I walked down our dirt road in the cool of the morning, breathing in the heavy summer fragrance of ferns and blackberries. And...cows. Suddenly I smelled cows. Not the strong manury barn smell, but that distinct cow breath smell. And there they were, crowded up into the shade of a big maple tree. Cows...my first love.
I grew up swinging on the swing that Dad hung in the walkway of the barn, for hours on end, listening to the rhythm of the pulsators, waiting to walk back to the house for supper.
"I loved to work by my father's side, unloading wagon after wagon of hay, sawing wood, gathering sap. I soaked up his enjoyment of good hard work. I soaked up my mother's willingness, her readiness to step out to the barn in her house dress to head in a first-calf heifer with a stern,'Here!' that belied her timidity."
"Wash another udder, move down the row of cows. I cried even harder , thinking of my hard-won dream to wait and marry a dairy farmer. I fell in love with Dan. How careful we have been, how diligent, the long endless days of work with babies in the field and barn. We gave our very best, but we are not making a living for our family. Frustrated, exhausted, pitiful. I hung my head and kept milking.
"I thought of our children. Marilyn and Rebecca, heading dry cows down the lane to pasture; of little Paul watching Dan bucket up snow with the tractor.
"I'll do that for you when I get big! he announced. How do I tell them that the cows, the tractors, are going?"
—Excerpt from "Selling Out" in A Farm Wife's Journal
I still relish the memory of laying my head against a cow's flank while I milked, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. Every detail came rushing back when I smelled that herd of cows this morning.