“If you squeeze it just so and at just the right spot with just enough pressure she won’t kick and you can get a good stream going.” I watched as the white tomcat and the grey puss, quickly joined by the half dozen kittens living in the barn, lined up with open mouths as the warm stream hit one mouth, then another. Tongues shot out, licking from one side to the other as my grandfather’s deft touch squeezed out arching lines of the white elixir, all the more amazing because of two partially missing fingers on the skilled milking hand, the result of a hand caught in a whirling pulley and belt on a corn grinder years before.
“Now you try it. But remember, it’s all in the right amount of pressure in the squeeze and the slight downward pull.” Sitting down on the one-legged milking stool I contemplated what I was about to do. Brownie, the Brown Swiss cow, looked around from her temporary stockade. Just for a moment our eyes met and I knew that she knew I was no master milker. But when I grabbed on to one teat with my little soft child’s hand, not at all like the rough-hewn-years-of-toil-grinding-out-a-living-from-the-soil hands of my farm-hand turned homesteader turned farmer grandfather, no hind foot lifted, no more looking back at this upstart wannabe occurred.
Apparently Brownie had decided it was inevitable. If this kid was going to learn milking, now was as good a time as any and she was just the one to be my guinea pig, or cow. I did eventually get a few streams heading in the cats’ direction, even though they had to keep jumping to get to the spot where the milk was heading.
I was just getting the hang of this milking profession when one day this shiny can with four suction cups appeared. I watched with fascination but some regret as the new milking machine was hooked up to Brownie and the others. I was out of a job! Automation had come to replace me! Probably just as well. I don’t think I was cut out for a farming career.
And when I watched my grandfather and Uncle Ralph struggle to make it on the land over the next couple of decades, finally having to give up their life-long livelihood to move to town, I realized that that milking machine was the harbinger of doom for the family farm.