The One Carat Cow

Today, Monday, seventh of August, 2017 Keith and I have been married 19 years, we have been together as a couple for 24 years.

When we first met back in 1991, I was working as a dental nurse and he was a patient. I thought he was lovely, he was 16, I was 20 and engaged to someone else. I never saw Keith again until the following February when we were both at a mutual friend’s 18th. By then I was married.

In June, my then husband, decided he didn’t want to be married to me anymore. He blamed me for everything but what he didn’t tell me was that he had met, and been seeing someone else. He was my first and only boyfriend and we had been together for 7 years. We separated after his announcement, I was devastated and very unsure of myself. In August he told me he wanted me back so I  went back but things were never the same.

The following October Keith and I happened to be at the same Young Farmer’s Dance, I’d just turned 22 and he was 17. The people we had gone there with had gone off and left us both so we chatted, had a drink together, which was nice and then we went home. We didn’t speak again until December when it came round to his dental checkup, there were no mobile phones or social media so it wasn’t as easy for relationships to begin.

In January 1993 I plucked up courage to leave my marriage. On New Year’s Eve I sat alone amongst a crowd of people, my husband was talking to another man and I knew in that moment as the New Year rang in I didn’t want to spend another year with him.

I left my marital home, which I had put my life’s savings into and started over.

22 and getting divorced, it wasn’t good. We live within a small town philosophy round here and I was the talk of the area. Although I felt freedom as I was making up for my previous lack of a social life by going out a lot, I also felt like a failure. I had tried to make it work but to be honest I didn’t try hard enough because I didn’t want to. When my feelings have gone towards someone I can’t get them back no matter how hard I try I couldn’t pretend.

That meeting in October at the Young Farmers Dance with Keith had sparked something in me I hadn’t felt for a long time, I liked him a lot and I knew that meant I didn’t love my husband anymore because I had never looked at another man in that way during our 7 year relationship.

A month after leaving I started seeing Keith, casually, once a week. But although I was out enjoying myself I also felt like the last 7 years of my life had been wasted and I wanted to make some sense of it all.

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My dental nurse leaving party I wore my uniform in town cut off by a foot

In August 1993 I left the dentists and went back to do my A levels at college. A year later I passed them and was accepted at Chester University College. I left Cumbria in 1994 to study Education and train to become a Primary School Teacher.

Keith are I were still together, I wasn’t sure how things would go being so far away from each other and him being so much younger than me. The older you get the less age matters but as a youth 4 years difference was a lot and many lads would just want to be with lots of girls instead of sticking with one who wasn’t going to be around much for the next three years.

But we made it to the end of my University years still together. Keith came to visit me once in those three years, he was working everyday on the farm and his mam and dad wouldn’t let him have time off to come down to see me, they weren’t keen on him coming down at all. That was difficult, I didn’t know anyone at University when I arrived and I left with only three people out of hundreds who I would say were true friends. Susie, El and Rachelle a fellow northerner from Wakefield. So they were tough times, not easy and I did finish our relationship during my first year because we never saw each other. However we both missed each other and we got back on speaking terms within a month.

We got engaged in May 1997 just before I finished University. I was applying for jobs all over Cumbria and I think Keith realised I might not be coming home. The night before I was due to have an interview in Hayton Keith took me out for a meal to the local pub. I had 3 pints of Guinness and I talked none stop. We went back to my house that I shared with my Nanna. We’d bought an ice cream each – Magnum Cones, from the local garage and went to eat them in bed together. I was still talking non stop when the next thing I heard was Keith asking me to be quiet a moment, he then said he wanted to marry me. I was shocked and I replied I would like to marry him too but did he mean he was asking me? It was unexpected, naked in bed eating an ice cream as you do, chatting away. But there it was, my proposal, not exactly a romantic story but it’s our story and we were engaged. To me we wouldn’t be officially engaged until he had told his mum! So I asked him to call me when he had told her the next day and I would then tell my Nanna. He did tell her, I wouldn’t say she was over the moon but she didn’t say she was unhappy either, he never got a congratulations she just said to him, “I suppose you are going to get a ring then.” Sometimes that’s all there is and you can’t expect any more.

Shopping for the ring turned into an unforgettable tale that was brought up at times in years to come, even the children know the story. We set off to the jewellers the following day looking for the ring. I wanted a solitaire, a single diamond. I had worked in a jewellers for two years and I knew what was nice. A week before our engagement Keith had purchased a quad bike for the farm, he paid £1500 for it. Yes it was useful but it wouldn’t last a lifetime and you’d have to spend a bit on spares through its life. So at the start of our search for my engagement ring I asked the awkward question nobody wants to ask “How much do you want to spend?” I wish I hadn’t asked! Although I am certainly not a flashy girl and would most probably have gone lower than the recommended three months gross salary (which in those days would have totalled £1800) he replied with £300!

Now at the risk of sounding terrible I was disappointed, it wasn’t that I wanted a more expensive ring but I wanted to know he thought I was worth more. The quad bike would only last a few years before he needed a replacement and he was supposed to be investing in a lifetime commitment to me, and I wouldn’t need any new tires or petrol! Quite low maintenance really.

The best way of describing it was when I read The Alchemist with the story of Johnny Lingo and the ten cow wife. Basically in the village the fathers of potential brides were given cows as riches or dowry in exchange for their daughter’s hand in marriage. One day a man came looking for a bride because he had heard of an old man with 2 daughters. The old man thought his older daughter to be shy and plain looking so he didn’t offer her to Johnny the rich man, instead he offered his beautiful youngest daughter. But Johnny wasn’t interested in her he wanted to see the man’s older daughter. The old man would have given her away for no cows at all but Johnny Lingo paid the old man 10 cows for his daughter far more than any bride had ever been worth. Years later the story was still talked about in the village and further away about the ten cow wife. The book tells of a man going to meet the much talked about ten cow wife, the story had been told so much that some thought it was merely a fairytale. When the man arrives there he is expecting to see an ugly woman but he can’t believe his eyes. When he sets eyes on her he sees a beautiful woman of great confidence. The moral is about giving your wife something to live up to, not down to, and that is supposed to be the secret of a happy marriage or relationship. I think the girl would have thought very little of herself in the beginning because self esteem begins in childhood and we are often left with the legacy of our parent’s opinions good and bad as a measure of our worth.

The ring I chose was £400, a little more than Keith’s mentioned price and that was enough for me. I was happy.

But I never forgot that day, when he had valued his quad bike more than me. The quad bike was probably much more useful at the time though especially during lambing but now and again the story would rear its head, even the children knew of the story of how daddy paid more for a quad bike than for my engagement ring.

Years later and several bikes later, I saw a diamond ring in the same jewellers shop in town I had worked in as a girl. It had two rows of diamonds, one had 7 and the other 8 like our anniversary being the 7th day of the 8th month. I went home and said to Keith I had seen a ring I liked in town, half expecting him to take no notice but to my amazement he said immediately without hesitation, well we best go and buy it then!

He had originally said he would pay £300 for my engagement ring but this ring cost £3000! It is made of 18ct gold and contains 1 carat of diamonds. I know it’s silly and shallow but even if we hadn’t gone and bought it just the fact he wanted to buy it for me was enough. But he did buy it and it is incredibly special to me. Everything comes to those that wait they say, 14 years later my cow arrived, it just took a while to find it’s way home.

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