Friday, January 7, 2011

Hurry Up, Cows

Rosebuds. Each of us must have at least one.

I’m referring to the mysterious “Rosebud,” hoarsely murmured (in tight close-up) by the dying tycoon, Charles Foster Kane, just before the snow globe he’s holding drops and shatters. And of course [spoiler alert!], Rosebud turns out to be his childhood sled. How many times has Kane thought about Rosebud during his life? We see one precursor, when he’s holding the snow globe in an earlier scene (his wife has just walked out on him) and says its name. There is apparently something about it, some wistful return to innocence, perhaps (before he was yanked away by a lawyer and thrust into the life of plutocracy) that makes him need to connect.

We don’t necessarily have to wait until our deathbeds to recall our own Rosebuds. I think they accompany us and come up every so often for reasons that are as mysterious to us as Kane’s was to the reporters who never did figure out what it meant. The mystery is essential, as is the contrast between the simpler time that it comes from and the complicated grown-up memory that recaptures it.

I’ve been thinking about one of my Rosebuds. In my extreme close-up, my lips might mutter the phrase, “Hurry up… hurry up… cows.”

I’ll make it easy on all the journalists who’ll be trying to work that angle for my obit.

“Hurry up, cows” comes from this little record I had, a 45 rpm. I wish I still owned it, although I suspect if I found it on e-Bay it would be no more than the little vinyl representation of itself, instead of the dream-deepened memory that lives in my mind. Even writing about is dangerous, exposing it to the curatorial manipulation of words.

I remember that it had a voice of its own. At the beginning of one side, a deep male voice, the record’s voice, said, “Ouch! That phonograph needle is too sharp!” And at the beginning of the other side, it giggled and said, “Tee-hee-hee, the fuzz on the record player tickles!” (This was back when turntables were covered with a fuzzy velvet.)

Aside from that, I remember only one other thing, this story-song about a big and little cowboy and a big and little fireman.
Of the firemen, I can recall what they had for supper when they came back to the firehouse. A big and little portion of the same meal: lamb chops; mashed potatoes; some sort of vegetable, probably peas; and for dessert, a bowl of strawberry ice cream.

Even now, many decades later, I think of that as the ideal supper. Lamb chops at one end, strawberry ice cream at the other. If I were requesting my final meal, I might think of that one. But what I’d say before they dropped the gas pellet would have to do with a song the little cowboy sang, probably as he rode among the herd at night, as cowboys always did.

“It makes no difference if I’m small,

Hurry up, hurry up, cows.

It doesn’t matter to me at all,

Hurry up, hurry up, cows.”

I really admired that little cowboy. Or maybe it’s me now who’s admiring him. (With these Rosebuds, it’s not easy to separate the nostalgia from the feeling you’re nostalgic about.) Maybe that feeling hasn’t changed, though. Who wouldn’t admire a tough little cowboy—not a boy, but boy-sized—doing a man’s work and singing, insouciantly.“It makes no difference if I’m small. Hurry up, hurry up, cows.”

I didn’t feel the same admiration for the little fireman. He seems less independent, somehow, of his tall counterpart. I picture them both at the table, eating their strawberry ice cream. But the little cowboy stands alone. The big cowboy doesn’t figure into it. (What was he going to sing, anyway? “It make no difference if I’m tall”?)

Now that I’ve deconstructed this snatch of a memory, I can see why they didn’t devote the whole movie of Citizen Kane to the sled, but rather about six seconds, at the very beginning and the very end, and all the more powerfully so. It helps if you have something venal and corrupt and complex to set against the irony of a sweet, innocent Rosebud.

On the other hand, if you don’t have irony, maybe consistency can work. Am I still yearning to be the cowboy who doesn’t give a shit how he’s perceived, just does his job, focuses on the cows? Yeah, probably. Who wouldn’t, as I said before. And you don’t have to be a kid to want your own herd to look after. Your cows to be in charge of. Writers feel that way about their words, too.

All right, maybe there’s a little irony, of the pathetic kind, in a grown man hungering for the same ideal his six-year-old counterpart hungered after. Maybe I just have to shut up and let the little scratchy record play, with a guitar strumming in the background, and maybe the sound effects of a couple of hundred (small) mooing cows, as I played it in my room and still play it in my head.


  1. i had childhood record with fireman song:
    fire, fire, fire all about
    here come the firemen to put the fire out.

    was that on your record?


    1. Click this link to MP3s from The Children's REcord Guild, and and scroll down to an MP3 called "The Little Fireman". :-)

    2. Oops, the link didn't post. Trying again here:

  2. I just stumbled onto your blog looking for the words to that song. My husband sings the 'Hurry up, hurry up cows' song to our children and he doesn't know all the words. Do you by chance know who sings it?

  3. Alas, that's all I remember. I too Googled to find out more, and found one enticing reference to "Hurry up, hurry up, cows" but nothing further. Does your husband remember more than my stanza? Did he have the record?

    Thanks for stopping by!


  4. My pony is my bronco
    He's my pride and joy
    Even though I'm little
    I'm a real cowboy
    Hurry up hurry up hurry up cows
    Hurry up hurry up cows
    Hurry up hurry up hurry up cows
    Hurry up hurry up cows

  5. I may be little
    I may be small,
    It doesn't bother me at all.
    Hurry up, hurry up,
    Hurry up, Hurry up,
    Hurry up (pause)
    Cows (then sound of cows moo-ing).

    The record I had was a 78, included this song along with a story of this cowboy, who if I remember right also had a dog. The little coyboy's name was Hank or maybe Tex. The cowboy that met up with him, the taller cowboy, was the other name.

    Their was another song about
    When I lay down to sleep and something
    about the stars above...

    I, too sang this Little Cowboy song to my sons when they were little and sure wish I still had the album.
    The singing voice was marvelous and he talked to you like he knew you.

    Being a short fella myself, I thought this was great a good 50+ years ago.

  6. There once was a cow-boy, who went out a riding, in spurs and in chaps, and a shirt of bright blue.
    his outfit was little, his horse was a pony, for he was a cowboy, no bigger than you. yippeee!

    I may be little I may be small,
    hurry-up, hurry-up cows,
    it doesn't bother me at all,
    hurry-up, hurry-up cows.
    I ride the prairie far and wide,
    hurry-up, hurry-up cows,
    my lasso hanging by my side,
    hurry-up, hurry-up cows.
    my pony he's my bronco,
    he's my pride and joy,
    even though I'm little I'm a real cowboy!
    Hurry-up, hurry-up, hurry-up, hurry-up, hurry-up,
    hurry-up cows!
    hurry-up, hurry-up, hurry-up,hurry-up,
    hurry-up, hurry-up cows.

    when night comes over the prairie,
    down to sleep I lie,
    under my own little blanket,
    gazing at the sky;
    the stars above look down at me,
    they're all I have for company,
    I close my eyes and go to sleep,
    me and the stars, the stars and me.

  7. A lot of these songs are represented in the old Children's Record Guild albums from the 1950s. Maybe that helps. I stumbled upon this post because I had the "Hurry Up Cows" song running through my head right now. I remember the voice on the record sounding similar to Tom Glazer's on his Building a City album...not sure if he sang it or not. So strange to dust off these old memories!

  8. Thanks for the lead, SSE

    It helped me search for and find a copy of the record, along with the cover, which I purchased (they thru in a cd version, too).

    The narrator is Will Geer (The Waltons).

    Like all of you, these songs were in my head . . . singing one or two of them a couple of times a year for as long as I can remember.

    It's my "Rosebud".