words by ethel and paul et al.

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“A bit of family history in verse”

(Originally typed by MaryHale Woolsey, long ago; re-typed by Ethel from an illegible photocopy and a very poor carbon from Everett’s collection, August 7, 1982; on the computer, 1990; this version dated 2000) [newly revised in 2012]

When “Cow With Subtile Nose” appeared in Time Magazine’s Art Section early last summer [alas, no date], Ethel, Salt Lake City, sent the page to brother Eb in Astoria, Oregon, with this comment penned on the margin--

I have seen a Purple Cow
But never yet did flee one.
But if some fool could show me how
I’d rather milk than be one.
(Ethel Corinne Hale Bogden Wharton)

Eb (in Astoria, Oregon) added --

Who could paint a Purple Cow
So laden with revulsions?
I have, from looking at her now,
Intestinal convulsions.
(Edward Everett Hale)

-- and sent it to Mary at Saratoga, California, who added --

Let galleries keep this purple cow
And may they never breed her!
I doubt her worth; art, milk, or chow.
I do not think we need her.
(Mary Elizabeth Hale (Maryhale) Woolsey)

-- and on to El Paso, to Pat and Con who added their versions --

The gentle cow, all red and white,
I love with all my heart.
This purple creature is a fright.
Aw, come now! This is ART?????
(Pearl Melvina (Pat) Hale McMillen Bryson)

I never saw a purple cow,
I think I’ll never see one.
But purple-people-eaters--now...
Well, surely this must be one!
(M. Conrey Bryson)

They sent it to Leah, back in Salt Lake City, who exclaimed --

This Purple Cow may have its place
Among the Arts and Cultures--
But, dead or living, this disgrace
Would scare away the vultures.
(Leah Hale Brown Abbott)

Leah returned Cow to Ethel, who decided the round-trip collection merited further explorations. With a second-turn quatrain, she started the Cow on a round of visits to next-generation “family collections”--AFTER handing it to Fred, who questioned --

I see this Purple Cow
Has won her place in Art.
I wonder if this Purple Cow
Has won a Purple Heart?
(Fred C. Heightsman)

Ethel, new round --

I never dreamed this Purple Cow
Could give such inspiration.
Let’s milk her dry; there’s no need now
To cause her expiration.

-- then to Helen, in the Avenues district in Salt Lake City who lamented --

Poor cow! Insults are not enough to have befallen you.
Now you sustain an injury from Winnfant Number 2.
For art he has not learned respect; he does not comprehend you.
In giving you this root-beer bath, I hope he di’n’t offend you.
(Helen Heightsman Winn Gordon)
-- Helen sent it on to twin sister Hazel, next hostess to Cow --

Poor purple cow, I sympathize
Though sight of you might retch me.
I could be something to despise
As someone else might sketch me!
(Hazel Heightsman Katsilas Gerhart Truesdell Hale)

-- then on its longest jaunt yet, to Jimmy Brown in the military, in Alaska --

Oh, Purple Cow, How do you do?
I see you’re in Alaska, too.
I understand your purple hue.
(They shipped me here -- I’m purple, too!)
(James Tanner Brown, Jr.)

Mary sent this in a letter to Time magazine, unbelievably without date (unbelievable for Mary to do that). Perhaps there was a date inserted on the original. She added --

A Post Script, if you wish--the following should not be omitted from the record:
A friend of the family, on seeing this “poetic hash” asked anxiously, “Who wrote the original ‘Purple Cow’? Could you be sued for plagiarism?”
[Well, now, why “original”? Ours were original -- inspired by the photo in Time.]
We referred to Bartlett, he of the familiar quotations, for confirmation of our belief that Gelett Burgess had authored the quatrain referred to as “original”--

The Purple Cow

I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one. (1895)

-- Gelett Burgess (1866-1951)

Later, he lamented --

Cinq Ans Après

Ah, yes, I wrote the “Purple Cow”--
I’m sorry, now, I wrote it!
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’ll kill you if you quote it. (1914)

Now it strikes us that G. Burgess must have had a mess of killings by now. But who’s afraid of the gentle Gelett, I ask you? (Besides, not once have we quoted--in its entirety--his poem, anyway!)

(now of New York City instead of Saratoga, California)

* * * * * * *
Lael --
I know that purple hues are done
With red and blue, ’cause (Brother!)
This critter’s got me “seeing” one,
And feeling t’other!
(Lael Woolsey Hill)

[And that “inspiration” resulted, too, in a deep-pink elephant, accompanied by -- ]
Inspired by Cow With Subtile Nose
That purple indignity sent through the mail --
I offer: “Elephant--” (as he goes)
With Obvious, Candid, Frank, Artless Tail!

Vevedeen --

This is a cow?? I wonder how
Dubuffet dared so call it.
I’d think it wise should he devise
A way to overhaul it!
(Vevedeen Woolsey Hill)

After forty years, this final [?] comment from Con, with a message “Merry Christmas 1990” --

Oh, purple cow, we’ve milked you dry,
But now your days are over,
We hope to meet you, by and by,
In pastures of pink clover!

From Jim Brown in Reno Town --

O ye cow of purple hue,
O’er the years I had forgotten you,
But now we are fated to meet again,
And I must say, to my chagrin,
That thru these eyes of mine that squint,
I detect in your hide, a change of tint,
Could it be? Dare I say?
That you, like me, are turning grey?

