The cow was hanging on the wall, opposite the checkout counter at the Sweet Charity resale shop in Vergennes, and I fell in love with it immediately.
That I was in Sweet Charity, without children, on a Saturday afternoon, was due to a series of anomalous events. My husband was in Chicago for work, so a generous friend had taken pity on me and invited all four of my children over to her house to play for a couple of hours.
Faced with two precious hours of free time after two days of single parenting, I did what any woman would do: I went shopping for home furnishings with my mother, of course.
Nobody could accuse me of being a gifted home decorator: I don’t have the time, budget, or interest to invest much in the trappings of our house. Whatever I do invest in our house, I do it knowing that our four young children and dog will likely undo my efforts quickly. Nevertheless, I attempt to keep a home that is comfortable, functional, and attractive. The “attractive” part is the most difficult; for me, this means having some nice things hanging on the walls.
Now, you certainly could accuse my mother of being a gifted home decorator. I’m sure she was born this way, but she’s also worked at it. She has, for instance, read books about home decorating. She spends a lot of time working on the Vermont home that she and my father moved into almost three years ago. (“Is your home finished yet?” our seven-year-old daughter asks my parents regularly.) My mother does things that are foreign to me, like comparison shopping, collecting paint and fabric swatches, and making complex mathematical measurements when hanging pictures on the wall rather than just aiming for “good enough.” My mother doesn’t do “good enough.”
So: I had two empty hours and some empty walls. I remembered that my mother had talked about a resale shop in Vergennes where she’d found some nice prints for her house. I also craved the chance to spend a little one-on-one time with my mother; although she lives roughly five minutes away, it’s rare that I see her when her four granddaughters aren’t also clamoring for her attention.
That’s how my mother and I ended up at Sweet Charity, looking for something to put on my walls. (My mother’s name is Hope. It’s like the start of a joke: “Faith and Hope walk in to Sweet Charity….”)
I’d found a nice poster from the 2013 Tunbridge World’s Fair, and was heading to the cash register when I spotted the cow. Or rather, I spotted a 5”x5” tile from which extended the white porcelain head of a cow, gazing at me with sweet brown painted eyes. It was so cute, so sweetly offbeat, so Vermont. And it would fit perfectly in the empty space above my kitchen sink.
I brought the cow home expecting my daughters to love and appreciate it just as much as I (especially my 3-year-old daughter, who’s particularly fond of all things bovine.)
My daughters gathered around as I unwrapped the porcelain cow from its protective paper. When I held it up triumphantly, my eldest daughter looked at me as if I’d just suggested that we eat slugs for dinner. My 3-year-old took a brief glance and went off to play. And my 7-year-old said, “That’s creepy. What did you do with the rest of the cow?”
I assured her that it wasn’t meant to be a trophy head. It was a sculpture. There was no rest of the cow. She wasn’t convinced.
“It’s staring at me,” she insisted.
I hung the cow above the kitchen sink. I thought it looked nice. Cute. Sweetly offbeat. Vermont.
By dinnertime that night, my daughters had decided to name the cow “Hamburger,” and joked about how you wouldn’t actually want to eat a hamburger in our kitchen; not with that cow staring at you with those big brown eyes.
The next evening, my husband returned from Chicago. The cow was pointed out. (Had the cow not been pointed out to him, it’s hard to say whether he’d have noticed it at all.) My husband has very few opinions on home decorating, and after 14 years of marriage, he’s learned to keep any negative opinions on home decorating that he does have to himself. He didn’t comment on the cow.
Several days later, one of my daughters had a friend over. As the two girls sat eating a snack at the kitchen counter, my daughter pointed out the cow to her friend. I seized on the chance to drum up some support from outside my family.
“Yes! We have a new cow! What do you think?” I asked my daughter’s friend – a friend who is very comfortable with our family and our house. Comfortable enough to be honest, apparently.
“I don’t know, it’s kind of creepy,” she said, giving me a skeptical, sideways glance. “It’s like it’s looking at me.”
I began writing this story three weeks ago. By now, the cow has been largely forgotten. My daughters rarely mention it; it’s become just another innocuous part of their surroundings. But when I see that cow, it reminds me of spending a couple of hours in a little adventure with my mother; it makes me happy.
When I started writing about the cow, I wasn’t sure what the point would be, or why anybody besides me should care about a porcelain cow. It was just a story that wanted to be written.
But now, three weeks later, I think I know what it’s about, and it’s rather timely given the emotionally charged political climate in which we Americans find ourselves.
Sometimes people will not agree with you. These may be people you love – people in your own family, even. They may oppose things you hold dear. Over time, you may be able to bring them around to your way of thinking, or you may come to see their point of view. But more likely, nobody will change their minds.
And that’s okay. Sometimes you just have to leave that cow hanging on the wall, and serve the dissenters some breakfast.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.