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A short story by Michael Meredith
“C’mon and push harder Andy,” I screamed to my brother, “If we don’t get Hamburger out of here Dad’s going to kill us.” “But she doesn’t fit through the door Courtney.” Andy exclaimed. “But she has too, I have to show her for my project today,” I said, now totally freaked out because I knew I would have to tell my Dad… ~ You see I have a cow stuck in a hidden room in the basement of our new house. We’ve only lived here since fall. It was my Dad’s idea; he hated our last house. He’d always say it was no place to raise a family because we’d never learn anything about nature living in the suburbs. So he moved us to the country. He was especially upset because he said me and my brother thought food came from the freezer, the pizza guy or a drive-thru window. I kind of think he was talking to my Mom when he said that, but anyway, here we are living in the country. Ok, maybe I’m telling this story backwards. I mean, I got a cow stuck in the basement. Well, I guess me and my brother got a cow stuck in the basement. So how come my parents don’t know about it, right? ~ My name is Courtney and I am in sixth grade. I am in what’s called ‘The Zenith Program,’ it’s for gifted students. So kids from all over the school district come to my school for this program; which means I know kids
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from all over, and that is pretty cool. Luckily there are some farms in our school district, so I didn’t have to go to a new school when we moved. Anyway, that’s why I have a cow in my basement. Every year from third grade through sixth, we have to do a research project. We are supposed to work on it all year and then in May we have to present what we studied about in front of the class. We have to write about it, take pictures and make drawings. The teacher’s want us to interview people and write about that, or even put it on a video. So since my Dad was being such a dork about farms and where our food comes from I decided to go next door, because it’s a dairy farm and ask the farmer for an interview. ~ So back in September, right after we moved, I took my brother Andy next door. Andy is in the third grade Zenith Program and his teacher is letting him do the same subject as mine, but he has to do all his own work. We have a little video camera and I wanted him to run it while I talked to the farmer. The farmer’s name is John Brown. Oh my god, right—Farmer Brown, lol. Like that dumb song we sang in pre-school: Farmer Brown’s Cow.1 Anyway, in September Andy and I didn’t even know there was a Farmer Brown, we just knew there were cows next door. We didn’t who’d we’d meet, so it was a little scary just going over there, but we did: When we got there, we knocked on the door and no one answered. So we went out to the barn and looked around but all that was in there was hay and tractor stuff. So we walked through and out the back to another barn where we could hear cows mooing. The smell got a lot worse. We spotted a man
1 Farmer Brown’s Cow: Belgian Folk Song. www.kididdles.com/lyrics/f038.html
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putting a big shiny thing that looked like a bunch of steel test tubes on a cow’s milk sack. I called out to him, “hey there Mr. Farmer.” “Hey there yourselves kids, what are you doing in my dairy barn?” The Farmer answered. “We’re your new neighbors.” I answered. “Oh yeah, you’re the city people, took over the old Miller place.” The Farmer responded. “Yeah, that’s us,” I answered, then asked, “Can I interview you about where milk and meat come from?” “Milk and meat comes from Cows, you must be city-folk from a city on another planet if you don’t know milk and meat comes from cows.” That answer gave me a clue that this farmer was a smarty. So then Farmer Smarty asked, “You two got names?” Andy, who is also a smarty, answered, “Course we got names, how about you?” “Ok little wise guy, my name is John Brown. What are your names?” I answered, because I am not a smarty, “My name is Courtney, and this is my brother Andy.” “Well pleased to meet you, I think.” Farmer Smarty Brown answered, and then asked, “What do you want to interview me for?” “I have a year-long school project that I have to do research for. I chose, ‘Where does your food come from?’ as a subject.” I answered. I should have known right then and there that Farmer Smarty Brown was going to cause me trouble: He put his hand on his chin and kind of rubbed it. He paused a long time, looked around the barn and up at the ceiling, and just looked like he was thinking real hard before he answered, “Ok Miss Courtney; you want to learn about where your food comes from right?” Before I could answer, Farmer Brown added, “You want to research and report on that? Tell you what then; I am going to give you a calf to
