Cow Head Envy

A boy and his cow head.

“If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it to dance.” –George Bernard Shaw

“If you can’t get rid of the cow head in your closet, you’d best screw some 60 watt bulbs in its eye sockets and make a light fixture out of it.” Jeff Brown

“Grandpa,” I asked, “Do you have any cow heads around here?”

I was nine years old and spending some summer time at my grandparent’s farm in southern Iowa.  Grandpa wore a white t-shirt and it stood out starkly against his dark tan skin.  He grinned and nodded.  “You know what?  I think I do.”

You might think it was an odd question to ask, but I look back on this moment as one of the finest of my youth.  I’d wanted a cow skull for a long time.  Two of my friends had cow skulls, and I was the odd man out, cow head speaking.

I was especially envious of Mike Shoup’s.  His dad had it rigged up with red lightbulbs in its eye sockets.  When it lit up with that eerie glow, I was sure it was the neatest thing I had ever seen in my life.

Yep, I had cow head envy; and I had it bad.

As I look back, I think this might be the first time I ever succumbed to peer pressure.  It seemed all my friends had cow heads; so naturally, I had to have one too.

Later on when Grandpa presented me with the skull he’d retrieved from one of his pastures, I was ecstatic.  It was dirty white and had a single horn sticking out of the top.  There was no lower jaw (darn) but it had all its upper teeth.  For a nine year old boy who was interested in things like dinosaurs, volcanoes, and frogs, it was love at first sight.

When my younger cousin saw it, he immediately recognized its value too.  “Do you have any more cow heads?” he asked.

“Sorry,” said Grandpa, as he adjusted his cap, “but I’m fresh out.”

I remember thinking, “Thank God I asked first.”

I don’t remember what caused the unfortunate demise of that poor cow.  It might have gotten stuck in the mud and drowned.  All I really know is its misfortune was good luck for me.  When I brought it home I was instantly the most popular kid on the block.  Believe me; you’ve never experienced popularity until you’ve been known as “that kid with the cow head.”

Interesting fact:  Curiously enough, I never gave it a name.  I’ve always referred to it affectionately as “the cow head.”

It was soon the basis of many scientific experiments.  My friends and I eagerly peered into the braincase through the spinal cord hole with a flashlight.  The conversations always went something like this:

“Whoa, I can see its brain.”

“Dummy, it doesn’t have a brain anymore.  It’s decompressed.”


I think dogs are way overrated.  Let me tell you this:  There’s nothing in this world stronger than the bond between a boy and his cow head.

As time marched on and my interests evolved, the poor noggin got put into storage.  I suppose you could say I took the cow head for granted.  Sure, I still thought it was neat to have one, but I didn’t have the space to properly display it.

That all changed when I bought my house.  Finally I had a garage– a man cave.  I dusted it off and rigged the old skull up with 60 watt light bulbs.


It was a stylish and economical light fixture.

Another interesting fact: You’ll never find one of these at a Pier 1 Imports outlet store.

My daughter threw a Halloween party when she was in Jr. High and for the first time in all the years I owned it, I finally got around to screwing some red light bulbs into its eye sockets.

And when it lit up with that eerie glow, I was certain it was the neatest thing I had ever seen in my life.

4 thoughts on “Cow Head Envy

  1. I love your stories. My son was included in your monumental moment! He was at the garage Halloween party! I’ll have to ask him if he remembers “The Cow Head” I always get a laugh from your stories.

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