Just the other day, I had the chance to talk with a life-long friend who is now our rural mail carrier.
“Remember that old barnyard stationery we used to leave notes on?” John asked. “Man, we had a lot of fun with that at milking time!”
An antiquated spiral notebook turned up while we were going through the final bunch of boxes that had been in storage. It looked so outdated, that my first instinct was to put it on the burn pile.
Something about it made me take a second look. I am so glad I did. For me, it is better than finding a time capsule buried in the ground.
Inside, my dad’s handwriting and sense of humor jumped off the pages. It was the notebook we kept in the dairy barn as a way of communicating with one another from one milking to the next, and it makes me laugh out loud to read some of the zany things we shared. I wish I had held on to more of these, most of which would make absolutely no sense to anyone but a dairy farmer.
“Definitely a cow in heat,” John wrote. “Possibly more than one. Probably a black and white one.”
Dad wrote back, “You don’t get an A-plus for this, John. We need to send you to detective school to hone your skills.”
John became a great right-hand man in my family’s Holstein dairy herd about the time I was flying the coop. There were a couple of younger guys helping with the evening milking and chores, and John and Dad would leave instructions for Bobby and Tim, who were brothers, in this notebook.
When I told John I held on to one of these notebooks, he says he still chuckles every time he thinks about our barnyard stationery notes.
“Pudgy in shed, finally out of the Doc Smith pen. Put her in tank tonight. John gives you boys and ‘A’ for bedding calves, but an ‘F’ for hutch bedding. See if you can get an ‘A’ for free stalls,” Dad writes.
Several notes were left on “Annie”, a high-producing Holstein who suddenly went off feed, prompting a note from Doc Smith.
“I think Annie has indigestion only. Treated her with indigestion pills. Milk is still OK.”
Several days in a row, notes were left that Annie still not eating.
“Gave Annie 4 of the Doc Smith pills,” one note reads. “Pudgy ate good, milking great. John still uglier than yesterday!”
After someone took the time to scratch through that last line, another was written.
“Why the heck wasn’t calves at hutch bedded last night? Turn out the upstairs barn light every night still. Either do things right or be shipped to Iran.”
The time frame of this particular notebook would have been the late 1970s, when Iran was constantly in the news, and not for its vacation destination points.
John, who was busy with his own farm, and obviously trying hard to keep things done correctly, wrote, “Now listen real good, I’m going to try to tell you how to feed new weaned calves, Bob or Tim.”
He leaves specific instructions, then adds, “I got down plenty of hay and straw from the mow. In the morning I should find things bedded down real good and 1 regular bucket plus a 5 gallon bucket of cow feed waiting for me.”
In another handwriting, Tim posted, “I noticed John didn’t put the handle on the new broom!”
John writes, “New broom ready to go. Need instructions on how to work it? Water the weaned calves or get your ears cut off.”
On the next page, John leaves a little test. “How much grain are you feeding weaned calves?” with blanks to be filled in.
The next day he writes, “This is not very hard to do, all you have to do it get a pen and write down a number. You do know how to count, don’t you?”
Tim writes, “I can count higher than you and I can spell better too. Mary Kristmas.”
One note reads, “Tell me everything I need to know about feeding silage.”
My dad writes, “Feed up to chain twice. Don’t turn your back on silo. Conveyor might stall. Run conveyor a bit before starting silo. Leave me a note on anything I need to know. I’ll stop here on my way home.”
The next entry: “Since you said we could write anything, we figured a big raise would be the best thing to write about. Heck, everybody knows that farmers can afford it! I’m sure John will agree.”
John writes, “Dang it, Bob, can’t you read anymore? I told you yesterday to bed down the weaned calves. Put two bales in that pen and shake it out good. It really isn’t that hard if you’re not too lazy.”
The very next entry, Bob writes, “January 30: Pick on John Day.”
Dad writes, “You boys ought not to pick on John like that. John works under extremely poor conditions. You see, John has to work with the Boss. And you guys know that is H___. Reason John can’t spell is cause the days they taught spelling, he went to a skate board contest.”
My brother writes, “Dear John Juan: I thought I would tell you that I stood over Bobby with a whip and a stock cane and made sure he bedded the weaned calves. He uses two bales but still did a half job of it. I tied the loose calf right across from the other one being treated with powders. She didn’t like that one bit. That’s all she wrote.”
“Since it was raining I could tell real easy the fencer was working good!” John writes.
Bobby responds, “Tell me, how did it feel? p.s. don’t leave out any good parts.”
My dad writes, “Bobby forgot to close milk tank. Not going to make the place show a profit that way.”
The final notation in the book, in my dad’s distinctive handwriting, “Tim is a hard worker.”
In the margin, John scrawled, “That’s good for a morning joke!”