Days Gone By - stories from the past

The Late Evening Stroll to Meet the Cows – how life was in simpler times

The Late Evening Stroll to Meet the Cows


Jean Butterworth


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”


Ruby Jean,

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.

Dorothy Graham Gast


Ruby Jean,

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


Ruby Jean,

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.

Robert Shirley



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Chinaberries and Other Memories of Alabama by Jean Butterworth


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About Jean Butterworth

Jean Champion Butterworth is originally from Tuscaloosa County, graduating from Tuscaloosa County High School, Druid City Hospital School of Nursing and The University of Alabama. She is a retired nurse. Working 27 years at The Children’s Hospital as Department Director, Specialty Clinics. She has traveled extensively in Europe, Africa, The Middle East, and Eastern Europe. You can contact Jean at [email protected] See additional stories by Jean Butterworth on She also now has a Kindle Ebook Chinaberries and Other Memories of Alabama

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