Another small herd was found hiding in a barn (the Art Barn?), maybe in Eb’s papers after his death--Mary had visited him in Astoria a while.

What happened to the purple cow?
I’m sure she must have wandered.
She’d surely have returned by now
For no one else would want her.

The purple cow sure got around
With all her hues sublime.
But now her scow has run aground--
She’s stuck on sands of Time!

Do you suppose our purple cow
Retired in bluegrass pasture
Might masticate in technicolor
Giving milk of azure?

I sent the cow to sunny Cal,
With comments droll and cheezy.
(For writing rhymes about such art
Is certainly not easy.)

I dare not hope we can inter
This ghastly, dismal creature;
She’ll likely charm some editor
And turn up as a feature!

* * * * *
Resurrection of the Purple Cow, 3rd generation

Ethel’s grandson Robert, Moscow, Idaho, 1998 --

A purple cow’s a sight to see
With strange genetic make-up.
We should warn the C D C
Beware of purple Creutzfeld-Jakob.
(Robert Hale Bogden)

This purple cow must be contained.
That color’s not the norm.
Epidemiologists will certainly complain
Of spreading purple Bovine Spongiform.

Leah’s granddaughter Shawna from her Seattle veterinary hospital --

The purple cow is the future of the bovine species.
For only the purple cow can overcome
The curse of the Texas cowboy
who’s gone Mad, Mad, Mad...
(Shawna Lea Norris)

Ethel, 1998:

Wow! that cow has done it now!
The younger generation
Roped her in to show us how
To spread contamination.

Paul, 1999

Today I met this Purple Cow,
I hardly can believe it --
That clever, witty folks enow,
Could never seem to leave it.
(W. Paul Wharton)

Riding that Cow still, Ethel assembled this for another round --

The purple cow was put to rest
To sleep a generation.
Her stoic endurance met the test;
She’s now a new sensation.

O purple cow, we’ve watched your ilk;
You constantly amaze us.
The fact that you give four-hued milk
At this date cannot faze us.

O cow to be immortalized
Your purple presence charms us.
We hope, immune and vitalized,
Your purple never harms us.

As years go by the purple cow
Becomes a droll mosaic.
What once astonished us is now
Mundane and quite prosaic.

We do not ask for purple prose
But only purple verse.
That we now beg you to compose--
Would lavender be worse?

Starting, now that next round, in 2000:

Don’t worry if this cow got out
And trampled new-mown hay.
She will return you can be sure
She will not run away.

“The Purple Cow is on the table.”
“She should be in the barn!”
These quatrains make a dandy fable --
We cannot end this yarn.

This is the compilation as of January, 2000.

Next, to Becky-----------------no response yet!

[No response from Becky yet! -- 2/26/00]

Roses are Red
Violets are Blue
Cows come in Brown, Black and White
And O yes, in Purple, too!

What a job, a cow to tackle
A verse to really make them cackle.
To tie words together with string or rope
About your hide of heliotrope.
I sat and thought without resolution
Before coming to this conclusion:
Are you really a purple cow
Or just another of my delusions?

(If I had to be a cow in my next
lifetime I’d like to be this
purple cow who’s so divine. She’s
taken it all--the cracks, the jokes,
but has not lost her fine heliotrope.

Wandering through Alaska, Seattle down to Utah, maybe her next stop could be in Arkansas. (Jodie)

This strange cow has been around,
For many a year and in many a town,
She is long in the tooth and shaggy of hair,
Old and worn, and worse for wear,
But this old cow, the color of plum,
Is ready to start a new millennium!

How did this purple cow get on my table?
She ought to be installed in barn or stable.
But stable she is not, for she meanders
Across three generations of expanders.

Her moos refuse to stop at any station;
Her muse enthuses every generation.
Her hues bemuse this clan of wits and sages
Whose views infuse a growing stack of pages.

So here’s to generations four and five:
A challenge - can you keep this cow alive?
Then leave your genius genes to progeny,
So they can pun for fun as well as we.

Was this who jumped the moon one eve?
She looks a mass of bruises!
Let’s hope her come-down taught: Believe--
Best think before one chooses!

Thanks for the purple cow...
Will she never die?
Maybe we will see her soon
In the sweet bye and bye.

As we assemble a new book of Ethel’s verse, Paul ran across the compilation printed above in October 2012.

Paul found this among old e-mails, one Ethel had sent to Jim Brown in December 2000:

A Purple Cow-bird came one day
And chased the mourning dove away.
Good thing neither one came back:
Cow birds ain’t purple, they are BLACK

So Ethel begins a new round:

Once there was a purple cow
This fact is more than rumor;
She served us well for many years
A constant source of humor.

This purple cow is sicker now
She has no cud to chew;
And so her royal purple hide
Has turned to ghostly blue.

The purple cow
Has turned to gray;
Just see her now,
She’s gray to stay.

Too bad the poet can’t decide
What’s now the color of cow’s hide.
Purple it was, then ghostly blue,
At last she’s gray. And you?

Oh bovine queen
With lavender and purple hide
I’ve missed you so
I just sat down and cried.

End of October, 2012

Ethel C. Hale and W. Paul Wharton