Hello again Maple People,
Lately I've been communicating with my email buddy Don Friesen from Thomas, Oklahoma. Don has written his memoirs and I, lover of reading about other people's lives, said "I want to read 'em". I was immediately captivated by his farm beginnings in Thomas, beginnings not unlike my very own right here in East Montpelier. His vivid description of his youthful experiences with the Friesen family's dairy cows spiked my interest quicker'n the shake of Bessie's tail on a hot summer day. He writes:
"One of our chores was to go get the cattle each evening for milking. It was great fun to grab a cow’s tail when going up a creek bank to keep from having to climb it. However, we were careful to not let dad catch us doing this, because it caused the cows to run and this was bad for giving milk.
His description of the "tail-grabbing" experience brought me right back to 1960 and a twelve-year-old bringin' in our cows for night milking. Just like Don, the temptation was there for me to get a free ride off those huge gentle critters. My interest, though, was more than a cheap tow…I wanted to "ride-'em-cowboy"! Yup, the temptation to hop aboard always dangled in front of me like a tall glass of whole milk and milk, or lack thereof, was what made me learn to keep my secret from my dad as well.
My first ride was on Daisy, our top milker who didn't have a nervous bone in her blond Jersey body. I had gone out to the day pasture, rounded the herd up, and was nudging them back toward the barn when a sudden impulse found me launching myself up onto Daisy's back. The gentle beast looked back as if to say "you sure you want to do this?", but just kept trudging along. When the herd reached the barn entrance, my dad was there, arms crossed with a stern look on his face…"Burr" he said, "you didn't know but what you're doing can scare these cows and when cows get scared, they give less milk." He went on to explain that "milk" was what paid the bills and fed our family and if I ever did it again he'd have to punish me.
I went on to take a few more cow rides, most of them bucking bronco style…the average milk cow has no patience for boys hopping aboard. Although Dad might have guessed about some of my sudden bumps and bruises, he never let on that he knew about any of those subsequent rides!
We are not riding or milking, but we still enjoy them!
Don Friesen also wrote about being squirted in the eye with milk from a cow's teat, another farm boy caper that's older'n our hillside pastures. The universal introduction: "Hey c'mere…see that star in the end of the teat. Come closer…you can see it better." When some naive soul gets close enough, a sudden squeeze sends a healthy squirt of milk right into the bloke's eye! Another version of this trick can be done with a grub burrowed into a cow's back. Once the farm boy gets his unsuspecting target at point blank range, he squeezes the furry bump and out shoots a very slimy projectile. It always brought out an intense "EEEeeewwww" from the girls I was trying to impress…no wonder I was a late bloomer in the love department!
Don sure stirred my nostalgia with his mention of not only these pranks but things like one legged milking stools, torturous turning of cream separators, and building "tunnels, caves, mazes and hiding places" up in the hay mow. Sometimes hard days on our farm bring that age-old question to this sixty-six year old…why did I choose the life of a farmer? After a Don dose of nostalgia and a good night's sleep, however, I always wake up ready for another day as a farmer
PS: The countryside is bursting with peak foliage as I finish writing this column. We're getting lots of visitors to share it with and they're taking home lots of Morse Farm Pure Vermont Maple Syrup. We figure that's a way to make them happy times two…the best view in the world and the world's best maple syrup! If you can't make it to Vermont this year, how about going to morsefarm.com and ordering some of that "world's best"? My nephew Jake is here mailing and he'd be glad to put your name on one of the packages!