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raise. Then when you’re done with your research, you can give it back to me. What do you think of that little Missy?” Andy blurted out, “Hamburger.” Me and Farmer Brown both looked at him. Andy cocked his head a bit while looking back at us and said, “We will name it Hamburger.” “Yeah,” I said, “Good name.” Farmer Brown looked at the ground while shaking his head and asked, “So do you think maybe you will learn more from raising some food than from asking me about it?” “I know we will. Will you show us how to take care of it?” I asked. “I’ll give you the basics; as long as you feed her and give her lots of water she’ll be fine. Of course what goes in also comes out.” Farmer Brown said, with an unusually big smile. “Well Mr. Brown, I will still need an interview. Andy has a video camera; can I have your permission to record this?” I asked. So Farmer Brown let me interview him and then said we should come back tomorrow and get Hamburger because we would need to figure out where to put the cow because our barn was falling down. He also reminded us to ask our parents’ permission. ~
As soon as we got home Andy led me down the basement stairs. The basement is old and dark. The walls are rocks and the floor is dirt. There are only two light bulbs for the whole basement, and only one was working, Dad said it was on his ‘to do list’, ugh. Andy flicked on the light switch and then raced over to a big book case against the wall farthest from the stairs. He shouted to me, “come over here and look at this.” I didn’t want to run
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on the dirt floor so when I got there he was pulling on one side of the big bookcase. “What are you doing, are you trying to knock it over?” I asked. Andy answered, “No look at the other side, it’s got metal things like doors have, and they are nailed to the wall.” “Hinges,” I answered, “doors swing on hinges, and I think those are screws.” “Whatever Courtney,” Andy answered, “Help me pull on this, I think it’s like a big door.” It was a big door that looked like shelves or a bookcase. Andy and I both had to pull and push to get the bookcase door to move. The rusty hinges screeched as we finally got it opened enough to look in; but it was completely dark. “We need a flashlight.” I said looking at Andy. “I’ll go up and get one.” He answered. The opening in the wall wasn’t as big as the bookcase door and I was pretty scared something would jump out at me as I looked into the dark space. My eyes started to be able to see with the light that was coming in from the basement light. I thought about my Dad letting us keep a cow and how ridiculous that would seem to him. Andy came running down the stairs just then, yelling out, “I got it, I got it, here’s the flashlight.” “Ok, ok.” I said, “Let’s just slow down.” Looking at him, I paused for a second, and then asked, “Andy, what are you thinking anyway?” “Well, there is no way Dad’s gonna let us keep a cow, so I thought maybe this would be a place to hide it.” He answered. I replied, “Well we sure know Dad, don’t we? There is no way he would let us.” “Yeah, no way.” Andy agreed.
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I took the flashlight from Andy and we squeezed through the door. I turned the flashlight on and then all of a sudden the whole room got bright. I squealed a bit just as Andy said, “Hmm, a light switch, who knew?” “Oh god Andy,” I said, “You scared the crap out of me.” Andy wasn’t looking at me when I turned to be mad at him. He was looking all around and asked, “hey, what is this place?” I looked around too and then said, “Looks like a kitchen, except old I guess.” After looking down I said, “But the floor is different, it’s got tiles like a bathroom, gosh the whole room is white tile, and it has a drain in the middle.” I paused and thought a moment, and then I said, “I think this room is newer than the rest of the basement.” “What’s that big slide looking thing on the back wall?” Andy asked. I replied, “Yeah, and why are the windows painted black?” Then I added, “If the water faucet works on that sink, we will have water and Farmer Brown said Hamburger will need lots of water.” Andy answered, “Yeah but I still don’t get why he thought it was so funny when he said, ‘What goes in also comes out.’” “I’ll check the sink; you go check out the slide thing with the flashlight.” I told Andy. ~ I was so excited the next day, I couldn’t wait to pick up hamburger and bring him home. Andy and I got home about an hour before Mom each day and Dad got home whenever, but always much later. So Andy and I raced over to Farmer Brown’s farm and we ran back just as quickly upset and disappointed. I said to Andy, “Well that didn’t make any sense.” “Yeah, I know.” Andy Answered. “First I thought he was being Farmer Smarty again. Saying he’d changed his mind and wasn’t going to give us a calf. Then he said he’d
