When I was somewhere around 10, if you had asked me to describe the milk inspector who paid surprise visits to our family dairy farm, I know, at least in part, what I would have told you.
Gospel truth. Based solely on the gospel truth as handed down to me by my three big sisters, along with the list of chores my father wrote for us to complete in the milking parlor in order to keep the milk inspector from deporting us to some third-world country, here is what I likely would have said: The milk inspector is a frighteningly huge individual who towers over everyone, even our very tall father.
He is likely a Russian spy, and he could possibly even be a raging atheist who steals Bibles from church-going children. If there is such a thing as a milk-maid doll, he spends his evenings sticking pins in to every one of these dolls he can find.
When it is time for Halloween, sweet little children who are brazen enough to knock on his door are never given candy, but rotten apples complete with worms. If he were to ever take off his hat, we would likely see tiny little horns growing out of his head if we dared to look closely.
Because we had never actually laid eyes on this frightening creature, we reached the conclusion that he traveled under the cloak of darkness.
My big sister told me that he was driven from farm to farm by a huge bodyguard who made sure that no one could get close to the powerful man.
One day, a day that started out like any other, we had the day off school for one of those holidays that only school kids seem to celebrate. We had made big plans to play King of the Mountain on a new pile of gravel that had just been delivered, just as soon as the morning chores were finished.
Horror. Imagine our horror, when, just as we finished cleaning up the parlor and the milk house after the morning milking, our father looked out the window and said, “Well, I’ll be. The milk inspector is here.”
He said it with a calm, cool, collected voice. I felt my legs turn to jelly as I looked to my big sisters.
They seemed to be handling the news with a certain amount of concern, but no one was screaming or running in fright, as I so badly wanted to do. It seemed we were all frozen in place.
Is this what it felt like if the world was about to end? The door began to open. I closed my eyes and took in a huge gulp of air. I was prepared for the worst.
“Well, hello!” my father greeted this scary creature. Imagine my shock when I heard the two of them discuss the weather, the price of milk, problems brought on by a dwindling hay supply. This was everything my father talked about with normal people!
Dad showed the dreaded milk inspector guy around, and they continued talking as though everything was just fine and dandy.
Just before he left, he very politely said, “Things look good as usual. Keep up the good work.”
After he left, my dad said to me, “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but found myself speechless. Finally, at the breakfast table later, I said, “Dad, I always thought the milk inspector was a really bad creature – kind of like the boogeyman.”
Dad belly-laughed in a way that made everyone around him laugh, too.
“Ah, that’s a good one. Whatever gave you that idea?” he asked as he caught his breath.
Lesson learned. I was again speechless. I had learned a whole lot that morning. I still didn’t like scrubbing the parlor wall or wiping down the pipeline, but from that day on, I did it with far less trepidation for the consequences.
In fact, it sort of took some of the gusto out of the scrub brush in my hand. Even still, a part of that fearful respect must have stayed with me for many years, because I remember being stunned when my parents sent flowers to the funeral home when this milk inspector passed away.
“He was a good fellow, doing his job just like we were doing, and he did it well,” my dad explained.
A good fellow who, as it turned out, lived by his Bible and did wonderful things for his community, and welcomed children to his door on Halloween.
Well, life is certainly full of surprises, isn’t it?
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