HINSDALE — When Travis Sweetser asked Chandra Burnham to prom Wednesday outside Hinsdale High School, he wanted it to be special. So he brought along a friend from her work — a 6-year-old brown Jersey cow named Aster.
“She just wasn’t like any other average girl, so she didn’t get an average ‘prom-posal,’ ” Sweetser, 18, said.
Sweetser knew Burnham, 17, loved the cows at Echo Farm on Route 63, where she works. So he asked the farm’s owners, sisters Courtney and Beth Hodge, if they could bring Aster — Burnham’s favorite.
“She’s adorable,” Burnham said. “I love her.”
Sweetser, a senior, and Burnham, a junior, said they’re good friends who have known each other a long time. They had already talked about going to prom — slated for May 15 at the Northfield Golf Club, to allow for social distancing in an outdoor venue — but Burnham wasn’t expecting an actual proposal.
Sweetser began plotting a few months ago, reaching out to the farm and gathering intel — all without tipping off Burnham. “Some of my mom’s friends work there as well, so they were trying to get little hints on what her favorite cow was,” he said.
It couldn’t have been hard to figure out, Burnham said. “I talk a lot about the cows there, so it’s pretty easy to see which one is my favorite.”
She said she used to like Holsteins — the iconic black-and-white dairy cows. But she’s gotten to know other cattle breeds at Echo Farm, which produces its own puddings as well as milk for Cabot cheese. “I just fell in love with Jerseys” like Aster, she said.
“They have a lot of personality,” she said. “… They all have their own little thing.”
Jerseys are an energetic and curious breed, Beth Hodge said. “If we’re setting up a ladder to change the lightbulb, then guaranteed there’s gonna be a Jersey sniffing around the bottom of it.”
Burnham recalled her first real encounter with Aster: “She was in her barn, and I had to go in it to fix something, and she was looking at me the whole time I was trying to fix it. And I sat there and pet her for a little bit, and then I was walking away for a little bit, and she followed me.”
Burnham also noticed that Aster always showed up first whenever she put out food.
“She’s just very kind,” Burnham said. “And she just loves food, which I think is so adorable.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Sweetser didn’t tell administrators he planned to bring a cow to school grounds until the last minute, he said, not wanting to be denied permission. But he said Principal Ann Freitag likes animals and was into it.
“She’s like, ‘What kind of cow is it?’ ” Sweetser said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know, it’s a brown cow.’ ”
A few miles away at Echo Farm, Beth Hodge had given Aster a bath. Hodge led her out of her pen and into a trailer — the cow stopped to sniff the grass along the way — then Hodge and Heather Jutras, one of the farm’s employees, drove to the high school parking lot.
Burnham’s physics class was in the middle of an experiment behind the school. Burnham was told the principal had to speak to her immediately.
“I was like, ‘I don’t want to be in trouble, I didn’t do anything wrong!’ ” Burnham said.
Freitag radioed the vice principal and said they had to go outside. Walking out the front lobby, Burnham saw what was going on.
“I looked out the window, and I said, ‘Ms. Freitag, that’s a trailer. I don’t think we’re talking,’ ” Burnham recalled. “And she said, ‘Is that a trailer?’ I go, ‘Yeah, that’s a trailer, and that’s my favorite cow!’ And I walked out with all my science gear on and my dirty hands.”
Sweetser held a bouquet of sunflowers and a sign that read “Hello My Name Is ASTER.” Aster wore a tutu, and another sign hung from her neck: “Can I See Your Mooves At PROM?” (The answer was yes.)
Hodge said Aster behaved well and “appreciated all the attention.” She seemed especially interested in the sunflowers, sniffing and licking them during a group photo.
Hodge said the Echo Farm team was thrilled to help make two teenagers’ day a little more special, especially after such a tough year for everyone. “We live in Hinsdale, it’s our community, and we love being a part of it,” she said.
For his part, Sweetser is grateful to the farm for playing along.
“I just wanted to make it special for her,” Sweetser said, “because I don’t think any other girl in Hinsdale’s gonna get a cow in the parking lot.”