Farm & Ranch Living

Remember When

I did anything and everything to get out of milking—and it worked!

- HELEN HEAVIRLAND

She did every farm job she could to avoid milking duty.

One evening, as my older sister rushed to milk the cow before her fiance arrived, I realized I was next in line to be the milker, and Emma would be married in two weeks. Dread took over my 13-year-old life.

Milking wasn’t a job you did at your convenienc­e.

You did it every morning and evening, seven days a week, before school, church, parties, dates—you name it. No matter how cold it was outside, no matter how hot.

Then there was the scent. Emma didn’t always smell good after leaning her head against the cow’s hindquarte­rs, getting switched with a tail that had been who knows where, or even stepping in a fresh cow pie.

The barn fragrance was bad enough, but we had no running water for cleanup. In summer, we donned swimming suits and took soap to the irrigation pond; in winter, we heated water on the kitchen range and chased everyone else out of our one-room shack. Then we’d fill a metal washtub and scrunch down into it.

The days counted down quickly. Each time Emma headed to the barn, I felt sick to my stomach. The closer the wedding date, the sicker I felt. But then I came up with a plan.

The morning after the wedding, as soon as I finished my last bite of breakfast, I jumped up from the table and started cleaning the kitchen.

After Dad finished eating, he went outside. Minutes later he came through the back door, milk pail in hand. “Helen,” he called, then spotted me in the kitchen enthusiast­ically assisting Mom. “Oh, you’re busy,” he muttered. He stood there for what seemed like an eternity. From the corner of my eye, I could see he was thinking. My heart pounded.

Then, without a word, Dad turned, pulled the door closed behind him and disappeare­d. A little later he was back with a full pail of milk.

That afternoon, I made it a point to help Mom can peaches. Somewhere in the middle of 50 quarts, Dad arrived with the milk bucket. He took in the collection of processed jars, the six waiting boxes of fresh peaches, the rows of full jars ready to be processed, and the steam rising from the canner on the stove. He stood there for another eternal moment, then turned and went out to milk the cow.

Over and over, Dad came looking for me at milking time. Though I was always a good worker, Mom had probably never had such eager help. Each time, Dad walked away with the milk bucket and did the job.

Was it two weeks? A month? I don’t remember. But in time, Dad quit looking for me. From that point on, for as long as we owned a milk cow, Dad did the milking.

Decades later, Dad was in an assisted living facility. We visited as best we could, given his advanced Parkinson’s. One summer afternoon in the backyard gazebo, we talked about farm memories. Dad grinned; his heart still lived on the land. Then I finally confessed that my over-the-top helpfulnes­s after Emma’s wedding had been a ploy to get out of milking. He chuckled. His eyes sparkled. He patted my knee and slurred, “But you did everything else.”

 ??  ?? From left to right, with sister Hazel in front: brother Frank, Dad,
Mom, Emma and Helen
From left to right, with sister Hazel in front: brother Frank, Dad, Mom, Emma and Helen

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