Angelic Gas

Image by Ruth Hallam
It’s hard to be burdened with your parents’ hell while learning how to make a cow fart. Bobby’s uncle ran a farmette about a mile from our flea market trailer and kept a single cow in the pasture. One summer afternoon while admiring neatly routered crafts in the half-wood shop, half-stall, Bobby called to me.

“Wanna see something cool?”

“Sure,” I said. “What is it?”

“C’mere.” And he turned mischievously for me to follow.

I stepped through the shop door and up onto the rail that contained the heifer. I ran my hand along her back, watching the skin twitch at flies and suddenly forgetting that Bobby had something in mind. Her brown coat felt hot and soft. He was petting along her side, just in front of the pelvic bone, and began to depress the area like a doctor checking for appendicitis. His other hand joined the first and he pressed harder, massaging slowly, front to back, front to back.

And then it happened...a long, loud expulsion of gas from the cow’s behind. To a recent seventh grade graduate, it was possibly the best thing I had ever heard. Bobby had trouble containing himself while pressing again, this time slower now that he had it going, and the beautiful, wonderful sound came forth in a tremendous second wave. They both finally quit. The cow’s wide eye stared at the two of us hanging there in tears.

That’s when the smell hit. Rot and heat mixed to burn our lungs and punish us for teasing. We jumped out of the stall, gagging and laughing hysterically.

I liked Bobby. He parted his hair and said Yes ma’am and swore conservatively like people do who live in the Bible Belt but don’t really go to church. And he was good for me in a way I couldn’t have known then. Beyond the cow and dares to touch the electric fence, bike rides, fort-building and praying we wouldn’t fall to our deaths when his brother whipped rocks at us high in the tree branches, Bobby was helping me escape.

One particular memory confirmed it.

We had constructed a battle scene of figures and machines on his bedroom carpet. I remember the white walls and ceiling fan in his room because these were nicer than what I had in my closet space with the furnace in the corner. We tied fishing line around the body of a WWII fighter plane and to a blade of the ceiling fan. The slow circling threat kept soldiers on their toes. It was a G.I. Joe action-figure set-up like only the kids in TV commercials had.

We pulled the chain to Medium, continuing with our battle language but shifting more attention to the plane. It picked up speed. The painted pilot banked wider and had trouble maintaining control before settling arythmically. Bobby and I glanced at the bedroom door and then at each other.

“What do you think would happen?” he whispered.

I had no other answer. “Let’s find out.”

As soon as I pulled the chain to High and backed away, the plane rose, weaving and dipping wildly. Its left wing caught the ceiling and caused the aircraft to spin desperately out of control. Bobby and I ducked in fear. Neither of us could reach the speed chain before the red fang-mouthed decal on the nose struck the ceiling.

The string broke. The fighter plane shot over us and exploded against the wall above Bobby’s pillow, shattering into plastic pieces of camouflage and outdoing everything those kids on TV had. 

Mischief, I figured then, but it’s therapy to me now because I realize that I had my own commercial going on there; a break from the usual program. Dad had drunk himself reckless, mom was on the run with four of us in a far state, middle school kept me awake at night. Welfare and church people put food on the steps by the scraggly palmetto bush. We all wondered when normal might return.

Here I thought Bobby and I were making cow farts and wrecking his models. We weren’t. He was being normal, with a normal family and normal bedroom walls and a normal life. He was my grace in a battle I couldn’t fight alone; a TV commercial of normalcy in a program of chaos.

And I loved every minute of it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"Angelic Gas" is a response to Marcus Goodyear's call for epiphany stories in the Books & Culture article Only Zombies Worship Styrofoam Jesus.


Glynn December 16, 2011 at 6:06 AM  

This is a story only a boy (and a man) could love. I'm still laughing.

Nancy December 16, 2011 at 8:13 AM  

"What do you think would happen." Words that strike fear into the heart of every mother who has boys.

This is a beautifully bizarre story, Sam; one that has to be true because who could make something like that up? Grace comes in so many unexpected ways, including a boy who can make a cow fart, I guess.

Sheila December 16, 2011 at 9:01 AM  

God bless all the little Sams. I hope every one of them has a Bobby.

Thank you for this, Sam.

Sam Van Eman December 16, 2011 at 2:31 PM  

Thanks, all. This was a meaningful time of life for me, full of laughter and pain and significant memories like these (and many more) with Bobby.

Louise Gallagher December 17, 2011 at 8:25 AM  

I saw your link at Glynn's and came over to read this morning.

I'm glad I did.

A beautiful and touching story. Grace is everywhere.


Bob Gorinski December 17, 2011 at 10:52 PM  

Great read here Sam. I really enjoyed it.

Appreciate the epiphany and all, but I wish I knew how, I mean, wish I knew someone who knew how to do the cow thing. And the airplane on the ceiling fan, stupid ceilings ruin it every time!

Sam Van Eman December 17, 2011 at 11:01 PM  

Bob, I'd be happy to try it if we can find someone who owns a cow. Maybe a post on Craigslist would help:

"Help offered: Willing to assist in cow gas relief. No charge. May need instructions. Call...."

Marcus Goodyear January 11, 2012 at 7:36 AM  

Sam, I'm late to this party, but you really kept my attention with these stories.

Part of me felt bad that Bobby's plane broke. Part of me expected you to bring a match or a lighter back into the cow's stall.

Either way, I'm reminded of the mischief of boys--and I wonder what mischief some of our historic and religious heroes got into when they were boys...

Sam Van Eman January 11, 2012 at 11:03 AM  

Oh, I have match stories, just not with cows.

Thanks for reading, Marcus.

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