I was astounded to learn, when I checked the archives, that I haven’t told this story yet. It’s pretty much a Smith family classic. So I decided to remedy that, and tell you all about…the night…of the cows.
This story, as many stories do, needs to begin with some background. We must set the stage, as it were, for you to fully understand the events I am about to narrate. It takes place in Caspar, when we lived in the Tin Palace, which is a building I really ought to photograph, because it’s so bizarre and unique. But, basically, the relevant information you need about the Tin Palace for this story is that it was on a post and pier foundation, and in the back, where we lived, we were actually quite high off the ground. The second thing you need to know about the Tin Palace is that the downstairs was pretty much all open, and one of the more remarkable downstairs features was the French Doors to Nowhere, a set of French doors which once led to a deck, but led to open air and an eight foot drop when we lived there.
Another important piece of information is that I slept downstairs, in the living room, and the ceiling over the area I slept went up a full two stories, with a window from my father’s bedroom upstairs looking into the living room. We occasionally used to talk back and forth through the window at night before going to bed, or when waking up in the morning, especially in the winter, when the Tin Palace was freezing (literally, I would wake up with ice on my bed), and my father usually left the window open, especially in the summer, when he needed air circulation upstairs or he would suffocate from the heat.
The thing you need to know about Caspar, then, was that Frank’s cows still lived in Caspar. Frank’s cows were also very fond of escaping, and would wander the streets until someone rounded them up again. It wasn’t at all uncommon to come home to a street filled with bovines.
One hot night in late summer, we left the side door open, as we often did at night, because the Tin Palace became insufferably hot in the summer. We trundled off to bed long after the sun had set, and I woke up at around three in the morning to a strange sensation. It was hot, and rough, and moist, and for a moment, I was so confused that I couldn’t figure out which part of my body was sending me the signals that something hot, rough, and moist was touching me.
I realized that it was a cow, licking my ear, and jerked upright in shock and surprise. The cow also jerked, backwards, and made a huffing noise. A sort of “hwoof!”
“Dad,” I said. My father didn’t respond. “DAD,” I said again, a little louder. The cow looked puzzled, and started nosing around in the woodbox.
“What,” he said, finally, after a long suffering sigh.
“There’s a cow in the house!”
“Shut up and go back to sleep,” he said.
“No, really! There’s a cow in the house!”
“We can talk about it in the morning,” he replied.
“I think we should talk about it now,” I said.
“I think you should go back to sleep.”
“No, really, there’s a–”
“MOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” said the cow.
“HOLY SHIT,” my father said. “There’s a cow in the house!”
“Right, like I said.”
My father came downstairs, and we stared at the cow for a while. The cow stared back.
Here’s something you might not know about cows: They will go up stairs, but they will not go down stairs.
So, first we tried to coax the cow through the door into the gallery, so we could walk it through the gallery and out the double doors. But, as we discovered, the cow was too large to fit through the door, and briefly got stuck, mooing balefully and looking nervous. We tried to get the cow to go back through the side door, but it steadfastedly refused to go down the stairs, instead remaining frozen in the doorway.
There was only one possible solution, and it was the French Doors to Nowhere.
Which hadn’t been opened in years, and were sealed with a creative variety of nails, caulk, and heaven-knows-what. We eventually realized that it would be easier to just take them off their hinges and lift them out as a single unit.
Now, you can’t shove a cow out a door with an eight foot drop. There’s a very real possibility of injuring the cow. So we had to cobble together a ramp and hope that it would hold, and the situation was becoming rather pressing, because so far the cow had not yet voided itself, and we would prefer that this not happen indoors, since we’d come this far. This required roaming the property, and the neighborhood, looking for large and very sturdy sheets of wood, and then setting up a cockamamie trussing and support system to hold them up.
We crushed numerous nasturtiums underfoot, and other cows started gathering in the yard, lowing at their trapped friend. Eventually, various neighbors were drawn out by the commotion, because even in Caspar, hammering things together in the wee hours of the morning was an unusual activity. A festive atmosphere began to prevail as people scavenged for building materials, helpfully directed the builders, and hauled out refreshments. An impromptu band may have even started up, although my memory could be tricking me.
Eventually we succeeded in building a reasonably strong ramp, with the assistance of a collective effort, and the cow was coaxed down the ramp, leaving a splatter of cowpatty neatly in the doorway, as a little parting gift. The cows were shuffled into the closest field without a broken fence, and we all returned to the house for beer pancakes and poop scrubbing duty.
After that, we made a point of wedging boards across the railing on the stairs so that the cows couldn’t climb up to the side door any more.