A cow jumping over a split rail fence with a cardboard moon tacked to the fence.

Big Mac, a thousand pounds of beef, clearing the second rail of the fence.

People ask, “How did you wind up in Georgia?” and it’s quite a story. I was offered a job transfer, and as lucrative as it seemed, it took quite a bit of soul searching to finally decide. On the one hand, four generations of us had grown up on that hill on the Jersey coast. On the other, one grandfather had left Armenia, another left Poland and a great-great grandfather had left Ireland, so I figured I could leave the shore.

Another problem was my wife. Hollis and I were to be married on May 14th, and the transfer was scheduled for June 1st! Consequently, we spent our honeymoon looking for somewhere to live around Atlanta. We finally lucked out and found the perfect place: a 1950s ranch house on an acre of land in the middle of a 120-acre cattle farm on the Fulton County side of Duluth. The house had a pool and the property line for the back yard was the Chattahoochee River!

The area was called “Shake Rag” because years ago, the last train stop was in Norcross, so if you had freight or passengers to put on the train, you would take McGuinness ferry across the Chattahoochee, stand beside the track, and shake a rag! The train would stop, and you could load whatever.

There were about 100 head of cattle on the farm. Our half-mile-long driveway wove through the middle of them to get to the house. We had a cattle guard at our property line to keep the cows on their side of the fence and out of our front yard. Growing up on the coast, the closest we had gotten to so many four-footed creatures was on television.

Since we were right on the river, we stored the dingy from the big sailboat on the back lawn, and a few of our friends had canoes and kayaks which they added to the fleet. Every month or so in the summertime we’d all get together and launch the flotilla off the lawn. Having parked a pickup truck or two down river at the Medlock Bridge recreation area, we’d paddle or drift along for four hours or so to where the trucks were parked. Drifting quietly like that, we would see all kinds of wildlife, including egrets, great blue herons, red headed hawks, turtles, racoons, and otters. When we arrived at Medlock Bridge, we’d throw the boats on the back of the trucks and head for home for a backyard barbeque.

When we first moved in, there was a lawn service that came every two weeks to cut the grass at fifty bucks a pop. We used them for the first month, and then I went to Walmart and bought a rotary lawn mower for $106, figuring it would pay for itself in about five weeks, and give me a bunch of much needed exercise.

The only problem with that was one of the cows, whom we named “Big Mac” (all the cows were eventually destined for McDonald’s) would jump over a section of fence where the top rail was broken and graze on our front lawn. She had over 100 acres of grass on her side of the fence, but I guess it was the “grass is greener” syndrome. This was amusing, except that she would leave the occasional cow-pie on our lawn. Now, do you have any idea how far that stuff flies when you hit it with a rotary lawn mower? Well, I do! At one point I was even considering wearing brown shoes and hanging around with friends who had no sense of smell or were too polite to mention the odor. Finally, I was just very careful while mowing the lawn.

I told that story several times and people seemed skeptical, so I decided I’d get a picture to prove that I wasn’t making it up. Meanwhile, I figured to have a little fun, so I got a big piece of cardboard and cut it out in the shape of a crescent moon. Then I painted it yellow and nailed it to the fence. One morning when Big Mac was grazing on the front lawn, Hollis quietly got into position, with ASA 400 film in her 35mm Nikon SLR camera, and I shooed Big Mac back onto her side of the fence. The result was a perfect shot of a thousand-pound cow clearing the second rail of a split rail fence! Forget Photoshop! Reality is much more fun!

On returning home from a weekend away, you can imagine our surprise to find a newborn calf in our front yard! Big Mac had chosen to give birth on our side of the fence! Since the calf couldn’t get across the cattle guard or jump over the fence, Big Mac had to jump back into our yard two or three times a day to feed her. Finally, I discovered an unused gate on the corner of the property, all covered with vines and chained shut. I cleared away the vines and cut the chain and carefully shooed the calf back into the pasture with her mother. Since we considered ourselves “God parents,” we named the calf “Quarter Pounder.”

We lived happily in that house for a couple of years, and planned to buy it, even going so far as negotiating a contract with the landlord for the old house on an acre of land at a reasonable price.  Then a real estate sign appeared on the other side of the road advertising “Lots for Sale,” at about the same price as we had negotiated for our house, and that was on the “dry” side of the road!

Suddenly, our landlord began procrastinating. For us, the clock was ticking. We had both sold our houses up north and had to spend the money on our primary residence or get taxed on it. Finally, my mother was the catalyst that made us decide. She said, “Vincent, you are a sailor, not a farmer. You need a place on the lake.” And she was right. So, here we are on the lake in Flowery Branch and the rest is history. (One of the few times I was glad I listened to my mother).

Photo: provided by Vinnie Mendes