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Going Back to Aunt Annie Mae's Farm
The Bus Ride
Summer was here, school was out, and off to Aunt Annie Mae's farm I go.
I was settled in my seat by the window of the Trailways bus and hoped we'd be leaving soon. The doors closed and I heard the whoosh of air as the driver expertly drove that big bus out of the terminal. I was excited. I had a secret plan.
Mama didn't know what I was thinking but I was going to do something new this year. I was going to milk a cow. How hard could it be? Aunt Annie Mae did it so fast the milk just squirted into the pail and it sounded like rain pelting on a tin roof.
And the cow mostly stood still. Sometimes she would look around, but Aunt Annie Mae just talked to her and she stood still. She could hear her baby bawling outside the barn, but the calf had to wait. That's just how things were.
Aunt Annie Mae knew a lot about cows. For instance, a healthy cow that gives a lot of milk has to chew her cud for hours and hours every day, sometimes as many as seven or eight hours. I wanted to know why, of course, and Aunt Annie Mae said it was because the cow had more than one stomach and had to chew and chew and chew for it to get digested.
If a cow doesn't chew cud then they don't give as much milk nor does it have much butterfat. I didn't know or care about any of that. I only wanted and planned to milk a cow this year.
A dairy cow has to go through a long digestive process, involving four stomachs. There is information about the regurgitation that happens and I don't want to go into that. If you, my readers, want to know more about the digestive system of cows, you can read about it here: http://babcock.wisc.edu/sites/default/files/de/en/de_01.en.pdf
Cows in the Pasture
The Excitement of Arriving at the Farm
Before I knew it that big bus was slowing down with those air brakes whoosing and then stopping at Aunt Annie Mae's and there she was, smiling and waiting to hug me until I could hardly breathe.
And, there was my dog, Blackie, wagging his whole behind. Well, I tell you, I was ready for my adventure to begin. I couldn't wait to tell Aunt Annie Mae my big secret so I commenced to talking as fast as I could.
And there were the cows and calves on the other side of the pasture fence, watching me get off that bus. The rooster running loose in the yard was mean, but I wasn't afraid. He didn't chase me.
I started telling Aunt Annie Mae about my big plans and she said that would be just fine, and we'd start in the morning.
Looking back, I think she was just humoring me. I don't think she really believed I'd get that close to a cow. And she was almost right. Nobody knows how scared I was when it finally came time for me to milk that cow. I had a lot of pride, even for one so young so, of course, I couldn't show my fear. It was "do or die."
That would not be the last time I went through with something, wishing all the while I hadn't spoken so quickly.
I don't remember the name of the cow and I wish I did, but I'm not sure I ever knew it. Aunt Annie Mae named all her animals but I didn't even try to remember them. Children don't think of things like that at the time, but now, looking back, there are gaps in my memories, holes inside that can't be filled.
Early Morning Chores
People who live on a farm have to get up early. Cows are lowing (that means they are bawling) and chickens are waddling around scratching at the ground and making a sound something like, "bok, bok, bok." Pigs are grunting (you can't hear them well because they are NOT close to the house) but they join in the chorus of early morning sounds on the farm. A farm is a noisy place.
I helped Aunt Annie Mae throw chicken feed around the back yard and the chickens would run over each other and us too, trying to get to the feed. Then, we'd go into the barn and Aunt Annie Mae would let the first cow in. She just brought her right into the middle of the barn.
Milking My First Cow
A little round stool stood against a stall that Aunt Annie Mae placed beside the cow after hanging a small bucket of feed in front of her. The bucket was looped over a hook on the wall of the stall. Aunt Annie Mae gave me the stool and she turned a good-sized bucket over for herself and pointed for me to sit down.
Aunt Annie Mae was smiling at me.
The cow was looking at me.
I looked at the cow.
I looked at Aunt Annie Mae.
And, right then, I found out what an epiphany was. I didn't know the word, but I knew the meaning.
That was a big cow. Aunt Annie Mae showed me how to warm my hands (cows do NOT like cold hands), move slowly, talk to the cow, and how to hold my hands.
Let me tell you, I did not want to put my hands on those things hanging down under that cow called teats. But, with Aunt Annie Mae right there beside me and with her hand on the cow's neck, talking softly to me (but for the benefit of the cow) I did conquer my fear or walked through it, and started to pulling on two of the teats.
The cow turned her head around and looked at me.
Aunt Annie Mae kept talking softly.
