Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Brown Cow

For any of you who have lived on a farm, or, for whatever strange reason have memorized The Lexicon of Bovine Species, you know that brown cows are called Herefords. Polled Herefords are brown cows with no horns. The origin of the Hereford cow is Herefordshire, England – hence the name Hereford. Originally their color varied but through different breeding techniques throughout the 1800’s their color winnowed down to a simple brown with occasional dashes of white for contrast. All in all a very attractive pelt.

This entry is not about cows, other than the introductory paragraph.

I had a strange habit of naming all of my vehicles. I started with the Blue Bomb, a 1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88 and moved onto a more economical Dodge Omni, dubbed The Wreck because it was in such sad shape. There was also Millie, short for The Millennium Falcon. She was my most beautiful car; a fire engine red 1990 Toronado Trofeo, of which only a little over 3,000 were produced before GM did a model overhaul. The interior looked like an airplane cockpit; everything was push-button and state-of-the-art. I called her Millie because the rear end looked like the Millennium Falcon when she hit hyperspace speed. In all, Millie was a gorgeous car to look at and so much fun to drive.

Between The Wreck and Millie came The Brown Cow, a brown – obviously! 4-door 1976 Delta 88. I wasn’t going back to my roots. This car listed for sale at $700 and I bargained the seller down to $500, which was all I could afford. He was eager to get rid of it so he let me have it for that price in cash.

The Brown Cow was a steal, a honey of a car that took me everywhere from Texas to Missouri, from Alabama to Pennsylvania. When I bought her in 1991 she had only 74K miles on her; when I let go of her – regrettably in 1995 she had accrued over 90K more. The only reason I let her go was because she had a broken A-frame and replacing it was beyond my mechanic’s skill level at the time and means, time wise as well as cost wise. But, what a great car she was!

Brown Cow had no cruise control and no functioning radio. The air conditioner was broken – A/C was also beyond my means or ability to repair. She had patches of rust around the door ways that let in the rain and the windshield gasket leaked. I was able to fix the windshield but when it rained the kids got wet because of the rusted out holes. She had a small block 350 V-8 under the hood with a 4 barrel carburetor; all the power anyone needed… but she did get thirsty. VERY thirsty. Of course, at the time that didn’t really matter because gas was still reasonably priced enough that I could afford to put $10 in the tank and that would last me all week, going back and forth to work. If I worked overtime, the kids and I could afford a weekend jaunt – the Brown Cow would take us to remote places where we would sleep on her roomy bench seats and then wake up the next day to explore where she had taken us.

Is this entry an episode of Memory Lane, or does The Brown Cow somehow relate to living in China? There is a correlation; here it comes.
Many times while driving Brown Cow somewhere I would picture her engine, efficiently firing her cylinders in methodical order and powering her lumbering body around town at whatever speed I chose to drive her. The cylinders, set off a 90 degree angles, sucking in gas and compressing it, sucking in air and compressing it, and then SPARK! From the plugs resulted in explosion that propelled the whole car forward. I never had a lick of engine trouble with Brown Cow. As the saying goes, she fired on all 8 cylinders.

That is what life has become here in China. Everything is firing on all 8 cylinders, in proper sequence, with the proper mixture of gas and air, compression and spark to keep me going.

Cylinder 1: My good health has finally been restored, after the frightful allergic episode and subsequent, months-long rehabilitation from the symptoms. Cylinder 2: Teaching is winding down with only a few weeks left to go – my first year in academia could be deemed successful. Cylinder 3: Financial plans came to fruition; money is no longer such a big concern. Cylinder 4: My heart and mind are at peace, satisfied with what this year has taught me and brought me. Cylinder 5: Language problems are less, now that my vocabulary has expanded to the point that I can get the general meaning of what is being said. Cylinder 6: My home is now comfortable to me, equipped as it is with some Western conveniences like my oven or my newly bought electric grill. Cylinder 7: I’m no longer lost or confused and stranded; a lone blonde head among all of the sleek black ones. Cylinder 8: I have made some friends here, and deepened my friendships with loved ones in the States.

Maybe I didn’t list the cylinders in their proper firing order, but there they are: all 8 cylinders, firing away, propelling me into more and better things to come. I have the pleasure of piloting this power plant and enjoying the sights along the way. Please come with me, the bench seats have plenty of room and we will have so much fun together!

So what happened with The Brown Cow? I sold her for $450, after driving her for over 4 years. She went to a good home, a car enthusiast who vowed to restore her to her former glory. The other brown cows, the Herefords, are probably grazing or ruminating. They have a very important job too, you know: providing the world with beef and leather.

To my knowledge, there is no book titled The Lexicon of Bovine Species. I made that title up. Please forgive me if I generated excitement over a book that does not exist.

Final note: the actual firing order of a Chevy small block 350 V-8 engine is: 1-8-4-3-6-5-7-2. If you look at my cylinder listing… well, I guess I did list them in firing order, if you think of firing order as ‘order of importance’.

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