Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Michigan Stories, Part 2

Maids a-milking
Mom's Uncle Dwight, similar in appearance to Don, always seemed as good-natured as Uncle Don seemed ill-tempered. We didn't see much of him because he worked all the time. So did his three daughters and his wife, our Aunt Nora. A working dairy farm seemed a hard life, and I think it was. My three cousins were up every morning before dawn to do the morning milking, and to bed late after the evening milking and homework and other chores needed to keep the farm running.
I once tried to help my eldest cousin, a girl a few years older than I. She hefted a full five-gallon milk pail in each hand and carried them to the ice house. I barely managed to drag a single container out there. Some help I proved to be…

Mom visited Aunt Nora for milk and took us with her most of the time. I'm sure we disrupted the household routines, but it was always a pleasure to see our cousins. Mom refused to take charity from anyone, even her local relatives, so she insisted on paying for the milk. Aunt Nora never said anything (that we heard) but it was quite a coincidence that she always had fresh-baked bread and butter and peanut butter and jam and let us eat our fill. And we did, bless her heart.
She did yell at me for chasing the chickens once, but once was enough. Chickens don't lay eggs when they are upset by small-town hoodlums.
When Mom brought the milk home she immediately mixed it with water and a powdered milk that was used for calves. I think she invented one-percent milk. She also froze some of it in the freezer in the basement, so we got in the necessary habit of shaking the jug of milk before we used it.
Mom was frugal with the milk, too, even after stretching it. (Here's the milk story, kids.) Occasionally we had bread and milk to eat, but most often we ate oatmeal for breakfast. Here's the way it worked. The first boy got a heaping spoonful of oatmeal in the bowl, and poured milk on it. Mom allowed some small amount of brown sugar. The first boy ate the oatmeal, but had to leave the milk. The second boy got a heaping spoonful of oatmeal in the remaining milk and added a little sugar. He had to leave the milk. We followed the same process for the third boy. The last boy got to eat the oatmeal and drink the milk, which was pretty sweet from all the sugar. We rotated who was first, going oldest to youngest. (That's the milk story.) It's easy to see why my brother B doesn't like oatmeal. I still love brown sugar though.
During one visit to Aunt Nora's in the spring we boys found an incredible water park right next to the barn. There was a twenty foot length of black mud that was slick and exactly the right consistency for running and sliding from one end to the other. I don't know how long we did that, but we were covered in the stuff when Mom came out of the house. Our cousins didn't join us, but laughed heartily while we enjoyed our playtime in the slippery ground. Mom used newspaper and some plastic to cover the car seats so the filth from our clothes didn't ingrain itself in the car. Turns out the black mess wasn't just mud and water, but a by-product of the many milk cows that came through the barn every day. Even after much scrubbing, each of us got a bad case of ringworm and had to coat our sores with a thick, tar-smelling substance every morning and night for weeks. Mom never forgot that incident. Neither did we, though I have to admit it sure was a lot of fun for a while.


  1. If my mother had known your mom was stretching that milk so far, she would have "had a cow" and probably given you a real one of your own! She still speaks fondly of that summer you spent here-she loved you boys and we always enjoyed your know my mother secretly wanted a boy child but had to settle for three females, some days I do believe she would have gladly traded one of us for one of you ml

  2. I'm pretty sure my Mom would have traded ALL of us for you three. She adored all of you, even as adults.

  3. Chickens are less scary than geese, eh, Dad? :P That does sound nice. I might bake bread

    EW EW EW. >.> The oatmeal WAS cooked separately, right? Just have to check...I tried soaking raw oats in milk overnight sophomore year. It worked. But I also thought peanut-butter-salsa tortillas were delicious that year, because I was too cheap to buy real bread and jam. So let's not revisit that.

    I remember you made me a peanut-butter-brown-sugar sandwich once. ^.^ Sorry that I still hated peanut butter then, but thank you for sharing your love of brown sugar with me.

  4. I just decided to read through a few of the blog posts you have about the earlier years. You know, I was only 3 or 4 at the time but I still remember the "sharing" of the milk. I also remember the visits to Aunt Nora's, but only bits and pieces. I was always scared of those big cows and would only go near one if it was "locked up" in one of the milking stalls (I think that's what they're called). I also remember spending time with our cousins and how much fun they were to be around. I don't remember the ringworm incident - probably repressed it. Anyway, just want to let you know I appreciate you capturing some of these memories. Love to everyone (Hi to ML and B and P too) - DB

  5. Another farm I remember well! Of course I had quite a few more years of visiting there than you did. It was ALWAYS tons of fun!
    Uncle Dwight, Aunt Nora and the girls are some of the finest folks!