I tried again. I want you to know, that was the most patient cow on God's green earth. She would chew awhile and look at me awhile. Finally, she quit looking at me and started looking at Aunt Annie Mae. I believe I know now what was going on in her bovine mind.
I was ready to quit, in tears, when Aunt Annie Mae softly said to me, "You can do this. Be patient. You are not going to hurt her. She will hurt if her udder gets too full. You need to help her and get some of this milk out so she won't be in pain."
Then she showed me once more exactly how and where to grip, and how to stroke so the milk came down and out. THE MILK CAME OUT OF THE COW INTO THE PAIL! I was ecstatic. I was really milking.
Caring for All Creatures
My love and caring for animals put deep roots down that day. Aunt Annie Mae's cows were, for the most part, tame. Anyone could walk right up and pet them because she treated them with care and they trusted people. My tolerance for animal abuse is right up there with abuse of people – zero.
Yes, we have animals for food as well as for companions. I know that. But, we can and should be humane. I was a "city girl" but I learned some of life's most valuable lessons in those few summers that I spent on Aunt Annie Mae's farm. Animals have feelings, too. Respect for others, whether two or four-footed is still respect. (I really, really had respect for the bull. I did not ever go into his pasture and disturb him.)
The Last Time I saw Aunt Annie Mae
The last time I went to see Aunt Annie Mae she was living with my cousin. She was still the happy, loving woman that I loved so much.
And she didn't recognize me.
She asked me about my girls (they were adolescents) and it was so sad because she didn't recognize them. We had gone back once a year for the family reunions so she sort of watched them grow. We wrote letters. We kept in touch. And the memories were all gone for her.
She was happy, she was loving, but the Aunt Annie Mae who helped to shape my life, my mores, was no longer. The Alzheimer's had taken her to another place, a place where I could not go.
For more information about this sad and debilitating disease and for support options, go to:http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alzheimers-disease/DS00161
That was 1983 and the last time I saw Aunt Annie Mae, or her farm. I lived in another state and gradually we just stopped going "home." The people I was so close to were dying and I didn't really know my extended family.
Home became where my own family was, where my children were growing up. Rarely did I go back to my hometown -- and then only for a funeral.
Eventually the farm was sold. It was so sad and many family members felt a deep sense of loss. But, at the family reunions periodically, we would recall the "old days" and the good times.
Aunt Annie Mae touched so many lives and helped so many people. She was one of the most selfless people I know, except for my own mother.
What Children Need
Studies have shown that every child needs at least one person outside the immediate family who influences that child for good. That person need not be a relative. It can be a teacher, a coach, a mentor, or a cousin, aunt, uncle or grandparent.
I believe that it is our job, each adult, to be available and trustworthy enough to be that influential person to at least one child. Shaping a child is the single most important job that we can have. Children are our future.
I had Aunt Annie Mae. Who did you have? I hope you will write a hub about your mentor -- about someone who made an impact on your life, who recognized the gifts within you and encouraged you to use them.
I know that not every child has a happy, loving environment. That's why it's so important to be mindful of every opportunity to help the young person or child. The most unloving child is the one who needs it most.
There are many ways to help children. With the Information Highway at our fingertips today, it's so easy to find programs that focus on saving the children. All it takes is effort on our part to come out of our denial, put off our laziness and take whatever steps we can to make the future of a child our priority.
Journey into the Past
This has been a short sojourn into my past, a past very far removed from where I am today, but those days helped to shape me into the person I am today.
My core beliefs were shaped by the events of childhood. My parents, my Aunt Annie Mae, most of those people who helped to shape me are gone.
As long as I live, and pass on those lessons to my children and grandchildren, they will never be truly gone. They live on in our hearts, in our beliefs, in our every action. Use the gifts that have been passed down to you. Pass them forward.
Milking A Cow by Hand
Have you ever milked a cow by hand?
This is a condensed version of my memories as a little girl, ranging in age from very young until my family moved away to another state. I was eight years old when we moved to Louisiana.
Aunt Annie Mae was and will always be representative of integrity and my core values were influenced by her example.
I had adventures on her farm, I had pets, I learned to walk through fear and take on new challenges. I learned to love and be loved. I saw, again by example, the selfless, humble gentle woman of strength.
I learned the meaning of the paradox of strength through gentleness. The stronger a person is the more gentle they become. I hope I have conveyed something of who I am and how I became that person.