The Late Evening Stroll to Meet the Cows
When I was just a little girl I use to tag along behind my Granddaddy each summer evening when he said to me, “Milking time.” Barefooted and in a simple sundress I proceeded to walk behind him as he strolled to meet the cows on a narrow dirt path, previously made by him and the cows over time.
It wasn’t far, but on these evenings as granddaddy and I strolled down the path in silence I pondered the smells of the earth, the evening blue sky and the dirt as I skipped along behind him. Occasionally, I would intentionally step on a green maypop as it hung close to the ground by the fence. I loved the sound of that pop.
As we rounded a small curve on the path I could see the two or three cows standing by the gate across the road in a pasture chewing their cud. Granddaddy rented the pasture from a neighbor.
The cows looked at me with their big brown eyes as if to say, “ I’m ready to go to the barn.” My big question to Granddaddy was, “How do the cows know when you will come for them?” His answer was always, “They just know.”
Granddaddy would open the gate for me and then he approach each cow and would tie a rope to her halter. Letting the cows out, he then closed the bob wire gate and fastened it.
One thing I did learn about cows and pastures is that if “bitter weeds” start growing in the pasture and the cows eat it the milk become very bitter and unusable. This small plant was about 12 inches high with yellow flowers. I took a drink of some of this milk one time and had to spit it out…. horrible, but not poisonous.
The cows slowly followed us down the path to the area where grandmother waited with her gallon-milking bucket. Granddaddy would tie each cow to a post as they waited for Grandmother to start the milking process. I always thought I could milk the cow and grandmother would let me try but I never was able to get the knack of milking.
After milking, grandmother would strain the fresh milk through a clean flour sack into glass gallon jugs and closed with a lid. The milk was stored in an old-fashioned ice chest or in a bucket let down into the well to keep cool.
Sometimes later, I might ask for some cornbread and that fresh milk for a night time snack.
Today, I opened my refrigerator after being at the beach for four days and I looked for the expiration date on a quart of milk. It was supposed to be good through the next day. I proceeded to pour me a glass and when I took the first sip I immediately said, that taste like that “bitter weed milk!”
At least I didn’t have to go, “Strolling to meet the cows” to buy some fresh milk! How times have changed.
Comments from my friends on the story, “Strolling to meet the Cows”
I always enjoy your “rememberings” as I remember many of the same things! I could never get the knack of milking either.
Shandry Calhoun Dorrah
It is amazing how much we share in the way we grew up. We lived across the road from my Grandparents and I used to do the same thing. I did learn to milk though. Ha. It was fun at first but pretty hard to get the hang of it. Times have really changed but I wish our children and grandchildren could have experienced some of the things we did, don’t you?
Oh by the way, I always smell the milk today. It’s just a habit. Ha. No matter if I have just bought it, everytime I start to use it I always smell it.
Gladys Hale Dunkin
Delightful stroll back. When I was in 10th grade Mrs. Maxwell was extolling the virtues of fresh churned butter over margarine. I asked Mama if I could take my teacher some butter the next day. After I put the soft butter into a quart mayonnaise jar in the refrigerator at bedtime, all I had to do was grab the jar as I ran for the school bus. In November there was no possibility of the butter getting soft on the cold bus.
Between homeroom and first period World History I presented her with a brown paper bag with a jar in it.
All that day I could imagine her buttering biscuits the next morning.
When I got off the bus Mama asked, “Did you get the butter with the bitter weeds?” I was humiliated.
Mrs. Maxwell never mentioned the butter nor did I.
How do you make bitter butter better? It is better to let bitter butter be.
I could milk but my hand would get tired. I have churned and molded butter. I have learned that Barbers abd Dairy Fresh do have some descent buttermilk. Still like to crumble the cornbread in a glass of cold buttermilk and enjoy.
Yes. Our cows did eat bitterweeds also.
I have a book titled WICKED PLANTS. Abe Lincoln’s mother died after she drank the milk from a cow who had eaten white snakeroot. She died from what they referred to as “milk sickness”. Just thought I would give you a little history lesson.
Sybil Nelson Phillips
Hi Ruby Jean,
Enjoyed this one and also the responses from Dorothy, Shandry, and Sybil.
I remember those days also, and after a few times of trying to milk the cow I finally didn’t want to try !!! My grandmother and mother would let me churn sometime. I especially enjoyed watching them mold the butter.
It was even better on fresh homemade biscuits with syrup. Keep on reminding us of the past. I have been able to identify with so many of your articles.
Peggy Duckworth Elmore
Thanks for the lessons of the past. You forgot to mention Johnson grass as a food and the effect it had on the milk. Just the thought makes me cringe when bitterweed and Johnson grass are involved. What a shame our children have missed such an experience.
See all books from Alabama Pioneers
Join Amazon Prime – Watch Over 40,000 Movies & TV Shows Anytime – Start Free Trial Now
Chinaberries and Other Memories of Alabama by Jean Butterworth
Great story !
I agree. Jean brings back many memories.
I enjoyed Jean Butterworth’s story: “…meeting the cows..” From age eleven, I grew up on a dairy farm and in 1950’s we hand milked the cows, poured milk from milk-buckets into ten-gallon milk cans and put the cans into a large ‘box’ of water plugged to electricity to keep the water cold and milk cans chilled. Also, a watermelon or two spent a brief time in this cold water…deliciously cold watermelon on a hot summer day, the best! l milked six cows, by hand, each morning and each evening. I remember the tears my parents shed when the cows got to the bitter weeds before dad could get rid of these pest-bitter weeds.. Seems it only happened in early Spring. Imagine, the waste of milk and loss of money when gallons of milk had to be destroyed….even the pigs and hogs, dogs and cats would not drink the bitter weed milk. I think mother had us pour it into the fruit orchid to water and feed the trees. Smile. So good to go back there in my mind and your little piece took me there. Thanks for the memories evoked by reading your story!
Our neighbor had a dairy and every day, you could set your watch by the time, the cows came from the pasture, down the fenced on both sides lane, headed to the barn. I will forever remember that sight of Holsteins lined up and headed to the barn with their bags practically dragging the ground.
I well remember the bitter weed’s impact on milk. When I was 5 or 6 yrs old one day I visited my grandfather (PaPa) during mealtime. I took one sip of the milk he served and let out a big “gulp” because of the sharp (bitter) taste. PaPa immediately recognized the problem came from the cow having eaten bitter weed. “Got to soak a potato in the milk to rid it of the bitterness”, he announced. Unfortunately, his search for a potato was unsuccessful so he and I walked about an 1/8 of a mile to my Uncle’s house. Although no one was home my uncle and aunt always kept white potatoes in a bin on the back porch. After selecting one we returned to his home where he peeled and cut it up before placing it in the milk container.
For the life of me – I can’t remember the incident from that point on;
whether it removed the bitterness or not! I remember being skeptical of his anticipated success, and dreading the first drink. You see – PaPa imbibed from the wine bottle quite frequently during the day and his reasoning ability was often “impaired” somewhat! Has anyone ever heard of that treatment for bitter weed milk?
I want a cow!
A peaceful time and precious memory for me.