How Now Brown Cow

By Marlene B. Samuels

Of course it had to be so, my eight-year-old self reasoned. Jake, my twelve year-old brother, and I sat in the kitchen eating breakfast. That particular morning we were enjoying a special treat: the chocolate milk our mother poured for us from a giant-sized glass Borden’s milk bottle. Whenever we got to enjoy what we referred to as “real chocolate milk” — ready-made in-a-bottle stuff instead of the drink we made for ourselves by mixing heaping spoonfuls of Nestles Quick chocolate powder or Bosco chocolate syrup into white milk, was a happy occasion.

“Wow, can you believe how fantastic this stuff is?” I asked Jake, an exclamation more than a question. I obsessed about the differences in taste and texture between what I referred to as “real” and home-made. Besides, mine always mixed up full of lumps so I was in bliss with Borden’s. 

Curious about the origins of the drink our Borden’s milkman delivered into the insulated steel box next to our front door, I began my line of questioning because I was convinced my brother was a veritable genius. I approached him with what, to me, was pure logic. In my young eyes, he was both brilliant and vastly more experienced in the ways of the world than I could  imagine ever becoming. The two of us were close during our childhood and as such, he assumed the key responsibility as my source for all facts worth knowing.

“Isn’t this chocolate milk yummy?” I asked once more, again an exclamation not a question. 

“Jeez, how many more times are your going to ask me that? I mean, duh, whadya’ expect?” He mocked. “It’s the real thing, stupid!” 

“Fine but I want to know whether you’ve ever seen a chocolate cow?” I asked next.

“Good god, what in the world are you talking about? You mean a brown cow?” He was almost shouting at me. “Does it really matter to you where brown cows live?”

“I didn’t say brown cow, I said chocolate cow! And of course. It matters a lot!” Now I was shouting. “Haven’t you noticed that in the summer, when we go up north to the Laurentian Mountains, all the farmers have either black cows or black and white ones but none of them have brown ones? So where do you think brown ones live?”

“Geez, talk about stupid worthless information! Why in the world would anyone give a hoot about where brown cows live?”

“Because it’s the brown ones that give fantastic chocolate milk, that’s why! And if we could find out where they live then the next time we’re in the country for summer, mom could get us chocolate milk from those farmers. That way, she wouldn’t have to ask Dad to bring chocolate milk for us from the city and that way he wouldn’t get all crabby. That’s what I’m talking about, stupid!”

“Wow, I really do hope you’re kidding because no way could any relative of mine be such a complete, total moron! All cows give white milk. No cow gives chocolate milk, none, nowhere in the whole wide world no matter what color the cow is! Got it? Every single cow everywhere gives white milk and only white milk, stupid!”

“That’s just not true! I’ve seen pictures of brown cows so if they don’t give chocolate milk, what kinds of cows do? Besides that, they wouldn’t be brown.” I argued. “And if brown cows don’t give chocolate milk then where does Borden’s get the chocolate milk the milkman brings us in bottles?” I asked without waiting a second before answering my own question. “From chocolate-brown cows, that’s where!”

“I’m going to explain this to you so even you can understand, especially because I just realized what an idiot you are!” Now my brother was screaming at me loudly, really loudly. I was tearing up and clamped my palms over my ears which proved futile in drowning out his voice. But he continued, oblivious to my reactions. 

“Okay, I’ll explain it to you so maybe you can understand. First they pour chocolate syrup into white milk in gigantic metal tubs. Then, a gigantic paddle attached to a motor mixes it round and round and round super fast and when it’s super smooth, it gets poured into glass bottles moving along a conveyor belt. Magic! Chocolate milk is all ready for our milkman to deliver.”

“I don’t believe you. I bet you’re making all this stuff up just like other stuff you make up. Besides, what I want to know is how you know this? 

”I know because I watched chocolate milk being made when our class visited the Borden’s milk plant for a tour, that’s how!”

“Great, but I’ve seen brown cows. You haven’t!”

“I can not even believe you don’t understand that all cows give white milk. What is wrong with you anyway? Call mom in here right now and you ask her for yourself. One thing I can tell you for sure is something I never imagined.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Simple. If there were something dumber than a moron then you’re it!” Again, he was screaming at me. I sniffled trying to stifle my mounting tears. Noticing, he recanted his last words. “Okay, okay, so you’re not really worse than a moron.” He said. “I suppose I can see how you’d think this stuff about brown cows but you know what I’m positive about?” I shook my head hard, still too upset to speak. “No cows anywhere in the whole wide world ever, ever give chocolate milk. Got it?” He reiterated, new patience in his voice. I nodded my comprehension

A few moments passed and I had calmed down enough to speak. “You know what Ruthie told me?” Immediately, Jake rolled his eyes but I ignored him. “She said she saw chocolate milk coming out of a brown cow when she and her mom visited a farm last summer.

“Phew, now I get it! I just couldn’t imagine that you, my own sister, was such an idiot.” He expelled a long breath of air as though beyond relieved. “Just think about this now. Ruthie might be your best friend but that just because she’s your doesn’t mean she’s not a world-class idiot. And worse, she’s a big fat liar!” He then wrapped his arms around me in one of his older-brother big bear hugs. 

© 2021 Marlene B. Samuels

Marlene Samuels earned her Ph.D., from University of Chicago where she serves on the Advisory Council to the Graduate School, Division of the Social Sciences. A research sociologist and instructor by training, a writer of creative non-fiction by preference, Marlene is completing her non-fiction book entitled, Ask Mr. Hitler: A Memoir Told In Short Story.

            She was editor and coauthor of The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival, and authored When Digital Isnt Real: Fact Finding Off-Line for Serious Writers. Marlene’sessays and stories have been published widely in anthologies, journals and online. Marlene divides her time between Chicago, Illinois and Sun Valley, Idaho with her amazingly brilliant and supportive Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Ted and George.  (

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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