HOLY COW! Memories of the farm

close up of human hands pulling down teats of a full cow´s udder

By Pat Kovsky-Dotson

I never owned a cow!
I never milked a cow,
But I tried just once!

When I get to thinking back through time, I remember that my parents never owned a cow. Then, just how did I have so many cow-related events in my life? After all, I was at the beginning only a very little kid.

It was because my grandfather had a commercial dairy farm in middle Georgia when I was young. Somehow the cows were my delight because at the time, I lived in town and had never before seen cows in such abundance.
My first remembrance was taking a trip with my parents to visit the farm. We started sometimes before daylight and then had to travel through every town, traffic light and even the City of Atlanta. We were headed to Eatonton, Georgia for the time of my life.

As soon as we got through Atlanta, my sister and I would question my dad as to how long it would be and would we get there in time to ride the big truck to the cow barn. At the time, this was more of an excitement than the cows.

After what seemed a lifetime, we finally arrived at the farm and my uncle was waiting for us for our trip down a sandy little road and across the main highway to the barn.

The barn was huge to us, and being only for milking we named it the cow barn. As I think back, it was amazing that it had concrete floors and was clean as could be. Each cow had a name and a stall they knew to enter each time, and upon entering, the stall closed around their neck, and then it was milking time!

Prior to this, the cows knew when to come from the pasture to the barn and if one delayed, my grandfather would call, “Come on cow-w-w-w-w’s” or send the dog so they all would assemble for milking.

Back in that day there were no milking machines, but just men on a stool, talking to the cows and it was done manually. They would say, “Back your leg old sol,” or “Stop switching me with your tail.”

Before long the bucket was filling up, and they would move on to another cow.

When it was all done, it was strained into a tall metal milk can. When all the cans were loaded it went into town to the creamery where it was processed with other dairies and sold commercially.

To keep the milk cold, the creamery made ice, and this is where people purchased huge blocks of ice to use at home out of their oldtime ice box. Nothing was better than a cold glass of tea or lemonade with a huge chunk of ice off the block.

When I was about 6 or 8 years old, I was playing around the center of the cow barn while the milking was being done. One of my favorite cows was “Ole Red.” She was in the first stall with about 20 or more beside her lining up both sides of the barn.

Temptation got the best of me, so without saying a word, I got a bucket and sneaked in beside “Ole Red.” Before I could sit down on the stool, she had kicked me and slapped me with her tail! My uncle came running and retrieved me from the event. He told me that you had to touch the cow, speak to her letting her know you were coming! Who would have thought this? I was sneaking up because I knew I should not be around that big ole cow! Never cared too much for Ole Red after that!

I’m about to say that I did not like to drink milk, but I would indulge in buttermilk. I knew where regular milk came from, but as a kid, I assumed about buttermilk.

On a visit to the farm, I was playing around in the kitchen while my grandmother was preparing a meal. She asked me what I wanted to drink, and I said, “Buttermilk.” She said, “I do not have any more buttermilk because I did not have time to churn today.” I said, “Well, Mammaw, the men are milking at the barn right now. Just tell Joe to milk you some out of the buttermilk cow.” Well, that brought on laughter and explanations about the appearance of buttermilk. I sometimes wonder if I thought they had a chocolate milk cow!

I have seen my grandmother sit or stand over a huge crock of milk with a dasher in her hand, pumping it up and down. I could not figure out what was going on until she quit and took out this great big chunk of butter. She washed it, worked it together before placing it in her wooden mold. Another miracle to me when out came a round or square chunk of butter with a flower on top! It is a joy to me that I have one of her old butter molds probably a hundred years old.

I must have been good at assuming because another funny time happened once. It was cold wintertime, and we had arrived at the farm about suppertime.

My grandmother had a huge pan of cornbread cooking in the ashes of the fireplace. Of course, I had never seen this before. When it was done, she asked me if I would eat cornbread and milk for supper as they cooked the main meal at noon feeding the hired hands. I was hungry and never gave it much thought and told her that I would.

When suppertime came, we sat down at the table to a big bowl of cornbread and milk. I graciously ate mine, and it must have been good. When I finished, I pushed my bowl back and said, “Now, Mammaw, where is my supper?” Kids say the darnedest things!

I must have survived all the cow episodes down on the farm, and when I was 10 years old, my grandparents moved to another farm only five miles from our house. It was smaller but had all of the farm atmosphere. This was a great retiring place near the family.

My grandfather was always a farmer at heart, so here he came with a cow, mule, chickens, and anything else that he was accustomed to having. So, let the episodes begin!

Being 10 or more, I thought I was big enough to do anything and everything. I never tried to milk again, but I watched my aunt as she milked beside a regular barn. This didn’t take long and the milk was to be used for family only. Or was it?

It was during World War II and supplies were short, so they started a milk delivery business with the excess milk from more than one cow.

Preparation was different at home, and I thought I had to be part of it when school was out in the summer. I stayed at the farm a great part of the time, because that was where the action was, and I am a country girl.
After my aunt had strained the milk, it had to be prepared for delivery. Back then, there was no electricity at the farm, which meant no refrigeration, only a cellar, so we had to hurry.

Remember the glass milk bottles with the goose neck and a top made out of a round cardboard disk? Well, this was how the milk got from the cow at the farm to the homes of our customers.

I fussed to get to wash the milk bottles that had been returned the day before. I played in the water awhile and then decided I knew how to put the cardboard tops on the bottles. See, I’m a country girl at heart! Somehow, the task was completed and ready for early delivery.

Not only was it wartime, but the TVA was building a dam near us, and in town there was a huge lot filled with trailers for families of the workers. These were our customers!

My uncle lived nearby and had a truck. These prepared bottles were placed in the back, and I placed myself in the cab of the truck. I was the delivery girl at every stop. The amount of bottles at every house was memorized and delivered. They always had the empty bottles out for our pickup. I thought I was a real somebody!

When this was finished, we would drive down the street to a store we supplied. I could not wait to get there, because I was rewarded with a coke or an ice cream cone, while my uncle talked and laughed with the clerks. Wonder how much they got for a quart of milk. Yes, you had to bring a bottle back before you got your milk.
The milk was safe in the homes and store because they had refrigeration. There was no such thing as homogenizing nor even pasteurizing.

When I think of today’s generation, I assume they never give it a thought about where their milk comes from except from the store.

I often wonder if they think there are buttermilk and chocolate milk cows.

Entering a supermarket, you find several brands of milk with many variations of flavors. Lately, you have a choice of almond, oat, and other kinds of things made into milk. Along with these, you find several kinds of butter and buttermilk. Probably just as good, but never as much fun as in the old days with the original ways.
If cows knew all of this new stuff, I wonder what they would think?

They would probably be like me and not like it. And, too, they probably would not like the fact that I don’t like “sweet milk” as it used to be called. Of course, I like ice cream frozen hard as a brick, and creamery butter that melts fast into a baked potato.

I have had an early encounter with cows and milk and not only was it an education, but a fun experience. Maybe it was the riding in the truck to the cow barn, or it could have been jumping out of the truck to make my deliveries.

Anyway, now, instead of saying “Come on cows-s-s-s-s-s-s,” I’ll just say “Bring on the buttermilk for cooking, the creamery butter for smearing, and the ice cream for enjoying!. You can have the ‘sweet milk!’”