When our neighbors John and Aussie Bronwyn announced that they were selling their property and moving away, CJ and I were mortified. More than anyone, those two have taught us how to live on 20 acres. How could they abandon us?
Aussie Bronwyn is our High Priestess of Chicken Wisdom. John lets CJ borrow and break his tractor on a regular basis. And every Tuesday we spend wild evenings with them – playing cards, accusing each other of cheating, and heading home to bed by 8:30pm.
But for some strange reason, they wanted to be closer to their grandchildren. Go figure. And their large rural property had become too much work. So they wanted to move to Hastings for a quiet retirement with a small garden near family. CJ and I, being the generous souls we are, eventually found it in our hearts to forgive them for this unthinkable betrayal.
We did, however, threaten to have a big red phone with a direct line installed into their new house so we could call them in emergencies – like when we had a broody hen, or when one of the pigs was sick.
Then Aussie Bronwyn asked us a favor. “Will you look after our elderly cow?”
Everyone knows that CJ and I are suckers for geriatric farm animals. Of course we said yes.
An odd cow
The cow’s name is Blossom, and she supplied the cream for the countless homemade scones with homemade strawberry jam that CJ and I have enjoyed over at Aussie Bronwyn and John’s place.
Blossom is no longer producing milk, but when she was, she never let men milk her. That’s why I call her Blossom the Man-Hating Cow.
She is aloof and eccentric. Her face is oddly crooked. If you’re not Aussie Bronwyn then she prefers you to keep your distance, thankyouverymuch. If you get too close, she hides by looking away. She seems to think that if she can’t see you, you can’t see her. This might make some sense, except for the fact that she’s a sizable cow and she’s standing right in front of you. But, never mind.
Aussie Bronwyn is very fond of Blossom. She hand-raised that cow from a small calf and has dutifully looked after her for the last 16 years. But there’s no room for a geriatric cow in a small, suburban garden. So Blossom the Man-Hating Cow is going to live out her final days grazing peacefully in paddocks that belong to two men. Fate, it seems, has a sense of humor.
Before we knew it, John and Aussie Bronwyn had emptied their house and left Martinborough. CJ and I were so bereft that we practically started wearing black armbands. Not only did we miss their company, but we had come to rely on them for so much that we figured we’d be dead in a week.
Enter an artist
About this time I got an email from Anne Taylor, an artist in nearby Greytown. She wanted to know if I was interested in having a portrait done of one of our animals as a portfolio piece. I thought of Blossom, and I said yes. I wanted to thank Aussie Bronwyn and John for all the invaluable help they’d given us over the past 6 years.
Anne came over, and we shared a cup of tea. She asked all about John and Aussie Bronwyn. She wanted to know what kind of art they liked. Bold and expressive? Or subtle and low key? I talked about the surreal Dali prints in their house, John’s wildlife paintings, and Bronwyn’s love of flowers and floral art. Next Anne asked all about Blossom, her life, and her personality.
I then took Anne down to the bottom paddock where Blossom was grazing. Anne took photo after photo and laid out a blanket near Blossom to watch her. Anne truly wanted to capture the spirit of the old girl.
A few weeks later, Anne sent some sketches of different layouts, and I picked the one I liked most. A month or so after that, I got a call that the painting was ready. I met Anne at Cahoots, a nice little café in Greytown, and she gave me the painting. It was fantastic.
Anne had wanted the painting to tell a story, and it did.
There was a small image of Aussie Bronwyn bottle-feeding a calf, and Blossom with her aged, crooked face looked out at me. There were blossoms in one corner for the cow’s name, and flowers in front for Aussie Bronwyn’s love of floral art. It was a moonlit scene as a nod to the Moon over Martinborough project. The hills in the background were the hills we see from our paddocks here, where Blossom now grazes. It was the perfect thank you for John and Aussie Bronwyn.
A visit to Hastings
Shortly after I got the painting, CJ and I went to Hastings for the weekend to stay with them at their new place. We had nothing special planned – just meals together, a visit to a café, cards in the evening, accusations of cheating, and an early bedtime. It was fantastic.
We gave them the painting of Blossom, and John hung it on the wall in the lounge faster than you could say, “We love it.”
I said, “It’s to thank you for all your help over the years.”
“It’s beautiful,” Aussie Bronwyn said. “It sums up our time in Martinborough – from hand rearing Blossom to her retirement in your paddocks.”
When we left that weekend, we gave them both big hugs. It was so good to see them. We really do miss them, and not just because we’re inept and need help. We really like those two. We talked about having them down for a visit, and that’s when I realized another nice thing about good neighbors.
Of course things change. Your neighbors help you, you help them in return, and eventually someone moves on. Yet good neighbors, really good neighbors, transcend time and place. Naturally they stop being neighbors when they move away. But if you stay in touch, good neighbors really can become good friends.
What have your neighbors done for you, and how have you thanked them?
See the various stages the painting went through: Blossom in stages (PDF)
Wairarapa Lifestyle Magazine
This blog post appeared in the Autumn 2013 issue of Wairarapa Lifestyle Magazine. See other ‘Moon’ stories from Wairarapa Lifestyle Magazine.
You can find the magazine in the cafes and shops all over the Wairarapa. Check out the magazine’s website.