I've only ever known one cow up close and personal, but I thought of her the other day as I passed this pasture on my way home from work. Her name was Hoover.
When I was 18, sometime in the eight weeks between the date of my first marriage and the discovery that I was expecting a baby, my husband bought a little patch of land he called "the farm." I never really knew what his plans were for the property (I never knew much about any of his business), but it came with a wire fence around it, an open-sided animal shelter, a white Shetland pony named Silly, and Hoover, a very pregnant Jersey cow.
I don't know what arrangements my husband had made to see that the animals were fed on a regular basis, but occasionally, on weekends, we'd ride out to the farm together. While my husband did whatever it was he did on a borrowed tractor, my job was to stay out of his way. Hoover was usually at the far end of the field, and Silly, whenever I'd get close to him, would try to bite me, so I couldn't occupy myself with the animals. Not one to insist on helping with farm chores, I'd walk back into the thick woods that covered a portion of the property and read in the shade.
By the time I found out I was pregnant, my new marriage was already in trouble. Still, I was happy about the news. I thought a baby might be just what we needed to help us focus on working out our differences. Unfortunately, I was not one of those lucky women who look and feel wonderful during pregnancy. I was sick all day every day, with no time off for good behavior. On top of everything else, we were far away from friends and family, and I was working at a job I didn't like. I was lonelier than I'd ever been.
A few months later another young woman my age came to work in our office, and she and I became friends. One Sunday she rode with my husband and me to the farm. He got busy, and my friend and I headed back into the woods. We walked until we came to a little gully, dry at that time from the lack of recent rain. We climbed down into it and sat with the gentle slope of the opposite bank against our backs.
My friend was funny and bright, also a newlywed, and we had plenty of things to talk about. She was a pretty girl, and as we sat there talking, I began to mentally compare my swollen middle to her slender figure. I wondered if I'd ever feel pretty again. I didn't want to burden our budding friendship by talking about my pregnancy issues, so we chatted about other things instead. Even with her good company, I felt lonely. I longed for someone in whom I could confide, someone who could relate to the way it felt to inhabit such an alien, bulky body.
That's what was on my mind when we heard a rustling in the trees. The sound that broke the quiet was unfamiliar and a little frightening, until we looked up to see Hoover coming toward us at a steady pace. Even then, we didn't know what to expect.
Hoover's big belly, heavy with calf, swung from side to side as she walked. At the edge of the gully, she stopped abruptly and stood there for a moment, looking from one of us to the other, as if she were sizing us up. Then she began moving again, ever so carefully, down the slope and across to our side of the gully. She turned herself around and heaved her huge body onto the ground beside me. For the rest of the afternoon she lay there, watching and listening and chewing a little grass...just one of the girls.
From that day on, I loved that cow.