19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:
Monday, November 9, 1914: The same old tune, the old cow died. That reminds me of Pa’s increase, namely cows. They arrived today.
Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:
Hmm. . . what did Grandma mean by the old cow died?
My first thought: Did a cow on the farm die? . . .Or was Grandma thinking about the end of her romance, and the phrase was an idiom that meant something else?
So I googled it, and discovered that there actually is a song called The Old Cow Died. According to Information Please, the words are:
The Old Cow Died
There was an old man,
and he had an old cow,
But he had no fodder to give her.
So he took up his fiddle and played her the tune:
`Consider, good cow, consider.
This isn’t the time for the grass to grow.
Consider, good cow, consider.’
You can also listen to it (with slightly different words) at: Smithsonian Folkways (click on “play sample”).
I’m still left wondering why the song popped into Grandma’s head. Maybe it was because her father bought some new cows. . . or maybe a somewhat melancholy song was just the right song to hum as she worked her way through the ending of a relationship.