By Ellis Harms
My first job in life was holding the cow’s tail while my mother sat on a wooden box and milked the cow. There was whole line-up of cows stanchioned in the barn waiting to be milked by my mom and dad. My dad had rigged up a wire stretched from one end of the barn to the other with little wire twists behind each cow for hanging up their tails, but I was still ordered to hold the tail so it wouldn’t slash across my mom’s face while she milked – (my mom called it “sworping” across her face).
There I learned to sing harmony while my mother sang melody on “Silent Night” and “In the Garden.” I would read aloud to her from my Second Grade Reader. I was about seven years old. One time, the dog got hold of my book and tore it to shreds. I remember the trauma of telling that to my teacher at school the next day. She must have heard the story before. She didn’t say much.
When my mother finished milking a cow, she would weigh the milk on a little spring scale we had hanging there. Then she would dump the milk into a huge strainer we’d placed atop a ten gallon can awaiting delivery to Darigold. Later I learned to milk a cow and could boast having milked seven cows in a row.
Early on dark mornings in my teenage years, when we had to get the milking done before I went to school, I would dash through the dark, from my attic bedroom to the safety of the barn. Beginning when I was in the 8th Grade, I did all the milking of 20 or 24 cows with machines. Prior to machines, my mom, dad and I milked the string of cows by hand. My dad took care of feeding, pitching hay from the mow down to the cows and young stock. When I came into the barn early in the morning, my dad was already feeding. He always seemed happy and often was singing favorite hymns. One favorite song was, “Cheer up ye saints of God, there’s nothing to worry about, nothing to make you feel afraid, nothing to make you doubt. Remember Jesus never fails, so why not trust him and shout! You’ll be sorry you worried at all tomorrow morning.” My dad always seemed happy and cheerful, which in my usual grumpy state, I never understood. I do not remember him ever being angry, sullen or cross. His major control over me was in disappointment. I would do anything not to disappoint my dad.