Years of waking up early to milk become ingrained

milking a cow

“Life is getting up an hour earlier to live an hour more.” 

— Anonymous 

Awakening this morning by the sound of rain tip-tapping on a metal roof, the sky still as black as night at 5 a.m., brought memories of when this hour meant I had overslept, the cows needing milked before the rest of the day brought its demands.

A rainy, dark Sunday morning is now filled with a soft blanket pulled from the basket near the sofa, and coffee brewing while my dogs stretch and yawn. Why is it, then, that no matter how many years have passed, I still see time on the clock as it pertains to milking time?


It was an ingrained part of us: Dad gently calling up the stairs to start the day while most would still consider it the dead of night. We didn’t even think to roll over and wish it away. We expected that the sun would rise while we worked through the herd. This was how each day started.

I learned time management, to take pride in being prompt and the triumphant feeling of setting my alarm just to be the one who woke Dad up.

Working hard. I once sat and talked with a dear old friend of my parents, just a couple of years after I had grown and moved away. Back for a holiday, I saw Earl sitting outside his shop and stopped to visit.

He said, “I always felt for you girls. You worked hard, every single day.”

I smiled and told him he didn’t need to feel for us, four girls who grew up knowing how to accomplish many things while carrying good grades. I had just landed the best job anyone could hope for, vying against dozens of applicants for a position with American National Red Cross. I absolutely loved my job, and still got up at milking time every morning.

“I have to tell you, I even miss the cows,” I told Earl.


A retired dairy farmer himself, his hearty laugh told me he questioned that. Not too many years later, Earl knew I was far too young to lose a beloved father. “I was wrong. You were right … I didn’t need to feel bad for you girls,” he said.

We had the true gift of a father who shared his joyful life with us, not on the blurry edges, but in the vibrant every day. Earl had heard the laughter, even when we all were working hard, because Dad taught us it’s not work if we find joy in it.

It sounds odd to say we even learned social graces in our boots and coveralls, working that farm. We developed patience, respect and perseverance from spending every day working beside our father. Those years of waking early, working late, the sun rising and falling, seem so far away, and yet my appreciation for it all still grows.


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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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