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changed his mind again after Dad went over to introduce himself last night.” I said, feeling confused. “Yeah, I don’t get why he said Dad had as big a lesson to learn as we do.” Andy replied. “Actually, I kind of get that Andy. Dad can be such a know-it-all. I’ll bet he said something Farmer Brown didn’t like.” I answered. Andy said, “Plus he confused me with that whole ‘summer calf, fall calf, spring calf’ thing he was talking about.” I answered, “I guess cows can have babies anytime. But I thought he was treating us like little kids when he said we wouldn’t learn any more from keeping a calf all winter then we would from keeping one for a month or so in the spring.” “Yeah, this sucks.” Andy complained. “Yeah, but maybe we need to spend more time researching and getting Hamburger’s room ready.” I answered. “I guess.” Said Andy. I said, “Well one thing we have to figure out is how your project is going to be different.” Andy answered, “cheeseburger’s.” “What?” I replied. “I like cheeseburgers and you don’t.” Andy answered. “So?” I replied, and then before Andy could say anything, I said. “Ok, I get it, you do research on milk and cheese, and I will do mine on meat.” “Yeah.” Andy said shaking his head. I said, “You’re a smart kid little Brother.” Andy answered, “call me the Big Cheese.” ~
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Andy and I learned a lot about what happens with cows. I’m glad Andy picked milk and cheese. He didn’t have to read about cows raised to make meat: so many of them live in these giant nasty feed lots until they are big enough to be butchered. They are treated poorly. It was scary and disgusting. I did learn that I should be calling cows that eventually become food ‘beef cattle’, and they can be either male or female. ‘Cows’ are females that can have babies. Cows have babies and produce milk. or hear the word ‘veal.’ Anyway, I read about milk and cheese too. That’s a lot easier to talk about. I also decided to make Farmer Brown promise that ‘Hamburger’ would not be turned into beef cattle. She would be called Hamburger, but not be made into hamburger. She would become a ‘Cow’. I became a vegetarian after reading about meat. ~ Our reports were due at the beginning of May, so Farmer Brown said we could pick up Hamburger at the beginning of March. We got to see Hamburger though, she was pretty little and Farmer Brown said that was another reason we would have to wait, she would have to be weaned first. Andy didn’t get it, so I had to explain to him about breast feeding of all things. Andy laughed and laughed when I told him that he too had to be weaned, just like Hamburger. But he was gross when he asked if we could make cheese from breast milk. So, we had a lot of work to do: besides the research on meat, milk and cheese, and our regular school work, we would also have to get the room ready. Farmer Brown showed us where he kept straw which he said would have to be put on the floor to keep it dry (we didn’t even ask how it was And don’t even ask me what a ‘steer’ is; that is really disgusting. And I still cry anytime see
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going to get wet, duh). And he gave us shovels and some buckets and said to keep one bucket clean for feed, and the other couple of buckets would be for ‘waste’ (we also didn’t ask ‘what waste’, double duh). ~ It was the middle of March (the ides of March, my Dad would later tell us) and when we came home from school that day there was a note on the door to me from Farmer Brown, it said, “Your Hamburger is ready.” “He is such a smarty,” I said to Andy. “Who is?” Andy asked. “Farmer Smarty Brown, that’s who,” I answered, handing Andy the note as I said, “Read this, he is such a smarty.” “I don’t get it, is he making us dinner?” Andy said, and then catching on, he continued, “Oh, Hamburger the cow. Can we go get her?” “I think we can.” I answered. “Well let’s go get her!” Andy said, now completely excited. “Hey, wait for me!” I called out, just as excited, as Andy took off running toward Farmer Brown’s farm. ~ “Well hello neighbor,” I said to Farmer Brown as he opened the door. “Hello again my little FFA members, welcome to La Laiterie.” Answered Farmer Brown. “You mean La Cremerie, don’t you?” I answered. Looking surprised Farmer Brown answered, “Ok, we do make cheese and butter, as well as raise cows for milk production, so both. Do you speak French, or, are knowing French words for “dairy” part of your research?”
