Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Memories of Milking
"You can tell time by a farm, a day's worth of time, a year's worth. There's a particular kind of quiet on a farm in the morning, which isn't really morning the way other people think of it. It's still dark with just the smallest idea of black sky getting lighter around the edges, and unless there's a moon the only light comes from the bare bulb hanging like its own moon from the center of the barn ceiling. It's a place where it's just as easy to feel lost as it is to feel contented. I felt lost most of the time now, but I never said so, even to myself: in that same way I knew it was odd for a grown woman not to leave her own home, I knew it was odd for a teenage girl to feel like there was a big rattly empty space between her stomach and her heart. But it made me wonder whether other people felt the same way without showing it.
It was always warmer in the barn than it was outside because of all the cows crowding together, breathing and snorting and farting, making a fug that hung in the place like cigarette smoke over the poker game my father used to have once a month. Cows at dawn are different than cows at dusk. A farm in winter feels different than a farm in summer. The whole year passed in front of me on the farm. The cornstalks with yellow edges that meant summer was over and the classroom getting ready to close around you. The pumpkins of October that squatted where the yellow flowers sprouted on the vines in August. The mornings when you could hear the cattle complaining like a bunch of old men with tobacco throats and you knew, you just knew that it was February and their water through was frozen solid and you were going to have to go out there with an old shovel and beat a hole into the ice until it fell apart like a broken window."
Remember... Shooting streams of milk into the open mouths of waiting cats. Grabbing the milk bucket and moving just in time when the cow started to splash pee - or worse - or put her foot in the bucket. Crying over spilled milk when ole bossy did kick the bucket over just about the time I had it filled.
Remember... How at first the milk pinged on the bottom of the empty bucket then gradually whooshed as it filled the pail and how the rhythm of milking, the tranquility of the barn, the companionship of Mom being there only a cow or two or three away made it possible for me, unlike Mimi, to talk about feeling lost and the big rattly empty space between my stomach and my heart.