Can friends survive milking parlor?

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Dairy milking parlor/Farm and Dairy file photo
(Farm and Dairy file photo)

It was always interesting inviting a friend to come spend a day or two because you never really knew the strength of a friendship until a girl took a turn in the milking parlor.

Friends who could take on a challenge of any make or model suddenly might fall to pieces when the flick of a tail left a trail on a T-shirt.

“What? Is? This?” my best friend in all of junior high asked, her voice an octave higher than I’d ever heard it.

For a first-time milker, we often showed them the ropes that could keep them on the sidelines if that’s where they wanted to be. We had our own language, sort of short-cut sayings, to get certain jobs accomplished in our old straight 8 parlor.

“Catch the auger” meant that the grain system needed to be turned on, filling the individual bins inside the parlor. Each cow got a full crank of grain when coming in to get washed and checked over, then a second crank before the milker went on.

One particular night, the friend who was supposed to be flipping the auger on seemed to have come up missing. After I washed the cows and put the strip cup to use on a couple of them, I went in search of the lost helper.

Standing outside, trying to scrub the crud from an old shirt I had loaned her, was my typically calm, sweet girlfriend.

“You don’t need to worry about that shirt. We just got started….it’s going to get worse than THAT,” I said, nodding to the mess on the shirt.

“It’s going to get worse than THIS????” my friend shrieked.

“HOW do you stand it? WHY do you do it? I thought it was going to be fun. It’s not fun!” she announced, decisively.

She repeated it, just in case I wasn’t fully aware that milking twice a day was not fun.

I told my friend she didn’t have to stay in the milking parlor. She could help my sister throw down bales for the night feeding, or just take a break until the milking was over and then help me feed calves.

She opted, instead, to walk to the house and call her mother to come get her. Her mom wouldn’t let her get in the car until she took a shower and put on fresh clothing.

You win some, you lose some.

I didn’t believe I could find a friend who saw the fun and fascination in the process of increasing milk production in a favorite first-calf heifer over the course of two or three following years. It took a well-traveled girl from Switzerland named Christine to finally share the excitement and fun of it all.

A foreign exchange student during my senior year of high school, Christine found our made-up terms for things needing done in the barn incredibly interesting.

“I have never heard a turn of phrase like that one….how did you come up with it?” asked this girl who already knew seven languages fluently.

One evening, as I brought more cows in to the parlor, something happened and I wasn’t sure what. I heard what I hoped was a happy laugh, but I knew that might be wishful thinking.

“Is everything OK?” I asked after we closed stanchions.

“Oh yes! It is more than OK!” Christine said, her eyes sparkling.

She did a little half turn to show me tail splatter over the back of an old shirt.

“I am now one of you! I got eeky and I did not run away!” she said with great pride.

We all loved that girl, and I told her I would name my first-born daughter after her one day. It took another 12 years or so, but I did just that. Caroline Christine arrived in the world and somehow managed to carry that same can-do spirit in to every endeavor, even the eeky ones.

Christine returned to Switzerland after graduation and continued to learn more languages, commandingly so. She landed a job as interpreter, traveling with members of the United Nations. She remains in great demand for high-level meetings because of her quick ability to interpret complex matters.

With all the fascinating, intricate matters in which she has played a part, I wonder if she remembers earning her stripes, with glee, on an Ohio dairy farm the autumn she turned 17.

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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.

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