Don't ever buy a birthday present for your wife without first thinking of the consequences of that purchase.
In a brief weak moment, I bought an old-fashioned cream separator at an auction sale. The price was right and I thought maybe Phyllis might like to have one as a memento of her youth.
When I finally got the thing home (I scratched up the pickup bed and almost undid my hernia-hemstitching in the process) I discovered forthwith that I had made a poor choice of gift. Like giving Brillo pads at a wedding or Denture Crème for a lady's birthday.
Fortunately for me, two agrarian delights which I somehow managed to escape in growing up were milking and cream separating. Not so Phyllis! When I drove into the yard with the present I had so thoughtfully acquired for her, she gave me that woebegone look of a cocker spaniel and proceeded to tell me that she NEVER wanted to see the underside of a cow or turn a cream separator AGAIN.
As she is wont to do, she proceeded to elaborate on both subjects. I suggested she write her own column about her experiences on the farm. We could call it "Phyllisophically Speaking" or maybe "One Thing or an Udder," but she cut me off coolly and went on with her recitation.
I heard sad tales of her pioneering days when she trudged through the snow in the pre-dawn darkness, pail in hand, enroute to the twice daily ritual in the cow stall. I shed a sympathetic tear as she related the intimate details of the drudgerous task.
It tore at my heartstrings to hear how a 10-year-old girl hobbled the old Leopard Cow, a cantankerous animal, tied down the tail so she wouldn't be slapped in the face and then mounted the unsteady two-legged stool to begin the production process.
First though, the bovine faucets had to be cleaned off and then the squeezing and pulling began. That part, Phyllis said, wasn't so bad because the warmth from the cow heated up chilled fingers and adding Bag Balm had a soothing effect. Holding a large bucket between youthful knees (garbed in long black stockings) was an arduous ordeal, especially as the pail got heavier with each jet-like squirt.
The morning sun glistened through the frosty air as the three milkers (Phyllis, her father and sister Marie) finished , rose from their milk stools, fed lingering cats and bawling calves and pitched steaming manure outside the door.
But was that the end? There was even worse to come!
The buckets of foaming liquid were toted to the milk house and dumped into the separator as the incessant cranking ensued. Once the centrifugal action took over the turning was easy, and finally rich cream trickled out of the spigot.
I tried not to let Phyllis see me touch a handkerchief to my eyes as she came to the climax of her heart-rending saga: washing the separator when no running water was available.
It seemed the infernal machine broke down into eight million parts and each had to be washed to be ready for the next milking. And the skimmed milk hauled to the slop barrel for the hogs.
By then, my frau continued, it was time for the rickety school bus to arrive and Phyllis and Marie had to run up the road a quarter of a mile with lunch buckets and books, replacing milk pails in their tired hands that still had a faint hint of barnyard even after diligent scrubbing.
They worried too, about the aroma in their hair where heads had pressed up against the flanks of the cows. No showers or spray-on deodorants — mercifully their peers didn't seem to mind because almost everybody else smelled the same!
By the time she reached this stage of her story, I was sobbing uncontrollably as I shared vicariously in Phyllis's past. I was so shaken, in fact, that I even poured my own milk for lunch. After all, that poor gal had been through too much already!
© 2009 Robert F. Karolevitz