John N. Jennings
My First Official Day Milking Cows with Dad
One should never forget a day like this or even the day before. The day before, the weather was damp, dank, cold, misty, foggy and just a plain old miserable day at that. True, I did not have to work with Dad that day which made it harder on me because it would be my turn to milk cows with Dad the next day, which made me anxious as the waiting made me feel like I was walking on egg shells. The weather was a little better as the sky cleared up but the temperature was still rather raw and bone-chilling… plus, getting up at three o’clock in the morning did not make things any more comfortable. Our family had recently moved from New Jersey and settled down in the north central part of Virginia. Dear old Dad reminded everyone that the weather was pretty much balmy most of the time. Balmy my foot, A Dixie cold can be just as chilling as anywhere else in the country, even more so. I will venture to say that the Union soldiers felt the same way as they approached Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Richmond!
I finally got myself together with the help of my mother, bundling me up with extra care while feeling the last effects of a warm house. Dad finally rose and said “ready?” “Yes”, I said. Then we proceeded in the direction of the new milking parlor “only” a mile away and it was bright enough to see the poll barn and fields surrounding it. “Anything you want me to do dad?” He did not answer right away. We had approached the barn and he would give me directions on how to set up the proceedings,…”get some cows ready in the chute then set up the fitting ration,” he instructed. I had several cows lined up in the chute ready to be milked….then he said, “get all their names because each one gets fed differently and here’s the chart for each cow.” Since there were three stalls, three cows would come in order. Fame was the first, then Mercy, then Flossie. Each had to be fed differently in order to suit individual needs. A big responsibility it was as the bowls had to be cleaned after each animal used its facility, and the udders on each cow had to be washed diligently in order to put the milking machines on each teat to ensure cleanliness. Dad would always remind me that the milk going into the tank had to be untouched by human hands, that it had to be grade A milk in order to get top pay from the Holstein-Fresian Association.
He also reminded me that every cow had to have certified papers in order to belong to the (DHIA) Dairy Herd Improvement Association. Standards had to be set and met and production had to remain as high as could be…..even the butterfat content had to be at a certain level. After all that explaining, the machinations of milking finally commenced. In the beginning things seemed to go pretty smoothly until the seventh or eighth cow; it seemed that some could not get used to the new regimen. Some would kick and object to being in their new surroundings… then things would settle down and become smooth again. I was nervous as could be and was hoping that this would all be over soon, although I knew the day would not be over yet; there would have to be the afternoon milking as well.
Then Dad decided that he could not go through with me as his helper so he reassigned me to the calf detail with my younger sister as my older sister would be called upon to replace me. Within the next hour my sister and I finished caring for the calves, so I went over to the milking parlor to see if I could do any cleaning up and Dad said “yes, water down the stalls and get everything ready for the afternoon milking.” When the cleaning and everything was done, Dad, my two sisters, and I started to walk back to the house when suddenly Dad slipped on the muddy pathway and I let out a loud guffaw, I could not help myself….it was a knee-jerk reaction. Dad did not appreciate it, however. It would be one of the few times that he would lose his dignity as nobody dared laugh at him… and I mean nobody!!!
Dad finally got up and brushed himself off and the four of us continued on our way to the house. When all four of us finally arrived, I asked him about the afternoon milking and all he could say was “Oh no, not today and not for a while as your older sister will assist me”. “But eventually I have to learn,” I answered. Dad replied, “Yes and you will work with one of the men starting this Tuesday and by the time I call on you for Sunday milking you should be ready, but for now you will help your mother around the house and help your younger sister with the calves for they will be part of the future as well.”
Then everybody would clean up and get ready for breakfast. I would always be teased about being replaced by my older sister, but eventually I would work with dear old Dad on Sunday and I would turn it into a treat. Dad would always work on Sunday and do other chores the other days in the week. When this day finally ended, I heaved a big sigh of relief as a rough patch was smoothed over. However, Monday morning and going to school could not come soon enough!
John N. Jennings: You could say that Dad’s idea of owning a farm was his big dream with the whole family dragged along with it. You could call it “Green Acres” syndrome. I thank God that it did not last too long. However, I was involved in another short-term venture with Dad in television producing, but that was on the wane for me as well. He did have his successful heyday as a TV producer of game shows, but by the time I joined him it was really too late and time for me to move on. After working “salad type jobs,” (including working at Yankee Stadium), I managed to hook up with a successful restaurant full of local color and rich in past history. Very quickly I rose to be executive chef, working through the “dog days of summer” and the “good days of winter.” I learned enough to become head manager when the restaurant started to grow by franchising itself. Because of my background in working with my dad, and my English studies at Delaware Valley University, I decided to start my own business as a personal manager and joined a literary agency with some friends of mine, in order to be on our own and promote our own creative projects. I am still doing this part-time as I am semi-retired, which brings me to the present time with Eastern Gateway Community College. I have always wanted to complete my college education and my degree in business, and am very happy to have discovered Eastern Gateway CC, which is flexible in allowing me to fit the courses easily into my schedule