I have no idea what it was that had my oldest brother in such a tither and a tear on that Sunday morning way back there in the Sixties. Whatever it was, it had him rushing through the morning milking as if his shoes were on fire and his pants were a’catchin’.
I was eight and Richard was eighteen. I was four-foot-something and he was six-foot-one. I mention that because it is a key factor in making that such a memorable Sunday morning.
I was helping him with milking the thirty-something purebred Jerseys on our Grade A dairy farm. My primary role was putting feed in the trough where the cows were stanchioned for the duration of their contribution. The milking station had stanchions for four cows. Picture a bunch of vertical, gray enameled pipes, spaced about ten inches apart, each about three feet long and bolted to a top and bottom rail to form a frame fourteen feet long. The whole frame of metal stanchions was anchored into a concrete feed bunk that was about fifteen feet long. The front part, the cow-ward side if you please, was about two feet high. The middle part was cupped down a couple of inches to hold the feed in place. The back rose up to about three feet high.
The custom mixed sweet feed was key to drawing the cows into place and keeping them there without mutiny during the udder cleaning and milking process. We’d trained them to walk in from the holding pen and go to their designated slot. They loved the sweet feed and would go right into place. The metal stanchion had a swing piece hinged at the bottom so that the top part would open to about eighteen inches wide. It was designed to fit closely around the cows’ necks so that once the stanchion post was closed and latched, they couldn’t pull their heads back through. Cow walks in, sticks her head in through the open space and starts chowing down on a blend of alfalfa, corn, wheat or oats, and dried molasses. Swing the top of the stanchion post over and it automatically latched into place. Cow is there until you release the stanchion.
Dad had engineered the rations so that most cows would be finishing up their last bite of feed at the same time when they were fully drained of milk. My job was to keep the feed rations dumped into place. As soon as one cow left, I’d dump another bucket into the spot to draw in the next cow. As I grew older, I also helped wash down the udders, switched milkers from one cow to another and so forth. By the time I was twelve, I could do the whole operation by myself, if necessary.
But on that eventful Sunday morning, my primary job was putting feed in the trough. Apparently, I was not doing it quite fast enough. Every now and then, Richard would grab the feed bucket, rush into the feed room, scoop up a bucket full and rush back out and around the corner of the milk room behind the trough and dump it in.
The doorway into the feed room was not quite six feet high. Since Dad was five-eight, it wasn’t an issue for him. At my size at the time, the low clearance wouldn’t have been an issue if I’d taken a running start and jumped off a ramp. But for Richard… ah, now that was a different matter. He had to duck every time he went in and every time he came out. Not an issue ordinarily. This was not ordinarily.
In retrospect and without being able to verify since Richard passed away a few years ago, I’m guessing he must have had a date for church that morning. A pretty girl is the only thing I can think of that would have had him scurrying around like a mad hare on a March morning. If we’re going to knock ourselves out for something, it really ought to be worth the pain, and there certainly are some women who are worth it.
Twice that morning, Richard forgot to duck. Slammed his head into that door frame so hard it knocked him out colder than a politician’s sympathy on Election Day. Wham! I’ve never witnessed a farm boy going from whiz to wonk in such a short time, before or since.
I had, however, witnessed other people fainting a time or two and so I grabbed a paper towel from the washroom and soaked it with cold water. I wiped that across his forehead and on his face and he woke up right away. Both times. I was relieved that he was so easily revived and must say that at that time, I saw no humor whatsoever in the calamity. It was plain scary to see a grown man knock himself out like that twice within twenty minutes.
Even with the mandatory eight-counts, we still finished the milking in record time. I hope it was worth it.