The Great Cow Hoist


The above picture is not me. I would never have smiled while I milked.

There has been an ongoing argument between Connie and Marilyn for years. At the risk of alienating one of my sisters, as a true witness, I feel obligated to set the record straight. Mother was there as well, but everyone knows how ditzy she is. Additionally, she tries to be impartial, so she sees the story both ways, depending on which sister is putting the most pressure on her at the time.

To begin with, milking the cow was the most universally hated job in the household, palmed off on whichever God-forsaken soul who had the least excuses and broke first. Of course, neither Daddy nor my brother could milk. It was a Biblical injunction, book, chapter, and verse known to Daddy alone. “Thou canst not take milk if thee cannot give it.” I never heard this verse quoted by another and seriously doubted its existence, but if it was good enough for Daddy, by golly, the lowly women in the family were stuck with it.

Mother was stuck with milking in the morning on school days due to the amount of time involved in de-manuring required before school. As much as she hated milking, she didn’t want to get notes from school, “Your daughter comes in reeking of cow s__t!”

There was no salvation for us on evenings, weekends and holidays. “I’ve milked all week. Now it’s your turn!” Eventually, Phyllis and I fought it out. I grudgingly took mornings since I got up earlier and preferred to get the evil deed over with. She took evenings. It was horrible! First of all, milking involved wading manure and mud to lure the cow to the least manure slopped area. We never had a milking shed with fancy mangers to fasten the cow’s head in while they eat their grain. I suspect there was no Biblical injunction preventing construction of a milk shed or manger, just unconcern on Daddy’s part, since he didn’t have to worry about getting hooked or the weather while milking. Milking, standing in mud and manure, with freezing rain running down my collar was my personal favorite. I feel sure all that rain that ran off the cow’s back must have greatly improved the purity of the milk.

To the best of my recollection, I never milked a constipated cow. Invariably, Bessie or Star would feel the urge as soon as I got started. In the event she was a little slow getting started, I could always content myself with being slapped with a tail caked with dried manure left from the last episode. Just so you know, personal hygiene is not high on a cow’s list of priorities. The milker could count on several solid tail slaps while milking, in addition to being stepped on if one is not good at following the cow’s lead.

Enough bragging. On the day of the Great Cow Hoisting, there was no milking involved. Mother had dragged me out to help her separate the cow and new calf who had escaped his pen to join his mother in the pasture. For your edification, I’ll explain. The cow and calf had to be separated all day to keep him from stripping her of all the milk that he felt was rightfully his. He got to spend a few minutes with her twice a day to nurse after milking, when the milk from one udder was saved for him. Afterwards, the cow turned out to pasture leaving the calf penned up.

Connie and Marilyn were standing nearby. As the cow ambled by, she turned her head to the side, hooking Connie’s shorts. Surprised to find herself burdened with a little girl, she lowered her gently back to the ground, setting her on her feet.

Flip Side of a Coin

imageWaiting to see a doctor can be tedious or fascinating depending on the humanity sharing that space and moment. One one recent visit, I waited with an open lively, old woman and her young granddaughter as well as a geriatric couple. The wife was obviously fatigued by the demands of caring for her husband who suffered from advanced Parkinson’s Disease. He had such a pronounced tremor, he had to clasp his hands on his knees to come control the shaking.

Bored, we all sat as though mesmerized, zoned in on a commercial featuring a cow when little Susie, the granddaughter asked Granma if she’d ever milked a cow.

“I milked me many a cow!” She laughed. “Why, one time when I was about your age, I was a’staying with my granpa and he set me to milking. A big ol’ hog slipped up to that cow on the other side and he was a’sucking that cow’s back titty while I was milking the other side. I was just a’laughing, but didn’t stop my milking. Granpa heard me laughing and knowed what happened and came in and run that ol’hog out. Grandpa said that ol’ hog tricked him and stole milk that way many a time.”

She had the complete attention of all those waiting as she finished her tale. Meanwhile, the man had taken advantage of his wife’s distraction to attempt to pick his nose. He was intent on the task, made more difficult by his tremor. Using both hands to guide his finger to his nose, he’d almost completed his mission when his wife whirled and caught him about to claim his prize. Disgusted, she slapped his hand away.

I loved the the old lady’s story while I felt bad the old man had to live that way. They were the of an age but their situations were so different.