We didn’t have to keep our eyes peeled for long. Within a few miles we were pulled over once again, Michael and I both running for the barbed wire fence.
“Hey, was ‘plastic eating cow’ on our list of photo ops?” I asked, pointing at a large brown beast standing in the shadow of my windmill. It was chewing on one end of a long piece of lightweight black plastic.
“Nice, get a picture of the plastic eater.” As he spoke, Michael was stretching his arms high into the air and tilting his head back, face to the sky. His words were accompanied by a loud groan of satisfaction, and he looked and sounded like a dog standing on his hind legs to stretch and yawn after a long nap.
I climbed the fence carefully, dropping down on the other side between two fresh piles of cow manure. “Watch your step,” I warned Michael as he followed me over into the minefield. I had noticed the state of his shoes when we stopped for lunch in Amarillo, and they were not fit for running carelessly through a field of moist cow crap. They were old and worn, the leather soft and pliable, like that of a beloved baseball glove. Not only were they creased with wear and shiny from age, but the heels were mashed flat. Michael no longer pulled them up over the heels of his feet, choosing instead to slide them onto his feet like leather slippers.
“I wouldn’t want you to get cow shit on your shoepers.” I shouted over my shoulder as I ran toward the windmill.
“Ha!” Michael caught the meaning of my word combination joke immediately, and laughed as he caught up with me.
“How can you run in those things?” I asked, not really looking for an answer.
Michael didn’t offer one anyway; he was focused on his stealthy approach towards the plastic-eating cow. He needn’t have bothered, because the cow was more intent on munching her synthetic snack.
“I think I’m gonna grab that out of her mouth.” Michael said, looking back at me with a grin.
“She’s gonna kick you.” I warned.
“Yeah, I’m filming.” I answered, stepping in closer to capture the action.
Michael took a few quick steps alongside the cow, then reached out a hand and grabbed the plastic as he ran past. Instead of pulling free from the cow’s mouth, the plastic parted with a snap. Michael kept on running, circling the windmill while I laughed myself breathless. Through it all, the cow chewed on, impervious to my little brother’s attempt at stealing her treat.
Once the laughter faded, I turned my attention to the real reason for jumping the fence and risking a shoe full of cow manure. I stood at the base of the windmill and listened to it creak as the warm breeze turned it round and round. The metal blades sifted the afternoon sunlight, creating a dizzying pattern of shadows and light on the ground at my feet. I took a deep breath and held it in as a wave of unexpected emotion washed over me. I couldn’t suppress my sadness at the thought of passing countless windmills over so many years worth of family road trips, but never gathering enough courage to ask my father to pull over so that I could climb a barbed wire fence, run across a cow patty field, and stand this close to one. Regret and anger merged inside of me, just as it had so many times over the past several months. The good news was that I was becoming more proficient at converting the deadly cocktail of emotions into fuel for change within myself. A great part of that change had come in the realization that the happiest memories my children would carry with them into adulthood were sure to be the moments in which we shared something on their own level and terms instead of mine.
It was silly and I knew it, but standing in the shadow of that giant metal flower with tears in my eyes, I allowed myself to accept that I had chased down and conquered a windmill of my own. It felt good, and I shouted for joy before joining Michael in running back to the car, jumping over crap mines along the way.