The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Down Memory Lane - The Milking Lesson

By Martha Cockrell Robinson © 1992

Issue: February, 1992

"Where are you going, my pretty maid?" "I'm going a' milking sir," she said. The nursery rhyme in the storybook with the accompanying picture of the pretty young milkmaid going to milk the cow no doubt influenced me to pester Maw to teach me how to milk.

Early every morning soon after daybreak and again at dusk each day Maw made her way with the milk pail to the cow lot. There was always at least one cow on the lot and at times Maw had two cows to provide milk and butter for the table and enough to spare for neighbors who came to buy some for their own families.

It was fascinating to tag along and observe the familiar ritual. The morning trip was too early for me, but at dusk when Maw headed toward the cow lot with her pail, sometimes I would stop what I was doing and run to catch up with her.

I can still hear the loud splat of the first few streams of milk that hit the bottom of the pail. Maw's Jersey cows always gave generously and soon the two-gallon pail was full of the foaming warm milk. Before Maw started the milking process, however, there were certain preliminaries that took place. First, she took warm water from the pail and washed the cow's teats to make sure that no particle of grass, dirt, sticks, etc. would fall into the pail of milk. That done, it was time for a little fun before getting down to business.

Our half-grown kitten had learned that if he sat up on his haunches and meowed long enough, a stream of warm milk would be directed his way. He would sit on his haunches and open his mouth to catch the stream of delicious warm liquid. Of course some spattered all over his whiskers and he had to spend several minutes washing face and paws, and Maw, chuckling, would get down to the business at hand.

But to the milking lesson! Old Daisy, the mild mannered milk cow that had been around for as long as I could remember, was my choice. Cows are picky about who milks them and not every cow will tolerate the feel of an unfamiliar hand milking her. Too, you have to know how to do the thing just right - first you kind of hunch the milk bag and then pull down and squeeze at the same time. If you've done it just right, there'll be a stream of milk going into the pail. I had watched Maw many times and was sure that I could do it just right.

Well, finally, today was the day I had been waiting for. Maw said, "All right, let's see what you can do." She was sitting on her milking stool and didn't get up so that I could sit down, so I just leaned over and took hold and went though what I thought was the exact procedure she had used.

Well, I must have pinched old Daisy or squeezed too hard, or maybe she could tell that a rank amateur had taken hold of one of her faucets. Whatever - she didn't like it - and she just hauled off and kicked with the hind legs nearest me and my kneecap caught it good and hard.

Later Maw told the tale at the supper table amid much chuckling. She said I let go and jumped backward several feet, with the most startled look on my face! I don't think I jumped back several feet; I think old Daisy's hoof packed such a powerful wallop that she knocked me that far.

Needless to say, I didn't wish to continue with the milking lesson, and I never pestered Maw again to teach me how to milk.