leg antidote about the human inhabitants (no hate mail from VTers, please). Anyway, they called us upstate NYers ‘Flatlanders’. So we’re even.
    And thanks for following my blog about my 1950 adventures. Eventually I’ll get to 1960, when I’m uprooted and plunked down in the middle of cow country. I’m still in a state of shock (kidding).
    I’ve enjoyed your sense of humor as well.

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  12. leotoribio says:

    Mr Weaver,

    I enjoyed your articles very much. But upon reading in one article that you were asked if you could “wiggle your ears,” and the mention of cows in the second article, I cannot help wondering if we might be distantly related. My mother’s family bore the Weaver surname and were dairy farmers in the vicinity of Punxsatawny, PA and Trade City, PA. Long ago, some of them left for destinations in the southeastern and midwestern US, and were never heard from again.

    Incidentally, the ability to wiggle one’s ears was a common Weaver family trait, which I am happy to say, I inherited. 🙂

    Best wishes for you and your beloved family.

    Sincerely,

    Leo Toribio
    Pittsburgh, PA
    ltoribio0@hotmail.com

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    • J T Weaver says:

      You never know Leo. I’m finding that people from everywhere can do a lot of these tricks. I’m glad you liked the story. And please, “Mr. Weaver” was my father.

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  13. gmapoetry says:

    Enjoyed this very much. Married to a dairy farmer for 55+ years so it was personal. Love words and their possibilities. You make the most of them. Thanks for following my blog.

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  14. AR Neal says:

    First, you had me at the title. Second, fabulous story! Third, I look forward to wandering the halls of your space, and fourth, thank you for wandering the halls of mine 🙂

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  15. In Scotland it is the wild haggis that has legs shorter on one side than the other!

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  16. Once did a 10,000 mile bicycle ride around the country by myself. Some places had lots of cows and not many people. I never found any short legged cows but I started mooing at the cows for entertainment and company. After staring at me strangely, they would moo back. The best ones were out standing in their fields.

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  17. Ann Koplow says:

    Thank you so much for following my blog, especially since that led to my coming here and reading yours. I enjoy your stories, very much.

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  18. Thanks for the story, JT, and thanks for following my blog, Cold.

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  19. Amusing story. Thanks for visiting my blog, too, and keep laughing!

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  20. Tim Vicary says:

    We tell the same story about the sheep in Wales. The problem is they can onlhy go one way around the mountain. If they turn round and try to go back they fall over.

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  21. My brother convinced me that the lake where we camped eventually ended up in the ocean…therefore, fresh-water sharks could enter our lake and I’d be the victim of a “jaws” moment. I don’t think I swam much that summer. By the time he invented snow tarantulas I was on to him. And don’t get me started on the floogies in milk… There are characters everywhere if you take the time to seek them out! Blesings.

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  22. Sandra says:

    I was born and raised in the Pennines of north west England. It’s the sheep there … 😉

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  23. Anonymous says:

    We probably have quite a few short legged cows here…we have lots of mountains and not so much flat land.

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  24. Cindy Wayland says:

    Every family has to have a story like that — and someone in the family who believes it! And with regard to your sense of humor, it’s your delivery, I believe! To those of us who don’t know you as well as others might, you seem so serious for so much of the time that, when you come up with a funny story, one that may or may not have some truth to it, it is sometimes difficult to discern whether you are telling the truth or telling a tall tale…. Regardless, the cow story is priceless! I think Virginia also has some short-legged cows — in the hills of the Shenandoah Valley!

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