Monday, June 17, 2013

a day with my dad


This essay was originally written for one of my university writing classes, and given to my Dad on his birthday in 2003. While I have taken a few liberties as a writer, (one can't be expected to remember all the details of a typical day from ages 3-6), this is an accurate reflection of time spent on the farm with my dad .  The most precious memories I have of my dad are from these days.


"It's time to get the cows," my dad says, pushing back his empty teacup, and I eagerly jump from my chair, ready for action. 

"Don't forget to change your clothes," says my mom. I scamper off to my bedroom and emerge a few minutes later wearing my barn clothes: a pair of denim overalls that are too short, a faded t-shirt and a green cotton hat - "your milker's cap" my mom tells me.

"Let's go," says my dad as he pulls on his other running shoe, sticking the Velcro. He is far too impatient for lace-up shoes, unlike myself, who just can't manage laces yet. We both say goodbye to mom. My dad then dons his cap and we head out to the machine shed to get the tractor. Unwilling to be left behind, I have to run in order to keep up with my dad's long strides.

"Start 'er up," says my dad, as he shoves in the clutch of our Massey. I turn the key and my dad puts it into gear. He guides the tractor out of the shed and into the dusty lane, in the same manner he has done for as long as I can remember.

"Okay, your turn," he says, gesturing towards the steering wheel. For a brief moment I am terrified, but the sensation soon passes. After all, even though I am so much smaller than this huge machine, the lane is straight, and my dad is here, so everything will be all right.

 It is cool and shaded in this part of the lane. Wild plum trees line one side of the lane, and long grasses sway gently on the opposite side. My dad reaches up and plucks a handful of plums from one of the branches above us. From time to time he does this, popping plums into his mouth one by one, and spitting out the pits over the side of the tractor.

Soon we reach the bend in the lane where my dad takes over the wheel again. We enter the pasture and my dad parks the tractor in its usual spot. Then we make our way down the steep hill. Below us is the pond. It is at least twice as big as a swimming pool, but at this time of the year it's a murky green, "because of the algae," says my dad.

At the edge of the pond, partially hidden by the long grass, lies the pump. I am terrified of coming close to the edge because I cannot swim yet. The pond is over twelve feet deep in the middle - two of my dads standing on top of each other. 

"Go find the hose," my dad instructs, as he attempts to start the pump. One pull of the rope...I scamper off in search of the hose, buried somewhere in the long grass nearby. Two pulls...the pump starts with a puff of smoke, and I dump the hose into the first water trough just in time.

With the sound of the pump, the cows head down the pathway toward the water troughs. The first trough is so old, it's made of stone. The numbers 1935 are engraved along the top. "That's the year it was made," my dad tells me. I do not completely understand how old this makes it, but I'm sure it must have been on this farm forever.

I retreat from the troughs as the cows begin to gather. By the time the whole herd arrives, the second trough, a newer aluminum one, is nearly full as well. "It's going to run over!" I shriek. My dad just laughs and runs to shut off the pump just in time. Meanwhile, the cows drink thirstily. "On a hot day, a single cow can drink over 100 gallons of water," my dad says.

At last, the troughs are empty. We drive the cows back up the pathway and they head for the lane. Back on the tractor, my dad and me take up the rear. It is slow going, but several handfuls of plums later, the cows are driven into the barnyard, the gate is closed behind them, and the tractor is safely back in the machine shed.

When the cows have found their proper stalls, my dad heads for the grainary. He flips on the switch and grain pours out the end of the auger into the wooden wheelbarrow below. I put my hand out and catch some of the kernels. They tickle my palm. As I open my fingers, the kernels fall back into the wheelbarrow, creating miniature golden dunes.

Once the wheelbarrow is full, my dad wheels it out in front of the cows. With the large plastic bowl, he measures out the scoops of grain that each cow is to receive. Some receive more, some less. I have only memorized how many scoops each cow in the first row receives, so my dad begins feeding on the opposite end of the barn, working his way back towards the grainary. By the time he reaches the first row of cows, the wheelbarrow is much lighter, and I am able to push it along. Now I'm on my own. While my dad prepares for milking, I finish the rest of the grain feeding.

My dad, meanwhile, heads for the milkhouse. He flips a few switches and then carries the milking machines out to the other side of the barn. He strides back to the milkhouse and carries out the bucket of warm, soapy water and the wooden, painted green stand that holds the stack of paper towels and cup of iodine. 

By this time, I am finished with my task. I rejoin my dad, awaiting his next instructions. As soon as the first milking machines come off, he nods, and I grab the cup of iodine. Gingerly creeping in between the two cows, I dip each teat into the iodine, leaving a purple stain behind.

After we have begun milking the second row of cows, my dad heads back toward the milkhouse. I grab the 2.5-gallon plastic pails from the shelf and line them up in a row. He fills each one of them with milk and then checks the weight of each on the rusty scales hanging from the ceiling. When all six pails are filled with just the right amount of milk, I carry them off to the hungry calves. One pail in each hand, I struggle towards the pens. The full pail knocks against my legs and a little milk sloshes out onto my overalls.

Setting down one pail, I open the door to the first pen. An energetic black calf with a white triangle marking on on her face greets me and immediately begins sucking at the milk in the pail, even before I can set it inside her pen. I do the same for the calf in the pen right beside this one. Once the milk is gone, the calves still suck at the bottom of the empty pails. No matter how hard I pull on the handles, I can't free the pail; the suction is too strong. "I'm stuck! I'm stuck!" I cry to my dad. He comes running to my rescue, and with a swift yank, the pails come free.

I take the empty milk pails back to the milkhouse and repeat the process. As I return to the pens with the next round of pails, the calves that have just eaten are sucking on each other's noses through the peep-hole in the side of the pen, making it look as if they are kissing. I giggle and continue on with the feeding.

Once this is finished, I return to help with the milking. When we are finally finished, my dad cleans up the milkhouse while I fill the cats' feed bowls. Tiger, the black and grey striped cat perches atop the wall of the calf pen, overseeing the process. I give him a scratch under the chin and he purrs contentedly. 

Back inside the milkhouse, my dad takes a plastic cup off the shelf, dips it into the milk tank, and hands it to me. Without this, our day together would not be complete. I savour the rich, cold milk. My dad has a taste too. "Ah, that sure hits the spot," he says, swallowing the last of the milk,"I guess we're done for tonight." Glancing at his watch, he adds, "Let's go have our supper." I follow him out of the barn and down the driveway, back toward the house where my mom is waiting with supper. I am tired but content. Another day of helping my dad on the farm is done.


Happy Father's Day, Daddy!

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