The Back-and-Forth Cow


Over the years, it didn’t matter who really owned the cow. She was simply a way for us to help each other out.

Several years ago my sister, Jane, and I inherited a wringer-type mop bucket. We were next-door neighbors, so sharing the bucket was a simple matter of organizing our cleaning days. Although we both had young families, lived on farms, and had large linoleum floors that needed frequent mopping, we didn’t have any problems getting the bucket back and forth. She knew where I stored the bucket and I knew where she stored it, so we just helped ourselves on mop day.

Jane and I shared other things, too. I borrowed her bread pans on baking day, and she borrowed the pressure cooker during canning season. We planted gardens side by side and raised chickens in the same pen. We used each other’s lawn mowers and fed each other’s children. She taught my children piano lessons. When her three-year-old daughter “ran away” to my house, I assigned the little girl some work that was harder than usual—and she was soon ready to go back home.

We cried when changes in our husbands’ employment separated us. Tearfully, we divvied up our wares. I knew I would miss her greatly.

About a year later, we were thrilled to be neighbors again. By that time, she had a pressure cooker and I had bought my own bread pans. I got to keep the mop bucket because Jane’s new house was mostly carpeted. That’s when we bought the five hundred-dollar milk cow.

I don’t even recall now who bought the cow first. But our arrangement was for one family to milk her in the mornings and the other family to take care of her at night. The cow gave enough milk to supply both families, and we raised calves besides.

Through the years, both families occasionally had financial struggles. I remember a time when taxes came due for my sister’s family. They were short about five hundred dollars. At that time, they owned the cow. So we bought the cow from them, and they were able to pay their taxes. Meanwhile, they still milked mornings, we still milked evenings, and nothing really changed.

Then one day we needed funds to pay medical bills. My sister and her husband bought back the cow.

I guess we’ve lost track now of how many times the cow has been bought and sold, but during these ownership shuffles, the cow has never even changed pastures or had her milking routine interrupted. As far as I could see, there was never any real advantage to ownership. Sometimes we had to concentrate to even figure out who the current owner was.

And Jane seemed to agree. One day as ownership was changing hands again, she remarked, “This is silly that we pass this cow back and forth and declare ‘ownership’ as if it really meant something. We ought to just give each other the money whenever it’s needed.” We laughed about it and dubbed the animal our consecration cow.

Awhile back the pump in our well broke. A new one was going to cost a fair bit, and my husband and I were trying to decide how to pay for it when the phone rang. It was my sister.

“I can’t believe your pump went out! Listen, do you need us to buy the cow?”

I smiled. It didn’t even matter that they already owned her.

[illustration] Illustrated by Phyllis Luch

Lynn C. Jaynes is Young Women president in the Hollister Ward, Filer Idaho Stake.