It was nearly midnight when they got on the road, but they were wide-awake with excitement. They talked about their son and everything he had achieved and how much they loved and admired him and how happy they were that they had avoided any major parental mistakes, and they were making good time because the road was empty, and they wondered about his future and where he might live and how he would earn money, and this went on for about an hour as the minivan’s headlights led them down the highway.
And then a brown explosion. At once the headlights disappeared, and the cabin lights came on. Pulverized glass pressed down on their faces, arms and laps—some of it in plate sized sheets, some in tiny cubes, and some as fine as dust, settling in the part of Linda’s hair. The radiator hissed and sprayed steam. Braddock wrestled with the steering wheel to bring the careening vehicle to a halt.
“Are you okay?” they each asked simultaneously. They were both okay. Linda stepped out of the car, bewildered, and began walking back to see what they hit. She thought it was a moose.
“Linda! Your shoes!” Braddock yelled. She had left them in the minivan because they were filled with bits of glass like diced vegetables. She walked down the road, looking for a moose in the black night. It was too dark to see anything. An eighteen-wheeler sped by. Linda waved her arms to hail the truck, but it didn’t slow down. The noise from the truck died off, and it was silent and dark and nothing. And then they heard a belabored moo in the distance—the death throes of what sounded like a cow.
“Linda, get back in this car. We have to get off the highway. Someone is going to come along and hit us.” She swept broken glass out of the passenger seat and got in. The minivan limped to the next exit at five miles per hour with an accordion-shaped hood exposing the spewing radiator. In the distance they saw a Best Western Hotel, and thirty minutes later, the minivan putted into the driveway. In the light they could see that Linda was bleeding—her arms, her neck, all over. Little drops of blood seeped from almost everywhere. Braddock would later describe this as “something out of a Salvador Dali painting.” Blood ran from the outside corner of Linda’s left eye. They entered the lobby and were accosted by the woman at the desk.
“Are y’all all right? What happened?”
“We hit a cow,” they say.
“Oh ain’t nobody gonna claim that cow. They don’t never claim ‘em. It’s a big hassle. They lose money on the dead cow and then they have to pay insurance for somebody’s car cause they let their cow roam on the road. I have cows, and I keep mine insured just in case. But ain’t nobody gonna claim it. Oh, Honey, you’re bleeding. Do you need an ambulance?”
“I’m okay,” Linda replies, smiling. She and Braddock explain that they are just so happy to be alive but they’re worried that someone else will hit the cow, and they ask the woman at the desk to call the authorities.
Two officers arrive: One named Deputy Kaye, a highway patrolman, (he does most of the talking), and another from the La Grange City Police Department, but Braddock and Linda never got his name. The officers seemed suspicious as they took Braddock and Linda’s statement, saying “Well, you left the scene of the accident. Shouldn’ta done that. Are you sure you hit a cow? You sure are taking this well.”
Braddock, displeased with the implied accusation, replied, “We could be dead. Why don’t you go look in the damned road?” The officers agreed and left in separate vehicles. Linda and Braddock checked into the hotel and went up stairs to take a shower and get cleaned up until the police returned. They relaxed a bit and began to thank God that they had survived. Linda’s cheeks hurt from smiling so much.
Thirty minutes later, at nearly 2:30 in the morning, Deputy Kaye returned without the other officer. “Yeah we saw it. That’s a biggun. Fifteen-hundred pounds. We took a look at your vehicle on our way out. Come look at this.” Linda and Braddock walked out to take their first real look at their minivan. Deputy Kaye pointed to the torn animal hide and bits of cow on the hood, the head-shaped dent on the roof above the passenger’s seat, and the depression along the entire passenger side of the van. Deputy Kaye’s theory was that the van collided with the cow’s shoulder and head, causing the cow’s skull to flip up onto the hood and break the windshield, while the cow’s torso swung around the side of the car busting all of windows on the passenger’s side. “But I didn’t see any brand on the cow. It’s possible the brand is on the other side, but I couldn’t check cause that’s a big cow.”
He explained that the Texas Highway Department would be there in the morning to move the carcass, and that they would be able to look for the brand on the other side, so Braddock and Linda ought to go on home, and he would be in touch. Then they took a Polaroid next to the mangled minivan. In the photo both Braddock and Linda showed bright smiles. Happy to just be alive, they stood next to the van like two children next to Mickey Mouse at Disneyland.
They collected their things, and took a cab to the bus station in Kerrville. There they told a few people their story, and the locals all repeated the familiar chorus “Ain’t nobody gonna claim that cow.” One added, “Somebody’s having a barbecue tonight.” On the bus back to Houston, Linda and Braddock both craved barbecue and wondered where the other officer had gone. In Houston, they took a cab home, and slept in their own bed.
The next day Linda called up the Deputy’s office, but he wasn’t there, so she left a message. She called again later that day, and the secretary said, “You know, when the Highway Department went out there at six o’clock this morning to get that cow, it was gone.”
“Gone? That’s unacceptable,” Linda said.
“You know, we don’t have any responsibility to you in this matter.” Linda hung up.
That night, Braddock picked up the phone to call their son. “Are you sitting down?” he asked. “You could’ve lost your parents last night. We’re so glad to be alive.”