The un­gen­tle cow

The Compass - - PUZZLERS -

I grew up in the com­mu­nity of Branch, where my fa­ther was a fish­er­man and, out of ne­ces­sity, a part­time farmer. We had a veg­etable gar­den, the cus­tom­ary cel­lar and a sta­ble which housed a horse, some sheep, hens and a cow. The cow, ah yes the cow, therein lies my story.

My fam­ily, and al­most ev­ery­one in the com­mu­nity, kept a cow or two to help aug­ment the food sup­ply. Milk­ing the cow was a daily chore, and some­times the re­spon­si­bil­ity of us chil­dren. Ex­tract­ing the milk was done by hand, and let me tell you it was no easy task. There is an art to cow-milk­ing. A cer­tain pro­fi­ciency is nec­es­sary for the “squeeze-pull” pro­ce­dure, and if one ex­e­cutes the act in­cor­rectly, the stub­born bovine will flatly refuse to de­liver her prod­uct. How­ever, if I must say so my­self, at the age of 12 or 13, I had per­fected the tech­nique quite ef­fi­ciently and could coax a buck­et­ful of milk from the large ani- mal in jig time. As long as she stood still, the chore was a piece of cake.

Our cows al­ways co-op­er­ated and noth­ing un­to­ward ever oc­curred un­til my fa­ther pur­chased a fine big red and white Jersey from a farmer in Con­cep­tion Bay South. The cow’s name was Biddy but she should have been called Giddy Biddy be­cause if there ever was a can­tan­ker­ous cow, it was Biddy. She never wanted to be pet­ted; she hated get­ting milked; she broke out of the meadow at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity. I don’t think she even wanted any­one look­ing at her. My grand­mother hit the nail on the head when she said, “She’s got a bit of the devil in her.”

My fa­ther was the first to at­tempt to milk the new­comer. Equipped with two alu­minum buck­ets, one for the seat and the other to hold the whole­some white liq­uid, he was sent tum­bling arse over ket­tle at the first tug on her ud­der. He went one way, the buck­ets flew into the air and Biddy bolted to­ward the meadow. I can still hear the uproar as she mooed loudly, her cow bell clink­ing ram­bunc­tiously as my star­tled fa­ther yelled and shook his fist at her. Of course, there was no fresh milk for sup­per that evening.

My mother, who had not wit­nessed the escapade in the yard, told my fa­ther that per­haps he had been too rough with the cow, “Let Ma­rina milk her tomorrow, John. She is bet­ter at han­dling a cow.” And with that vote of con­fi­dence, I

ED­U­CA­TION

was given the un­godly task of tam­ing the shrew. Sub­du­ing that hel­lion, how­ever, was not to be.

Ty­ing her to the fence, squash­ing her in her pound, milk­ing her at dawn, at dusk and at noon . . . noth­ing worked. She was talked to, sang to and if mem­ory serves me right, I re­cited poetry to her. On the ad­vice of a very ex­pe­ri­enced farmer from down the lane, my par­ents sent to the main­land for an item called a span­cel. This in­ven­tion, when at­tached to a cow’s hind legs, was guar­an­teed to ren­der the cow mo­tion­less. Alas, it had the op­po­site ef­fect on the cranky Jersey. She gar­nered so much strength that the hap­less span­cel burst in so many pieces there wasn’t enough of it left to send back to the com­pany for a re­fund.

And so it went for the whole sum­mer. Biddy was so ill-tem­pered and fid­gety that, on good days, we were lucky to pro­cure a quar­ter of a bucket of milk. Even I, the ac­com­plished cow-milker, could not break the devil cow. When the fall rolled around, the fate of the stub­born cow was de­cided. She was loaded aboard a pickup truck and sold to a butcher in Long Pond. Maybe it was my imag­i­na­tion, but to this day I con­tend that as she dis­ap­peared down the lane, the look in her eyes was one of de­fi­ant sat­is­fac­tion. She mooed bois­ter­ously as if to say “I got the bet­ter of you.”

Sur­pris­ingly, I missed the old crit­ter for awhile. The cow that re­placed her was very docile. She pro­vided us with no ex­cite­ment and to tell the truth, I can’t even re­call what we named her.

— Ma­rina Gam­bin is a re­tired ed­u­ca­tor who writes from Pla­cen­tia, but grew up in the com­mu­nity of Branch. She can be reached by email at the fol­low­ing: mari­nagam­bin@per­sona.ca

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