Monday, September 30, 2013

Got milk?

Reading my fave mag mental_floss I come upon this fascinating factoid: President William Howard Taft had a pet cow. Her name was Pauline Wayne. She lived on the White House lawn and provided the household’s milk.

Not that remarkable for 1909, I suppose. It wasn't in 1945, either. That’s when we had Bessie in the backyard of the Methodist parsonage in Zionsville, Indiana.

Those were the days when congregations were hard pressed to support themselves, let alone pay a preacher. To supplement what they couldn't drop in the offering plate, it was common to hold “Pound Parties” at which each family would donate a pound of something, such as flour, butter, eggs, etc. Mother used to recall with tears in her eyes the sacrificial way their parishioners would surprise them with a good pounding.

But the most wonderful gift was Bessie, the gentle fawn-colored Guernsey who came to live with us. Daddy, having been raised on a farm, had no problems with her care. She was such a marvelous producer that Mother had ample surplus to churn into butter and culture into cottage cheese, which she sold to the community.

But then came the day when Daddy was at an out-of-town conference come milkin’ time. And Mother, being city bred, had no idea what to do. She did know that poor Bessie was bawling with an aching udder and Mother, who had nursed both us girls, was in full sympathy. It didn't take her long to give in to my older sister, 5 at the time, who was tugging on her apron insisting she knew how to milk Bessie.

And she did. She looked so small perched on that 3-legged milking stool, head pressed against the warm flank, her pudgy fingers precisely pulling, squeezing, and lifting at the teats. I can still see those long, dark brown finger curls hanging down her back over a red-checked pinafore, and hear the milk hitting the pail in thin but strong intermittent streams. It’s one of my most vivid toddlerhood memories.

I recall that Bessie held still for her until she grew comfortable enough to take a step toward her feed. Mom and I scrambled to scoot Sarah, pail and stool to the new position.

Wow – it’s been ages since I thought about that. Thanks, President Taft, for the memories…

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