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“I know some French; my Dad is a wine importer, so he speaks some French around the house, but those words are from our research.” I answered. Showing his impatience, Andy said, “So we are here for Hamburger.” “Oh sorry little man.” Farmer Brown answered. “Well what now?” Andy replied. “Well… Mrs. Brown is making chicken tonight, would you like some of that instead?” Farmer Smarty Brown answered. Before either of us could respond, Farmer Brown said as he stepped out of his house, “Follow me; let’s see what trouble I can help you get in too.” ~ Andy and I were standing outside the back of our house along with Farmer Brown as he held Hamburger by a rope leash. Farmer Brown asked, “So where are you going to keep my calf?” “In the basement.” Andy answered, before I could say a word. Looking at Farmer Brown, I could tell he was way ahead of us as he said, “You know me and Tom Miller were close friends, he was a butcher by trade. So I know this house well; helped him make a little addition to his basement a few years back…” I interrupted saying, “Ok, yes that is where we are planning to hi.., umm, I mean keep hamburger.” Farmer Brown answered, “You mean ‘hide’.” “Yes.” I answered, very embarrassed. “So are you going to take her back?” Andy asked. “I am thinking of the conversation I had with your Father, nope, I am going to help you. I take it you found the room behind the bookcase?”
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“Yes we did.” I answered, very surprised. “So how were you planning on getting Hamburger down there?” Farmer Brown asked. “Down the stairs, just like us.” Andy answered. “Cows won’t walk down stairs little man, and besides, was that really your plan, just to walk her through your Mom’s kitchen and down the stairs? Follow me around to the other side of the house.” Farmer Brown ordered shaking his head. As we did, he explained. “The water table is actually too high for basements, so all the houses around here don’t have true basements, if you look at your house it looks like it is built on top of a little hill, well that is just dirt piled up around the walls of the basement to support it.” “So what!” Andy exclaimed, as he grew impatient. “So little man, there is more than one way to get into your basement.” Farmer Brown led us to the far side of the house. There were thick bushes on the little hill that was built up on that end of the house. “I guess your Father hasn’t gotten around to clearing out this thicket.” Farmer Brown complained. “No, it’s another thing on his ‘to-do list’, I’m sure.” I explained. As we watched Farmer Brown crouch down and push away branches we could suddenly see a little hallway-like area cut out of the hill. It lead to a door on the outside of the basement. Farmer Brown reached down and turned the handle on the door. “There, you can walk my calf right through here.” Farmer Brown explained. “Hamburger.” Andy exclaimed. “Not yet.” Farmer Smarty Brown Answered. “Hey,” I said, “you promised she would be kept as a cow.” “Oh, she will be, long as she can give birth, and milk.” Farmer Brown answered.
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I guess that was my first, as my Dad would say, ‘reality check’. It dawned on me that our little ‘Hamburger’ would literally become hamburger if she couldn’t do what else she was born to do. Cows were things, born to produce stuff for us: more cows, milk or meat… “Hay!” Farmer Brown exclaimed. “Hey what?” Andy answered. “No little man, ‘hay’ as in dried grasses to feed my calf, and some corn feed, and more straw. You are going to need lots and lots of straw.” Farmer Brown said, then pausing to think. “Oh, and I will bring you a wheel-barrel, and you need to think about where you are going to hide your compost pile if you don’t want you Father to find out. So here little Missy, lead Hamburger into the basement, and will go load my truck and bring you what you need before your folks get home.” I was uncomfortable with the size of the smile on Farmer Brown’s face as he kind of galloped off back toward his farm. “Is he laughing?” Andy asked. “Yeah, I think he is.” I answered. As we both stood there and watched him disappear around the back of his barn, Andy asked, “What’s compost?” ~ Authors Note: Almost done…
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