No time for idle hands on dairy farms


“Idleness is a sign of weakness. Let no dust settle before sunset.”
— Anonymous

I grew up knowing that there would be no allowances made for tired bones. My father had been raised in the shadow of a grandfather with an undeniably large dose of German blood, a man who lived the motto that says there are no idle hands allowed on deck.

Admitting to feeling tired was a sign of laziness and would not be tolerated.

My earliest memory of one of my dad’s often-repeated sayings is, “You don’t lie down in the middle of the day unless you think you might be dying.”

On one of the rare occasions of my childhood in which I got to spend a night with a school friend, I was stunned speechless when we got off the school bus at Pam’s home to find that there were absolutely no chores to do.

Her mother, Annabelle, had baked cookies and we sat down at the table for milk and cookies as soon as we walked in the door. After we’d finished our snack and talked to her mom about our day at school, I waited for the list of instructions on what we were expected to complete before supper time.
Nothing was said.

Finally, I asked Pam, “What do we have to do now?”

No chores

Pam looked at me with confusion. I said, “Well, do we have chores outside or inside?” and Pam said, “No, no chores.”

I was amazed. I began asking various questions: Do we need to make your bed? Do we need to feed or water the animals? Do we need to clean the house, the barn, anything?

Her answers were: No, my mom makes my bed and cleans the house. What animals? What barn? We can do whatever we want!

Pam’s father was our milk hauler and he put in incredibly long days. He was part of the dairy industry in a very big way, but lucky for Pam, his work didn’t create work for her. So, we changed clothes and went outside.

We took a long walk to an old cemetery back off the beaten path. We read some of the old monuments’ inscriptions and then we sat down under a big old shade tree and told ghost stories. After we’d had our fill of that, we went back to Pam’s house because there was a TV show she really wanted to watch. It was a show that all the kids at school talked about all the time, but I had never seen it. It was on during milking time!

When I told Pam I had never seen it, she looked at me like I just admitted my family voted along communist party lines or something.

“You have got to be kidding! You have NEVER seen it?”

I shook my head no. She said, “Why don’t you just say you’re sick and you want to stay in the house instead of going to the barn?”

No excuses

I attempted to explain that trying to pull such a trick would never, ever work. But, the commercial was over and the show was back. Pam really didn’t want to hear the complicated, dyed-in-the-wool answer. Truth was, unless one of us was burning up with fever, every kid was expected to be in the barn during milking time.

A complaint of a belly ache would never work. A headache could not be proven, so out the door you would go. I never had headaches, but my dear sister Debi had them and I empathized with her. I remember many times telling her to just go sit down and I would do her chores and mine.

There were plenty of excuses we could have cooked up, but we had been raised with the reality that everyone was needed and everyone had specific chores. It did not matter one bit what was on television or what simple whims we might wish to follow.

On a dairy farm, the clock dictated everything. The clock let us know one thing on no uncertain terms: no time for idle hands!

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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, and three grandchildren.



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