Cow Tales

Every spring, my mother bought a cow with the plan to butcher it in the fall. We didn’t have a farm, but we lived in the country on what used to be a farm. My mother chose a cow that would be butchered come fall because of her age. We milked the cow all summer long (well, every one of my sisters did).  Mama made butter from the cream of that milk.  In the winter, beef roasts and hamburger meals graced our kitchen table, all of these products from that cow.

The cows always came from another farmer in the community – one who cared about this widow and probably sold the cow for a lot less than she was worth. There was only one problem with these cows: they were not used to being milked by hand.  I’m here to tell you that, while you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, you can teach a cow to be milked by hand – usually.


When they arrived in our pasture, the cows had to learn what it meant to be milked by hand. Sometimes the former owner visited our place for several milkings just to keep the cow calm while my mother or an older sister sat on a one-legged stool to squirt milk into that milk bucket. What a gift those farmers gave us! Usually, in time, the cow and  my mother’s blood pressure settled down and when milking time came, our cow trotted up the  hill to find the feed in the trough and stand still while she was milked.


One cow, however, was the exception.  Rebellious and spiteful, she kicked and fought each milking. One day I went along to the pasture to lend emotional support to my sister Rhoda.  I was smart enough to stay outside the fence while the cow endured the milking. Just as she was finishing, Rhoda reached to pull the milk bucket out from under the cow.  This time, the cow decided enough was enough. With a deliberate kick of her leg, she upset the entire contents of the milk bucket onto the ground and ran down the hill.

Let me tell you, it was the wrong thing for this cow to do.

The cow failed to reckon with Rhoda’s temper, for Rhoda promptly ran down the hill after her and grabbed her tail.  Then, wasting not a minute, Rhoda dragged that poor animal up the hill by the tail, both of them walking backward all the way to the top of the hill.  What a sight!

It was one of those you-had-to-see-it-to-believe-it moments.  I was absolutely no help because I was doubled over with laughter.  Rhoda proceeded to pull that cow to the respective spot and placed the milk bucket under her once more.  How there was any milk left in that udder is beyond me, but Rhoda managed to squeeze some more milk from it while the cow stood perfectly still. She stood there meekly as if to say, “I won’t ever do that again.”  She never did.

Alas, a few days later, Rhoda took a blanket and library book to the same cow pasture. She stretched out on her blanket next to the creek and read to her heart’s content.  When it was time to head back to the house, Rhoda picked up her blanket and library book and meandered through the pasture. Suddenly, she met up with the same cow.  This time, the cow was not docile.  She kicked up her heels and ran after Rhoda.

In an attempt to pick up speed, Rhoda dropped the blanket and ran. Looking back, she saw the cow gaining ground.  In desperation, she dropped the library book and continued to run, reaching the fence and climbing over the gate before the cow arrived.  I think it was that incline on the same hill that saved Rhoda; she climbed that hill quickly while the cow trudged along behind.

The blanket and book stayed in the pasture for a few days until Rhoda found the nerve to tell us what had happened.  Since none of us were affected or would be responsible to pay for the library book if it was damaged, we thought it was hilarious.

Once again, I escorted my sister to the pasture, where she found both the blanket and the library book, practically unscathed. This time, the cow left us alone.


It wasn’t until later that I realized what a gift our mother gave us.  Not the cows, mind you, but the lessons.

Our place was  not equipped to keep cattle over the snowy, blustery winters, but we could handle a cow in the summer; so we did. Mama could make butter from the cream, and she did. There is nothing like home-churned butter over fresh out of the oven homemade bread! Come fall, in preparation for winter, Mama had the cow slaughtered for meat for the winter.

Instead of choosing federal assistance, my mother did what she could to provide for us. Those lessons of hard work and paying what we owe are still with us today. Lessons of perseverance and not giving in – or giving up – are a part of her children because she modeled that in the seasons of life.  One of the ways she did it was through those cows.

You might not have cows in a pasture at your  house, but you’re teaching as you live life daily. When you think those values dear to you might be missed by your offspring, I  hope you’ll remember this story.  Keep milking your cows and keep churning butter,  for your example will teach more than any words can say.


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