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The Cow In the Cemetery (How I Got My First Job)

November 1, 2013

I lived the wrong distance from my high school. It was about a mile and a half. It was too close to ride a bus, and too far to walk. Or at least that’s what I thought. Especially in the rainy fall and winter in Lacey, WA. As a freshman I would cut as many corners as possible to shorten the distance. One of those shortcuts involved cutting through a pioneer cemetery.
(Photo credit: Woodlawn Funeral Home)

Coming from my high school, you had to walk through the new section first. As you came up a slight hill, you entered the old section where you could see pioneer headstones from the nineteenth century. This day there was something else in the cemetery. There was a cow. She wasn’t really going anywhere, just chomping on the luscious grass that is found in most graveyards.

My first thought was, “Well, that’s something you don’t see everyday. ” My second thought was to wonder where it came from. This was Western Washington and while it was heavily wooded, it was still mostly residential. Someone’s cow wandered out of their backyard? The cow didn’t seem to be going anywhere, so I went to the nursery next to the cemetery. No one was home. The next property had a really long dirt driveway disappearing up and over a little hill. And there was a gate.

My resolve began to falter a little. What was I going to say? “Excuse me, you don’t know me, but I was wondering if you might have lost a cow. No? Well, sorry for bothering you.”

But, I finally decided to face my fear. I opened the gate noisily and paused as I listened for a dog. No sound of one. Carefully I closed the gate behind me and trudged up the hill. There I found an ancient house. It must have been built in the 1940’s. As a 14 year old, anything older than me was ancient. My knock was answered by a middle aged woman and a beautiful Collie. Seriously, it could have been Lassie that greeted me.

I later found out that the dog, a male, had played Lassie in one of the remakes.

Can I help you?

You don’t know me, but I was wondering if you might have lost a cow?

Did she get out again?

The woman disappeared briefly and reappeared with a coat a hammer and some big tacks.

Well, let’s go get her.

Apparently I was now part of the roundup grew. We walked back to the cemetery where the cow was still grazing contently. The woman scolded the cow with some harsh words but a good natured tone and shoved her back toward the new section of the cemetery. The cow seemed to understand the jig was up and offered no protest as we herded her back through the new section and down a trail through the trees, where we soon arrived at a downed barbed wire fence. The cow ambled back across the fence.

Can you repair a fence?

Ah. . sure. Just tack the wire to the poles?

Yeah. And put two tacks over each wire. She’ll be at this again.

As I sought a solid portion of the weathered fence post, the woman spoke again,

Thanks for stopping by. She doesn’t wander far, but she sure loves that cemetery grass.

Ah, happy to help.

Do you want a job?

Excuse me?

We mostly have horses. Arabians. Prize winners. I need someone to come and muck out the stalls once a week and spread fresh sawdust. Pay is $2 per stall. We’ve got 8 stalls.

Sure. I’ll have to ask my parents, but I’m pretty sure they’ll say it’s okay.

Great. See you on Saturday.

And that was how I got my first job. I worked that job for three years.
(Photo Credit:

Starting out as a stable boy gives you an interesting prospective on work. The metaphor of cleaning up after horses has stood me in good stead in certain jobs. In other jobs I’ve been struck by the idea that it’s often those doing the work who get the work. We often make our own opportunities.

What was your first job? Add a comment and let me know.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

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