By Jane-Ann Heitmueller
Daddy had farming in his blood. From childhood he farmed with his father and brother, then married, moved up the road to one of his dad's rent houses and started farming on his own.
The toil of a southern farmer in the early forties was hard, constant and offered little monetary rewards. A good horse, sturdy plow, decent weather and the grit to succeed was about all a man of the soil could hope for those days. He was lucky if he broke even each year and thrilled if he made any profit.
Eventually, Dad made and saved enough to buy a used hay baler and tractor that kept him busy in the fields raking and baling hay for the public. It was dusty, hot labor, but supplemented his meager income; adding to the sale of corn, soybeans and sweet and Irish potatoes.
In 1947 Dad invested in five purebred Jersey milk cows. Deep South Creamery in Cullman purchased milk from the local farmers for sale to the public.
Milking cows is a confining chore and must be done diligently twice a day, regardless of the weather or the farmer's other plans. I milked along side him each day and often went with him to deliver milk to the dairy every evening. We normally sold seven or eight gallons a day, which was a nice monthly addition to the family income. Our milk was raw milk called B grade and was used to make cheese. It was not sterile enough to be used for drinking milk, as was the case with some of the larger dairy farmer's production, whose equipment was more sophisticated.
One thing for sure, when we milked cows we didn't have any rats around the place. At milking time, as if by magic, a dozen or more fat, silky cats would appear from the stalls and drop down off the barn rafters, all eager to lap up the fresh, warm milk Dad poured in a large metal bowl in the hall of the barn. They certainly earned their room and board by keeping any rat far away from their coveted domain.
Dad took good care of his cows and they served him well, each having her own stable and feed trough. Some folks tell you that cows aren't very smart, but you could just about set your pocket watch by their predictable arrival at the barn at milking time. They lined up in order of which cow's stable came first and headed there without having to be prodded.
A few memorable incidents come to mind when I think of those cows. I recall one hot summer evening following Dad's long, tiring day baling hay in the blistering southern sunshine. Completely exhausted, having labored from sun up till sun down, he was more than ready to head inside for a relaxing shower, nourishing supper and soft bed, but first he had to do the milking.
I suppose that old cow may have had a bad day herself, or perhaps she was just being stubborn. While Dad attempted to milk her she repeatedly put her hind leg into the bucket. Nothing Dad did seemed to deter her. In pure frustration and disgust Dad jumped off the milking stool to whack that persistent bovine in the head, but he missed her head as his fist collided with her rock hard horn. Dad foolishly broke his hand that evening and was reminded of his fit of fury each time he painfully attempted to milk in the weeks to come.
We had to call young Doc Compton out one evening when a heifer came in at milking time bleeding and leaking milk. She had gotten herself tangled in a barbed wire fence and badly ripped her udder. Doc had only recently graduated from vet school at Auburn and still pretty "green" in the care of animals. While Dad and I milked the other cows, he worked with great care to repair the damaged udder.
Dad thanked him for a job well done, paid his fee and shook his hand, but just as Doc Compton turned to go to his truck he remarked, with an impish grin on his face, "Herbert, that must be a real gentle cow you've got there. Here's the full hypodermic needle I forgot to use to deaden her udder before I sewed her up." We all had a good laugh about the young, inexperienced doctor's error at the poor cow's expense.
Our neighbor had to be called in for consultation one spring afternoon when one of the cows got down and seemed unable to get back on her feet. Dad tried every trick he knew to help the old girl, but nothing worked.
"Sure," Charley confidently exclaimed, after looking at the downed heifer. "All you need to do is get a pint of white lightening in her stomach."
So, in desperation, the three of us rigged up a funnel with tubing, pried the cow's mouth open and poured the vile brew down her throat. She immediately jumped up from the barn floor, took off at full gallop toward the house and promptly... fell dead in her tracks.
Charley finally spoke, breaking our zombie like silence..."See," he exclaimed with a wide, toothless grin on his old, weathered face. "I told you she'd get up!" Dad and I were speechless.
In 1963, when I married and left home, Dad decided to try his hand at being a businessman. He sold all his cows and used the money to build a little country store and gas station in his pasture across the road from the house. He enjoyed the people, but missed farming. After a few years he closed down the store and went home where he spent his days sitting on the front porch watching the traffic come and go on the newly paved road.
Dad never made a million dollars at farming or running the store, but when he passed in 1998 he was remembered by those who knew him as a fine, honest and hardworking man. A well deserved tribute!