I dreamt last night

Tuesday, January 02, 2007
That I was at Manderly again...no, different dream different woman. I am not Daphne Du Maurier. I dreamt I was on the farm.

It was cold. Like in the winter of '82 and everything was frozen. We had to drain the oil out of the vacuum pump and heat it so that the pump would run. The oil had tried to freeze. The cows had frost bite on the tips of some of their teets and so we could not use water. I would rub their udders gently but firmly to bring down the milk and I would watch the cow's breathing make mist and sometimes something like ice chrystals in the cold air. The world was a meat locker.

At night I would lay and listen to the wind blowing outside, rattling the stiff dead limbs of the trees and I would wonder how my animals could survive. Before daylight I would rise from my bed put on my 8 layers of clothes and my insulated boots and trudge [that is the only word for it] down to the milk barn.

First thing, turn on the coffee maker. Sit up the milkers, turn on the compressor and the vacuum pump. Make sure everything was working.

Call up the cows. That was easy. They would follow me to hell and back if I had a five gallon bucket in my hand. In the winter often as not they were still in the barn. The air smelled of cold, manure and ammonia as well as the saw dust we used to bed the stalls. They would stand in the holding pen and there were always the girls that just had to be first. They would jostle each other like impatient children to be number one getting through that big old door into the milk parlor. It was a stanchion set up. That meant I stood on the same level with the cows, unlike a pit parlor.

I fed them in the parlor so there was no problem getting them in there. The problem was trying to get one through the door at a time. Except for the laggers of course. In all things there will be laggers.

I would throw the strap over the backs of the cows. Some people called these straps sursingles. They had eyelets in them from which I hung the old fashioned ten pound milkers. {For years my right arm would be larger than my left.} I would clean the udder and bring down that milk and squeeze out a little of the first milk, dirty from the teet and let it go down the drain. Then I would milk the cow. Every day, neither rain nor sleet.nor blizzard nor death in the family would stop a milking..

In that cold winter the calves suffered most. I kept them in huts facing the southeast. I would take them large bottles filled with warm milk replacer and they would suck hard on that bottle, their bodies trembling with excitement and cold and they would prance. I loved it when they pranced.

I miss them. I never imagined that I would but I do. I will never feel any closer to a human being than I felt to those animals as I lay in bed at night and listened to the winter wind howl and prayed that when morning came they would have survived the long cold night.

9 comments:

Skookumchuk said...

What a great memory - and a wonderful story.

When my grandfather's brother came out West as a young man, he built himself a sod house and during one blizzard brought his six horses inside so they wouldn't freeze, covered them with the blankets he had, and kept himself warm through the night by chopping wood. Pretty rough.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Thank you.

chuck said...

Good post, Terrye.

Syl said...

I was tearing up by the end of this one, Terrye. Odd, but I miss your cows too and I never even met them.

terrye said...

syl:

You would have liked them. They were kind of dumb and smelly, but let me say this about a cow. They do only good. There is nothing bad about a cow.

vnjagvet said...

That should be part of a novel or, at least, a novelette, Terrye.

Wonderful imagery.

terrye said...

vnjagvet:

A friend of mine told me that she kept looking in bookstores for something I wortle. I laughed. Ilack discipline and talent. One needs one or the other other.

Seneca the Younger said...

Terrye, honey, you ain't missin the talent.

I'd submit this to NPR --- I wouldn't be surprised if they use it.

Buddy Larsen said...

Jeez--what a story. I'm still shivering. I remember dairying--and I remember that winter.
I wasn't dairying yet at that time, but had just moved to the hill country, and had just taken a flyer on two dozen head of Santa Gertrudis, and so didn't go with wife & kid to Christmas with my folks in Amarillo, staying home instead to keep the old place unfrozen and my investment fed & watered.

The stock pond had frozen over, which was such a novelty that I wanted a photo for the others who wouldn't see it otherwise. But I had kept putting it off, and came the day the temp rose above freezing for the first time in a week, and I knew I had to hurry before the ice got too weak to hold my 3-wheeler, with which earlier in the week I'd aready been doing donuts on the pond, and which I wanted to use in the photo as a prop to show the thickness of the ice--which is nearly a once-in-a-lifetime weather-happening around here.

So after stomping around a little to make sure the ice was still stout enough, I drove out onto the middle of the pond, parked, backed away, snapped a few shots, then started back to the machine.

Heard the ice-cracking sound underneath just as I was reaching for the handlebars.

Yep, next instant, Honda, camera, me, were all bobbing, 100' from land, in 10' deep icewater, alone and without a soul in earshot.

And somehow nothing I tried would get me out of the icewater and back onto the ice. All I could do was break off another and another chunk of ice every time I tried to heave up & out.

The icewater was plenty energizing though, and I somehow broke ice back to dry land, and stripped off the ton of sodden insulated overalls and lace-up Wolverines that had tried to drown me.

Ruined the camera and the pics, though the balloon tires had floated the 3-wheeler and saved it. I remember thinking, how heroic, having your family come home to find you floating deader'n a mackerel in the damn stock pond.

Dumbass sure can grab you in unfamiliar weather--that was the lesson, I guess.