Thanks to a life-sized, black-spotted fiberglass cow in their southeast-side front yard, sisters Terry and Sandy Karnatz have a daily reminder of their mother, Velma, and a special Christmas morning twenty-two years ago.
“Our mom was always talking about life on the farm–she grew up on one as a sharecropper in Hickoria, Arkansas–and how she loved cows,” says Terry. “So I decided to pull a Christmas prank on her.”
Terry sketched what she thought were cows at Domino’s Farms, then built a wooden frame covered in chicken wire. A cattle rancher friend later told her that her result bore more resemblance to a female buffalo, and a return visit to Domino’s confirmed her friend’s observation–but by then “Buttercup” had already taken shape.
She worked in the driveway of their Marshall St. home. “It was freezing outside, and I had to wear gloves,” she recalls. “Man, was it cold!” She covered the chicken wire with fiberglass she bought from a boat shop and painted Buttercup white; Sandy added black spots.
On Christmas morning, they secured Buttercup to the roof of Terry’s car and drove her across town to their parents’ home on Morningside. The drapes were drawn in the front window, allowing the sisters to surreptitiously position Buttercup on blocks in the front yard.
“After we finished unwrapping presents, I said, ‘Mom, I think Santa left you one more gift,’ and had her open the curtains,” Terry recalls. “I never saw such a look on her face. She first thought it was a real cow and then realized it wasn’t.”
Moved to the back yard, Buttercup contentedly grazed air on Morningside until Velma passed in 2013. She then returned to Marshall St., where she now resides in the company of a number of statues that Sandy has collected, including a tiger, turtle, dragon, owl, cat, dog, and Virgin Mary.
This past summer, a life-sized ceramic alligator appeared in the yard, courtesy of a neighbor who found “Al” in his dad’s barn. The sisters periodically move Al and Buttercup around the yard. Sometimes Al is positioned coming out of the arbor vitae as if to attack; other times he and Buttercup nuzzle nose to nose.
Terry says that quite a few people stop, and some drivers hit the curb when they’re rubbernecking to get a better view of Buttercup. A woman who runs a day care down the street sometimes brings her young charges to visit. Like Velma, some elderly neighbors are especially fond of Buttercup, nostalgically recalling their days of farm living.
True to her holiday heritage, “last year we put Christmas lights on her with a battery pack that lasts about a month,” says Terry. “We’ll do the same this year.”