Moo Cow Moo
By Debra Cranford
When I was 10 years old and in the fourth grade, I tried out for the elementary school’s Talent Show. My sister Julie and I had planned a skit—we were trying to do a “Who’s on First” kind of thing but our comedic timing wasn’t the best—we kept forgetting the who, what and where. The skit didn’t impress the panel of four teachers who were deciding who would be in the show. One of the teachers, Mrs. Hudson, asked me later if I would be willing to recite a poem for the show, Moo Cow Moo. Because she singled me out and made me feel so important, most especially because she was my favourite teacher of all time, I said yes. And I really was delighted to do it!
The poem she wanted me to recite had to be done with a lisp. She sewed a baby doll dress that showed the matching ruffled panties. She made a huge bonnet with a stiff cloth-covered cardboard brim. She had me carry a huge multi-coloured lollipop that was the size of my head. When I recited the poem I was supposed to stop between verses and lick the lollipop, from bottom to top, including exaggerated head bobbing.
Do you know how hard that is to do when your mouth is dry as dust from stage fright? And I never thought to just PRETEND to lick it.
I was excited and so nervous the night of the show. My mother drove while I practiced out loud all the way there. My mother told me how wonderful my acting ability was as I head-bobbed and mooed. Mrs. Hudson was waiting. I won! First place. The parents and teachers loved it. I got a standing ovation. Mrs. Hudson asked that I leave the costume with her. I should have suspected then that I would be using the costume again. I was so proud of myself … until I went to school that Monday.
From the time I got on the bus and was greeted with “Hey, Moo Cow Moo,” until the final yells from the school bus windows as I was dropped off that afternoon, everywhere I went, everyone said something about it. At first I was proud, pleased. Then I gradually realized that although the adults were genuinely congratulating me, most of the kids were mockingly quoting my poem in the same singsong voice I had used when reciting it! I was mortified.
Then, Mrs. Hudson asked that I recite the poem in full costume in front of the entire school at that Friday’s assembly. By that time I had a full week of teasing and mockery. But because I didn’t know how to tell her what I was feeling and I desperately didn’t want her to be disappointed in me, I had no choice. I did it. With nervous gusto. With extra swishes of my ruffled butt as I climbed the steps to the stage. With extra licks of the huge lollipop. I even mooed a little louder than necessary.
Ok, a lot louder than necessary!
That was followed by 35 years of cringing every time I thought of that day—the stares, the snickers, the mocking whispers as I hurried back to my seat in that HUGE, echoing auditorium. I only remembered the first two lines of that poem. I purposely forgot the rest. Whenever I talked about childhood memories that were the most embarrassing, that one came to mind and I would tell the story and recreate the ambiance by reciting those first two lines. Always making fun of myself, but secretly still feeling the bite of humiliation.
One day recently I was telling a friend, Pa, about the poem. We were sitting in front of our computers at work. I was doing the old it-was-funny-but-very-embarrassing routine. I recited the first two lines. When I was done with my pretend-to-lick-the-lollipop pantomime, she recited the next two lines in the first verse! I was shocked! While I was making fun of myself she had quickly looked the poem up online. There it was—the full version.
After 35 years I reread the poem that had caused me so much embarrassment. I rethought the days following the talent show. I remembered the congratulations and praise during that week. The teasing that I may have mistook as all malicious mockery. The pleasure of being singled out by a teacher I loved. The ability to memorize and recite such a long poem at that age, in front of hundreds of schoolmates and teachers. The trust that Mrs. Hudson had in me to do it. The time it must have taken her to sew the costume and to find that enormous lollipop. The pride she must have felt in my recitation of her choice of poetry. And my heart aches for the little girl that didn’t appreciate the faith of a teacher. And for the years of embarrassment that stemmed from perception versus reality. And most of all, that I didn’t thank her for giving me the opportunity to shine for a few minutes.
So close I could almost touch,
And I fed him a couple of times or so,
And I wasn’t a ‘fraid-cat, much.
But if my papa goes in the house,
And my mamma she goes in too,
I keep still like a little mouse
For the Moo Cow Moo might Moo.
The Moo Cow’s tail is a piece of rope
All ravelled out where it grows;
And it’s just like feeling a piece of soap
All over the Moo Cow’s nose.
And the Moo Cow Moo has lots of fun
Just switching his tail about,
But if he opens his mouth, why then I run,
For that’s where the Moo comes out.
The Moo Cow Moo has deers on his head,
And his eyes stick out of their place,
And the nose of the Moo Cow Moo is spread
All over the Moo Cow’s face.
And his feet are nothing but fingernails,
And his mama don’t keep them cut,
And he gives folks milk in water pails,
When he don’t keep his handles shut.
But if you or I pull his handles, why
The Moo Cow Moo says it hurts,
But the hired man sits down close by
And squirts, and squirts, and squirts.
—Edmund Vance Cooke
On the last day of school that year, Mrs. Hudson asked that I walk outside with her. She held my hand and looked into my eyes and told me how smart she thought I was, that I could be whatever I wanted to be. There were, “No limits” to my dreams. She made me feel grander and brighter than I had ever felt before. And the gift of her words has lasted my lifetime. I knew I was standing in front of that auditorium of schoolmates for her, to please her. I wonder if she knew the gift that I was giving her.
Debra Cranford is a Registered Respiratory Therapist in Fresno, California, who works with acutely ill pediatric patients in a children’s hospital, and a mother to three sons. Much of Debra’s childhood was spent in and out of foster care.