The only constant in life is change

farm sunset

“I was late getting to school because morning milking took forever. It was so cold everything was icy. Even the cows had icy noses and eyelashes, and a grouchy first-calf heifer kicked me pretty good. I had to rush like crazy, and still was marked tardy. I hate walking into class late, felt horrified — what if I smelled like cows? An awful day. As soon as I got off the bus after school, it all started over again. And tons of homework tonight.”

— diary entry, Jan. 2, 1973 

My old diaries are a treasure trove of incidental worries, one of which contains the ramblings of a 13-year-old girl maneuvering her first year of high school. One point that surprises me, even after all these years, is how much I cared about our milking herd. 

“We milk tested this morning and tonight,” I wrote later in January. “I’m hoping I can convince Dad to give a couple of my favorites another chance to get production up.” 

While most would have resented not being allowed to try out for cheerleader after having been one in junior high, I realized that since two of my sisters had grown up and moved out, my dad needed my help more than the freshman basketball team did. 

“I loved cheerleading last year and I miss it, but oh, well,” I wrote in January. 

The fall and early winter of 1972 had been unusually wet, and for the first time ever on our farm there was still corn needing harvested in early January. 

“There was a basketball game I kinda wanted to watch but I couldn’t stay because Dad is still combining corn (it’s been a weird, weird year) so I had to get to the barn and start milking as soon as school was over.” 

I think one thing that farm kids learn fairly early in life is that the sun doesn’t shine on their every desire. It’s one thing to learn how to work and pull your share of a family business, but it’s entirely another to realize personal sacrifice of time and plans must shift. 

Many years later, when I mentioned some of this to a co-worker who had grown up in a city, she looked mortified. 

“I can’t even get my kid to take out the trash!” she said, offering to pay a large weekly allowance. “How much did you get paid?” she asked.  

I laughed out loud without really meaning to, and she looked further horrified when I said we didn’t get paid at all. I’m sure she considered me mentally deranged. 

“So, what made you keep doing it? My kid would totally refuse!” she said. 

I guess it never occurred to me that refusal to pitch in was an option. We set our alarm clock for 4:30 a.m. during the school year because we needed to get the milking done and still allow for clean-up and breakfast before school. And we were expected to keep honor roll grades throughout the year. 

Our place in the world was discussed around the dinner table, and my diary reflected it. 

“End of WAR!” I wrote Jan. 27, 1973. “The Viet Nam war is over. After many years, the peace treaty was signed. Today made history, and I saw it!”  

For the most part, though, entries were silly and senseless, discussing time spent riding bikes and wishing and wondering if a certain boy liked me. There was ambivalence that two of my sisters had grown up and flown the nest, and I strongly felt the shifting turf because of it. 

“Our family, unfortunately, will never be the same again. Things always change.” 

And that is one truth we each carry with us, no matter our station in this life.


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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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