The Scope of His Cow

First time I met Mollie, I wrote this about her dad.  That was 20-some years ago.

The idea of a giant cow had occupied a corner of Jerry Braun's imagination for the better part of two years.  Many times, he'd admired the king-size fiberglass bull that pops up occasionally in supermarket parking lots and decided he'd like something like that himself.

 On summer evenings, he'd sit on his back porch at the Braun homestead on Pleasant Ridge Road outside Grant's Lick with his wife, Linda.  He'd look out across his 60 acres and beyond, across the green valley that forms a deep, two-mile-wide bowl.  It was during one of those twilight sessions that he settled on a spot down by the pond, where anyone who drives by could see it.

For the longest time, Linda thought it was just Jerry talking.  She'd known Jerry since grade school, when they first admitted to having a crush on each other, so she knew Jerry was capable of doing some talking.  Then one day last October, he came home with his pickup packed with bags of sand and cement. 

Even now, Jerry can't say what compelled him to build a giant cow.  It was a calling, he guesses.  He had no specific picture in his mind of how his cow would look.  He thought he'd get started and see what happened. 

It took eight days to build. He'd get up at 4:30 a.m. and work on it a few hours before heading off to his job as a maintenance man for Campbell County schools. He'd work on it in the evenings, as long as the light held out.  He built a skeleton of two-by-fours and four-by-fours, cementing its hooves into the ground. Over this, he laid a layer of wire lath. On top of that, he laid a skin of cement.

The 18 head of cattle grazing his pastures are Herefords and black whitefaces, but he wanted something with bolder markings.  So he built a Holstein.

From Jerry's back porch, she looks like a normal-size Holstein, immobilized in mid-stride, heading in a northerly direction, past the purple martin house, to take a drink from the pond.  But on the ride down the hill in Jerry's reconditioned 1947, '48 and '49 Willys, you get a better idea of her scope. 

One ear is cocked forward; the other lists to the rear, as if she's picking up sounds fore and aft.  Down below and to the south are the merest suggestions of udders.  She's 10 feet tall and 16 feet long, which Jerry believes is sufficiently grand for his purposes.

One day last week, Krista Moreland brought her class from Grant's Lick Elementary to the Braun homestead for their third annual end-of-the-school-year blowout.

Jerry had used his jigsaw and a board to build a toy sailboat for each child. He’d painted each hull red or yellow and attached a mast with a pink sail.  When the boats were launched, the breeze pushed them in a pretty pattern of pink triangles to the pond's far end.

Then he set about to stringing bobbers, tying hooks on lines and baiting them with red worms.  He handed a cane pole to each kid, who immediately flung a line into the water and quickly began landing sunfish, hybrid bluegill and an occasional bass or channel cat.

Behind this scene of children playing and laughing, Jerry's giant Holstein presided in Sphinx-like grandeur.  And there was Jerry, grinning like a third-grader.  It was the kind of scene he had in mind when, 28 years ago at the age of 19, he put everything he had into buying this land – and again, 15 years ago, when he built the pond.

“I don't know why I built the cow,” he says.

“I just felt like I needed to.”