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Irons in the fire: A milk jug and a car

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 April 2020

I grew up on a diversified little outfit. Along with my uncle’s family, we ran a couple hundred range cows, a mink operation and a little dairy where we milked 30 or so cows.

When I was about 14, I got a few sows and became a hog farmer as well. We did just enough farming to grow most of the feed for the beef cows and the dairy. If it had the potential to make manure and lose money, we gave it a shot.

My uncle’s house was not quite a quarter-mile up the road from my house. In between our two houses was our little dairy and my grandparents’ house. I get back to that country about once every other year. That little 400-yard stretch now seems pretty small. When I was a kid sentenced to his chores, though, the 200 yards from my house to the milk barn stretched on for miles.

When I was a little kid, especially in the winter when the puddles were frozen over, it was the lure of the ice and the imaginary mandate in my child’s brain to crack said ice that delayed my timely arrival to feed the bottle calves. Later on, when I was an all-wise yet distracted and belligerent teenager, my attitude seemed to add several miles to a journey whose end already held the promise of no less than a stern look from my agitated father because I was already half-an-hour late.

One of the perks of the dairy was a guaranteed supply of whole milk to drink. Before we left the house to do the milking, we were supposed to peek in the fridge to see if we needed milk. We had a 1-gallon aluminum can with a handle and a lid that covered a four-and-a-half-inch opening at the top. That was the milk jug. If I forgot to take the milk jug at milking time, my mother would send me back up to the barn to get some milk – a pretty minor job that, if done without whining or complaint, might take 10 minutes to complete.

One night, when I was 12 or 13, my mother checked the fridge to find no milk. She asked me, then told me, then ordered me to go up the road to fetch some milk. In my usual and more-than-likely-less-than-congenial demeanor, I haggled with her about the mode of transportation for my milk-fetching trip. She told me to walk. I begged her to let me take the car, a 1970-something Ford Galaxy 500 sedan. In her wisdom of knowing how to pick her battles, she relented and handed me the keys.

I backed the car out onto the road and drove up to the barn. I opened the milk tank lid and, I’m sure in the most careful and sanitary of methods, dipped the milk jug into the tank and filled it to the top. I jumped back in the car and, ever so carefully of course, set the jug on the floor behind the driver’s seat. As I pulled onto the road off of the little hill where the barn sat, the milk jug tipped over and the lid, which I had obviously not adequately pushed down onto the jug top, toppled off, spilling a full gallon of milk on the carpeted floor of the car. I grabbed a towel from the parlor and soaked up the milk as best I could. I refilled the jug and dutifully returned home with my bounty.

Though I neglected to inform my mother of my mishap, I was ratted out a few days later by the telltale aroma of rotten milk in the car, a stench that stuck with the car for the remainder of its days. Surprisingly to me, my mother never really lit into me with a stern motherly scolding. I think she had a sneaky plan all along. Several years later, when I went off to college, my folks happily let me take the old smelly Galaxy 500 as my wheels. Believe me, it was a real chick magnet. Is it any wonder my future wife was a dairy farmer’s daughter who put herself through school milking cows at the university dairy? end mark

Paul Marchant
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