Sunday, November 26, 2023

The Cows Don't Know It's Thanksgiving

It’s just another morning for milking and I am here for it. For the record I have never milked a cow in my life. Actually, I have never touched a cow. These cows are… soft, warm. They chew their cud and blink their pretty eyelashes and stare back at me, as if to say, you don’t know what you’re doing. 

You've got that right, cow! But I am open to learning. My daughter-in-law is patient with me. She works on this farm and has kindly invited me to shadow her as she does her morning chores in the dairy barn. Here is how you milk a cow:

You wash off the udder? The teats? You do some pre-milking squirts by hand. The trick is Squeeze and Roll. (I have to try this multiple times before I can get anything out, mindful all the while that a cow might kick me in the head.) The little bit of milk from this squeezing and rolling goes into a cup and the two barn cats come running for it. (One of the cats is named Barbara and I love her.) My daughter-in-law attaches a milking machine at this point and the cow goes on chewing and staring, steam coming out of her nose. Then, it is on to milking the seventeen other cows. 

It is cold out here. Patches of snow on the ground. A gray lake and white-capped mountains in the distance. It is beautiful. This is our first time visiting our son and daughter-in-law. For the past thirty-three years my husband and I have hosted Thanksgiving, cooked the entire spread, one year for nineteen people. Another year, just the two of us. This is our first time traveling. The first time being anyone's guests. 

We are open to learning. Turns out it is very nice. In the afternoon we all go on a walking tour of the town, a ferry boat churning across the lake, a row of pretty houses. This place is a tourist destination in summer, but for now the streets are quiet. If not for our son, we would never even know about it. But isn't that the way with our children? 

They grow up and go, and their places become our places, their people, our people. The things they do become the things we would like to try. Back in the dairy barn I am learning how to do what my daughter-in-law calls the "spa treatment." Here is how you do the spa treatment:

You rub a pepperminty lotion into your gloved hands and you carefully massage it on the cow's ... udders? flanks? backside? being mindful to avoid a kick in the head. When I'm finished, I move around to the other side of the barn to meet the cows I've previously only seen the backends of. As soon as I round the corner, one by one, they turn to look at me. Slightly wary, I imagine, wondering who this stranger is, but welcoming nonetheless. 

I am learning so much today and it's not even noon. My daughter-in-law hands me a shovel and we clean up the cow poop together. Here is how you clean up cow poop:

(Just kidding. I'll leave that to your imagination.) 

When we’re finished, I suddenly remember it is Thanksgiving. Time to say goodbye to the cows and head home. A delicious meal on the table. The people we love, waiting for us. 

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