In the whole general scheme of farm life, there are bad ... and then there are dairy farms. I know. I grew up on one. The ... life location to which I got ... is a better
In the whole general scheme of farm life, there are bad assignments, and then there are dairy farms. I know. I grew up on one. The particular life location to which I got assigned—“stuck” is a better word if you’ve ever been there—was a small family-owned-and-operated outfit, which basically meant if outside workers couldn’t get there, it was up to the “family” to make sure the work got done.
With a shutter I remember the Christmas our main hired hand dropped out of the work rotation for health reasons. It was right after school let out for Christmas break—funny how things like that always seemed to happen on the dairy. Sixteen and the oldest of the kids left at home, I was called on to fill in. Halfway through the first day, I realized I had somehow never noticed exactly how much that particular worker did.
For five solid days I either worked or slept, milked or slept, fed calves or slept until I felt very much like the old Dunkin’ Donuts guy who meets himself coming back in the door with the greeting, “Time to make the donuts” only to respond, “I made the donuts.”
At the time I didn’t realize there were other sixteen-year-olds who weren’t getting up before dawn to go out into the cold and haul buckets around for hours on end. Sure my classmates didn’t live on dairies, but most of them either lived on farms or worked for other people who did.
In fact, in our little town, working hard wasn’t unusual—it was the norm. You went to school, you went to church, and you worked. Simple as that.
The work ethic was learned early on simply by watching everyone else working around you. For example, I remember following my parents around the barn when I was no more than five, begging them to let me do something. They could’ve assigned me to scrape muck off the feeders, and I would’ve been happy because that meant I was helping, I was contributing, and that’s what made you somebody on the farm.
Of course by the time my dad came in on my sixteenth Christmas and announced that he had hired someone else to take my place, I didn’t exactly say, “That’s okay. You can let them go. I want to help.” Actually, it came out more like, “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!”
However, I have to admit those five days gave me a deep appreciation of how hard my parents worked day-in and day-out for 30 years, and that understanding solidified my determination to do whatever it took to not to stay on that dairy my whole life.
Two years later, when homesickness threatened to undermine my determination to make college work, all I had to do was remember those five days, and my willpower returned with a vengence. In fact, several times I outright told my mom, “I’m getting my degree so I don’t ever have to come back and work on the dairy again.”
Eventually my determination paid off, and now, I no longer have to worry about the dreaded sound of the back door slamming and my father’s voice yelling, “Stace, come out here! We need help!” Not only that, but I don’t even have to worry about how long milking is taking, knowing that every passing second means less time to do anything other than homework.
To be honest, I’m grateful that I don’t have to worry about those things anymore, but at the same time, I also don’t have a compelling reason to be up in time to see the beauty of a sunrise. Nor do I have the opportunity to jitterbug with my sister in the middle of the dairy barn. And the times that I can work side-by-side with my dad and ask about family relations and hear the old stories are growing fewer and much farther in between.
No, now, there are whole stretches of days when I don’t feel any pressing need to even go outside. And I can go months without petting an animal or watching in amazement at their keen sense of the environment around them. Instead I have neighbors within shouting distance but who feel like they live a planet away. I don’t see them when I go to church or to the grocery store or just “up town.” They live their lives, and I live mine, and here, no one questions that. Eighteen years I lived my life on that dairy, not really knowing there were people who didn’t get up and go out and work together to get the same overwhelming tasks done day after day. Sometimes I wish I had never found out there were.