Every now and then I start to get melancholy for the years I spent growing up in Iowa and Pennsylvania. In those days, if there were any towns with people, stop lights, or businesses, my parents managed to live as far away from them as humanly possible. We usually dwelt somewhere on the edge of town, over the hill from a field full of stinky cows. And when the wind blew, even the slightest bit, we were reminded as to who our neighbors were.
Living in such rural areas, typical part-time jobs were difficult to come by. My senior year in high school, I landed a coveted job at the County Market and bent over backwards to make sure I was the best cashier they had, so as to not jeopardize my minimum wage position.
My younger sisters, however, were not so fortunate. With no McDonald's or car wash in town at which to seek employment, they were forced to be more creative, or desperate, depending on how you looked at it.
As an Agriculture Economics scholar, my dad always had the beat on local agriculture opportunities. One day he came home with a profitable pile of crap. It wasn't really crap, not literally. It smelled much worse. It was a 5-gallon bucket reeking of rotten cow that he firmly planted on the front porch.
Then he called all the girls outside. With the last screen door bang, we were finally lined up along the railing with our noses in an exagerated pinch so as to mitigate the odor as well as show our disdain for the interuption.
Standing above the bucket, Dad explained that he was able to attain this pile of used cow magnets for free from a nearby butchering facility. The used cow magnets had been salvaged from old dairy cows' stomachs. After some explaining, we understood that every dairy cow had one of these 3-inch missle shaped magnets crammed down their throats to permanently settle in one of their stomachs. Then, for the lifetime of the cow, the magnet would keep small metal pieces of barbed wire, and nails, and who knows what else from wearing holes in the cow's stomach lining. Typically, when the old dairy cows were finally butchered, the used magnets were discarded.
In a moment of pure genius, Dad realized we could clean of the metal shavings and cow guts that coated the magnets and sell them back to the local dairy farmers at $2 a pop. New cow magnets at the time cost double that, so there was a potential for quick sales and good profit
At this point, I loudly excused myself, overly stating I was late for work at my real job.
My sisters balked at the idea of cleaning the powerful, stinky, slippery magnets, but without any other options, after a few days, they finally dug into the bucket. Slowly, at first, they began scrubbing the bodily remnants and carefully removing the metal pieces that stuck like super glue to the powerfully strong magnets.
Amazingly, they got very good at the chore and were soon easily making much more per hour than the $3.35 I received from the grocery store.
Soon we had cow magnets in various stages of cleanliness, filling buckets across the porch and yard. In fact, they were so prolific, when Grandma Terry came to visit, she managed to snag a few and crochet covers for them. They made the dandiest refrigerator magnets ever! You could put a semesters worth of school art work under one of those and it held as firmly as if you had nailed the papers to the fridge.
But mostly those crocheted cow-turned-refrigerator magnets held my sisters' lists. Lists of how many cow magents they had cleaned, multiplied out to determine how many dollars they had earned. My meager County Market checks were held up by the thin, cheap magnets that came with the phone book advertising the town plumber.