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A True Story by 
Catherine Petit

I am so excited.  Tomorrow is a special day.  I am either five or six years old, and Grandfather has said it is about time I went with him to work, and tomorrow is the big day.  I am so excited that I wonder if I will be able to sleep tonight.

It is four in the morning. I can hear my Grandfather up downstairs.  I must get dressed right away or he will leave without me. He has a mission and he must be on time.

I rush into my clothes and jacket, it is really cold out this morning.  I meet up with Grandfather in the huge country kitchen. He with a coffee in hand, and a hot chocolate for me on the counter.

“Hurry up” he says, “We have to get going.  They are waiting on us and if we are late, they will loudly complain.”

So off we go.  Across the porch and down the stairs.  Past the well house on to the milking barn.  The closer we get the easier it is to hear them complain.  They are mooing because they are full and need milking.

Me and granfather taking turns milking the cows

My Grandfather prepares the first cow.  Locking the head into the milking bar. Then he washes the udders and places the body strap that holds the stainless milking apparatus over her back.  He puts the cups on the udders and stands back at the head of the cow, resting his hand on the top of the milking bar.

“OK,” he says,” it is your turn.” 

I pick up the tail of the cow and start pumping to get the milk to flow.  After about ten pumps the milking device comes to life and starts pumping.  I dropped the cow’s tail and the milking machine stops.

Grandfather then tells me,” You did not pump long enough.  You need to start pumping again.”

Dutifully, I picked up the tail and start pumping again, not too hard, I do not want to hurt the cow.  After fifteen or so pumps the milking machine springs to life again, and this time it stays on.

Grandfather tells me what a good pumper I am, and we have to move on to the next cow.

It took me a few days of helping before I realized Grandfather had his hand on the milking bar for a reason.  It was where the switch was to turn on the milking machine.

I would pick flowers to share with the cows!

Later in the day, after helping with the milking, I would go back out through the pastures where the cows grazed.  It was one of my favorite places to walk. Grandfather would tell me to watch out for the meadow muffins and stay clear of the cows without horns.  (Cows had their horns removed because they were aggressive, and charged at anything that moved.)

I would pick some flowers on the way to the pasture to share with the cows as I walked.  Sticky tongues would pick the flowers from my hand. Tongues like sandpaper. I was always careful not to let them wrap their tongues around my fingers.  I like my fingers where they are.

One day my brother joined me in my game of swing and fall. But on the way out of the barn he warned me about snakes and rats in the hay.

Next, I would head into the hay barn.  Climb the ladder to get into the loft, and untie a rope that was hung from the ceiling.  Holding the rope firmly, I would jump from my perch and swing out over the floor below. Swinging back and forth for a bit before letting go and falling into the soft hay on the floor.

Over and over I would climb the wooden ladder, jump from my perch, swing and drop to the floor.  On this particular day, my brother came looking for me. Finding me in the hay barn he joined me in my game of swing and fall.

As we left the barn, my brother warned me, “Next time, look out for the snakes and rats in the hay before you go swinging and jumping.”

That was the last time I ever went near the hay barn.  

Thank goodness he didn’t tell me while I was swinging on the rope.  Otherwise I might still be there, swinging on the rope without letting go, holding on for dear life.




Featured image, circa 1870-1900, cropped/Boston Public Library,, CC BY2.0
Milking cow (“Milking Sheila”), generic image/ Chris Booth, CC BY-SA2.0
Girl among flowers, generic image/taylorbri, CC BY2.0
Boy swinging in barn (cropped), generic image/William Matheson, CC BY-SA2.0
Ed’s note: The images that illustrate the story are not the true images of the non-fiction characters.