Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Milk Factory

When I was growing up everyone tried to keep a cow fer their milk. Comin from a big family, a gallon of milk wouldn’t go through the house. We wanted our milk every meal and when we were between cows, we’d get it from the neighbors.
Some didn’t charge a dime cause they had more than they could use and they’d got milk from us before. The few that did, we never paid more than fifty cents a gallon. We’d leave an empty gallon jug and pick up a full one. I couldn’t even count how many gallons I’ve carried before.

In the summer we always went barefoot and after they paved the road I stumped my toes almost off. And it seemed to be my big toe that got most of the licks. It would just start to heal and it‘d happen again. One evening I was carrying a gallon of milk home and stumped it one time to many. The jug went flying and milk spilt all over the road. You’ve heard the ole sayin, “cryin over spilt milk” I just knew I was in hot water when I got home but what hurt me the most was knowin we wouldn’t have any milk to drink till the next day. We thought we couldn’t go a day without it. I was ready to gag at the thoughts of drinking that awful, powdered milk. That’s the reason daddy and mama always tried to keep a cow and we had several different ones over the years.

I remember this one ole cow we named Ole Bessie the most. She was always so gentle and anyone could’ve milked her. She’d just stand there chewin her cud and switching her tail back and forth.  But some of us never did learn to milk and some could care less. Since my oldest brother learned how to milk early on he wanted to be the one to do it all the time and we let him. He’d go out towards the barn and holler, “Suk Heff” (that’s cow language in our neck of the woods) and she’d come down through the pasture towards the barn just a trottin. He’d milk her so fast it’d make ya head swim. He used both hands, beat all we’d ever seen. He’d take time every now and then to squirt a little in the cat’s mouth sittin over in the corner waitin patiently. He’d be done before Ole Bessie even knew what hit her. Mama’d strain it through a white rag into a glass milk jug and put it in the frigerator to get cold. Before we got a frigerator we kept it in the spring house.
She’d churn some later fer buttermilk and that butter was the best I’ve ever eat. When it came time to churn, me and mama would trade off. She’d churn till her arms got tired and then me. We’d open that churn and ya could see that milk when it started curdling and the butter rising to the top. When it was done, mama would take it in and skim the butter off of the top and pour it into a mold and put it in the frigerator to chill. Ya talk about good eatin at the breakfast table the next morning, if there was any left after supper the night before. Daddy, mama and the others liked it with sweet molasses or jelly. I could eat it on a hot biscuit by itself. It was good smeared on anything, even new taters when they first came in. It never did have the chance to go fer cause we’d eat it fast as mama churned and drink the milk too. Sittin down to a big bowl of milk and bread fer supper is the finest eatin in the world. Daddy had to have buttermilk and bread. Us younguns didn’t care fer the buttermilk except to pump it as mama used to call it. She always said, uns younguns can pump more milk than two cows could give.

 And Ole Bessie sure could produce good milk till she got into the wild onions. Yep, every now and then she’d find a patch of wild onions in the pasture. They always came up in the early spring and I can still hear mama now when my brother walked through the door with the bucket of milk, “Take that milk to the hog pen and throw it in and get it outta this house now.“ Needless to say, those hogs sure did live in hog heaven as if they wasn’t fat enough.

I’ll never forget the evening my brother grabbed the milk bucket and headed towards the barn and we heard an awful commotion. Us younguns were all outside playin and daddy was over at the chopping block splittin the night’s wood fer the cook stove. Daddy dropped that axe and went trottin towards the barn, when out came the bucket wham bang, bang. Next came my brother runnin like the dickens with his cap in his hand. Daddy asked him what was going on and he just scratched his head (he always had that habit when he got excited)  and after he caught his breath he said, I don’t know, she’s never done me like that before. She just went crazy all of a sudden. I thought she was gonna kick me out the door. Daddy took off towards the barn really fast and we were all scared to death fer him. Everything was quiet, to quiet and we thought she’d done and killed daddy when he walked out and said come here son, I wanna show ya somethin. My brother was skittish about going back in there around that crazy cow but he mozed on in tryin to be brave. By that time we’d all got up the nerve to make it to the door and peep in. Daddy leaned down some and said, here’s the trouble. It seemed Ole Bessie had been in the briar thicket sometime during the day and scratched up the milk factory. When my brother grabbed it with both hands and started to milk, it was sore as the dickens and she went to kickin. He admitted he jumped back against the wall and stood till he could make his escape.

After that daddy took over the milkin fer a few days till the factory healed and my brother had gained enough courage to tackle it again. Then when he finally went back to milkin, he’d tell us siblins to stay away from the barn while he was milkin. We thought he was awful bosey fer his age till daddy told us the same. He said, “uns younguns stay away from the barn and let him do his job.” Not that we really cared one way or the other cause we loved drinkin the milk better than wrestling with Ole Bessie any day.

Daddy knew a lot about handlin cows and  knew how to doctor em when they got sick. Folks would come far and near to get daddy to come doctor their cow. He helped deliver many a young one too. The calves were bad to get the scours and he knew what to do for em. I never did rightly know how he became a cow doctor but he helped save many a milk factory. When we’d ask the only answer we ever got was, “ya learn early on in this life or you’re in a whole heap of trouble.”
 He also knew a lot about doctoring mules and horses. I vaguely remember him using a lot of natural medicine. Most of it probably was the same that folks used fer their own sickness. Back then nobody went to a doctor, they doctored their own self.

Now days people buy their milk and pay big prices fer it. It makes me appreciate Ole Bessie even more. Although, she’s long since kicked the bucket fer the last time and that good, ole milk and butter has played the hob. I know she’s bound to have received her grand reward along with all the others that quenched many a milk thirst by keeping the milk factory going.  She’s probably up there in some brair thicket in the green onions right now

                                                   © Susie Swanson, 2014


  1. This post is absolutely wonderful Susie!! Thank you!

  2. We never owned a cow when I was growing up, but the neighbors did. It was my youngest sister and me who was given the job to walk up to the neighbor's house with a pail and get a glass jar full of fresh milk to carry back in it. Gosh it seems like centuries a go now...thanks for sparking the memories with your wonderful post!

    1. Thank you Susie and for sharing your memories with me.

  3. Great memories, Susie! The part about the wild onions made me smile. Ha! :)

  4. Susie, as I've said before, we have a lot in common. I learned to milk when I was a young teen. I think I could still milk a cow! I remember letting the calf suck first, and I couldn't get it away from the cow so there was no milk for us that evening. I know how to churn milk to make butter; I have Mama's churn in fact. So, needless to say, I really enjoyed reading this! And I might add, I've never liked milk much. lol

    1. Thanks Charlotte. I know we do. I love your memories as well.

  5. Susie, I remember my mom saying they would call cows with Suk Heff...That is so funny. We never had a cow or milk most times. I remember have milk right out of the cow.Some lady brought some to our house once. Talk about butter gosh I could never drink that now. You kids had a hard life, but you had hard working parents too. Don't you think you are stronger for that hard life. Blessings, xoxo,Susie