Excerpted from the book "Morning Milking" by Linda Lowe Morris and David DeRan. Published by Picture Book Studio. Copyright 1991 by Linda Lowe Morris and David DeRan. Together my father and I go down the rows of cows, working with a rhythm like a dance we have practiced many times.
For as long as I can remember, my mother and father -- and my grandfather, when he was living -- have told stories, stories like songs, so magical and so beautiful that you want to hear them over and over -- like favorite songs on the radio you can't wait to hear again.
My father tells my sister and me stories about growing up here on the farm. My mother tells us stories about when she was growing up on her father's farm -- a farm I can just barely see when I look out across the fields. And then they both tell stories about our grandparents and great-grandparents who once lived here too.
I have heard these stories so often that they are almost like my own memories. And sometimes it seems as if there is no time here, as if I could go around a corner of the barn and find my grandfather hitching up his horse to the wagon, or walk into the house and find my great-grandmother peeling apples in the kitchen.
My father and I move from one cow to the next. After each one, he stops to dump the full milker into a strainer sitting on top of a big milk can. And if I am standing close, I can smell the sweet smell of the milk, still warm from the cow.
Then finally we are done. My father takes the milker off the last cow, opens it up and pours out some milk for the cats. In spite of the little snacks I have given them, this is what they've been waiting for.
They jump down from the stairs and drink til the bowl is empty, then sit a few feet away and clear the milk from their whiskers.
My father turns off the motor and everything is quiet again except for the jingling sounds when the cows shake their heads.
While he puts the milkers to soak in hot sudsy water, I let the cows out to spend the daylight hours in the upper pasture.
Then we head toward the house. By now the stars have all melted into the pink-gray light of morning, and as we walk along, my father begins a story.
"Years ago," he says, "we had a horse named Dan. And Dan would always pull the wagon to take the milk down to the dairy.
"I would load up the wagon in the morning and while I'd go inside to eat, Dan would stand right here and wait," he says as we come to a corner of the road. "As soon as I would come outside after breakfast, Dan would hear the door slam, turn and head up the lane with the wagon and I would run and jump on.
"Well, one morning someone else must have gone out the door while I was still eating breakfast and Dan heard that slam and took off. When I got outside Dan and the wagon loaded with milk were gone.
"I hopped in the car and tore down to the dairy. And there was Dan standing in line with all the rest of the wagons. As the next wagon in line moved up Dan would move up another space -- just as he did every morning.
"I got on the wagon and emptied out the milk, then turned Dan around and pointed him back toward the farm. He took off again and I followed him home in the car.
"Now that was one smart horse."
We both laugh at the story as he opens the door. Inside, Mom has breakfast cooking and I can smell maple syrup and pancakes before I get to the kitchen.