Always chore time in bleak midwinter

January.

It is a word filled with all sorts of juxtapositioning emotion. It is a new start. It is a sure bet that the holiday hoopla is over for yet another year, like it or not. It means more money required as the slow grind to the tax man, beggar man and thief all stand with open hand. It also means frosty cold weather.

I awoke this morning after a long and complex dream of winter morning from long ago. We plugged away at the typical farm chores: milking cows, feeding calves, milking parlor clean-up.

Then my dream turned in to a nightmare as we were reminded it was the day to haul out the ashes from the cellar.

Winter’s chill

My earliest memories include waking to the chill of an upstairs bedroom in a very old house, sometimes so cold we could see our breath. The wind whistled around the old windows so badly that the curtains would rustle a bit.

We would awaken in January, grateful for the new, warmer pajamas that we opened on Christmas. When we threw back the covers, no time was spent dawdling in the bedroom. Instead, we grabbed our barn clothes and headed to the downstairs bathroom (our one and only) or stood over the floor register to warm up, and then bundled up and headed for the barn.

To the barn

My first job consisted of checking all the calves to be sure they were bright-eyed and clean-tailed. Any sign of scours had to be reported to Dad right away. I was reminded recently that Dad once named me the best calf raiser this side of the Mississippi, a title I carried with great pride.

My second job was to check the temperature gauge on the bulk milk tank before, during and after milking to be sure it was cooling properly. His assignment made me feel pretty dang important.

After parlor clean-up, we had a quick breakfast.

Ash day

Somehow, my Pekingese sensed when it was hauling-out ashes day, and she perched herself on the back of the brown couch so she could supervise us from the living room window. She had once come out to help us and decided she hated the job as much as we did. She never failed to watch us from that window, though, probably to make sure we survived.

Someone had to scoop the gray powdery ash from the bottom of the coal furnace, dumping it in to buckets. This is possibly the worst job known to man. The sooty ash lingered in the air, choking us in to coughing fits.

We forced ourselves to run in to the dim cellar, grab a full bucket of that weightless ash, and high-tail it out to the driveway where we were to spread the cinders. It helped fill up ruts and gave our old car a bit of traction in the icy snow of winter.

I dreamed I was Cinderella in the soot factory, certain that one day my prince would come, despite being filthy with coal ash and cow manure. It was nothing a little bit of Ivory soap couldn’t cure!

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

One Comment

  1. Vicki says:

    Judy,
    Had to take a moment with 2014 starting tomorrow and tell you how much I appreciate your column! You talk about country living that I still dream of doing. A cow and pig are on my “to do” list for this year. Gotta go, time to spread ashes on the drive.
    God bless,
    Vicki

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