The ungentle cow
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
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: email@example.com