Lana D. was my best friend during elementary school. We were in the same first grade classroom and became buddies. Born on the cusp of Generation X. My older siblings qualified as Baby Boomers and she had one older and two younger siblings. She epitomized her Scandinavian and Germanic ancestors with dusty blonde hair, sparkly blue eyes and pale skin. Lana was affable and had a terrific laugh. She had average intelligence but above-average instincts regarding social interactions. She was the first person to accept me. Even when we weren’t in the same primary classroom we sat next to each other during lunch and hung out on the playground.
Her family farmed. Sixty Holstein milk cows with pasture and crops. They resided far enough from town that it was long distance to call her house. During the summer we would meet when her mom came in to get groceries, 4-H meetings, and at community events. Dairy farmers are married to their herds as much as to their families. The cows must be milked at the same time twice per day. Variation in the schedule causes stress. Stress will make an animal sick, produce less milk, and sick animals die. Dead animals don’t pay the bills. They ran a nearly organic dairy since they rarely used drugs to treat the animals for illness.
Farming is a difficult and dangerous job. Mr. D refused to buy the huge tractors and fancy equipment, which became vogue in the 1970s. He preferred to fix machines until they were beyond repair. They didn’t take out loans and was careful with money. He inherited a portion of the farm and was gradually paying off his siblings for the rest. No mortgage needed, his sisters and brothers knew that they would be compensated. It took twenty years of toil but Mr. & Mrs. D paid for the farm in full. The conservative financial strategy saved their enterprise for another generation.
I visited the farm every six weeks or so during grade school. I often spent long weekends there or part of the break. That was back in the day when we had a two-week Christmas vacation so I’d hang out with them from the day after Christmas to the New Year. Occasionally, Lana would stay with me in town. I was embarrassed because our house was a mess. Chaotic, cluttered, and crowded with temperamental teenaged siblings. I was delighted to holiday at the farm, I felt safe and comfortable. Their house was less than ten years old since the old farmhouse was abandoned after his parents retired and moved into town.
We drank milk straight from the cow’s teat (after refrigeration). Utterly delicious creamy and dreamy. Nectar of the Gods. Whole milk seems sterile in comparison. Skim milk is colored water. Mr. D would bring in a jug of cream and we would use an old churn to break up the fat molecules. Drain off the whey (give it to the barn cats); add a little salt and the result was scrumptious butter. Note: Unpasteurized milk may contain microbes that will cause digestive problems if you aren’t accustomed to the product. Never give to children or people who are ill. It is best to be monitored by doctor. Pasteurization heats the milk to kill off the microbes.
I helped with the chores. We would get up at 5am to feed the animals while her dad milked. Polka music would blare in the milking parlor because the cows liked the music. They also enjoyed symphonic music but her dad didn’t. The cows would kick and maw when rock-n-roll was played. It would take about an hour. We’d stumble in, strip off our stinky clothes on the porch, put on a robe, and hop in the shower (they had three). By the time we were dressed her mom would have prepared a hearty breakfast that we would inhale and run out to play. Her dad would call us to help with chores again and it would be lunchtime. Sometimes a nap or more play and chores again. Evening milking, shower, dinner, and relaxation. Her dad would check on the cattle again and go to bed after the 10pm news. We needed to know the weather report. Her mom worked just as hard in the house and helped in the barn and fields, too. The rhythm was around the cattle. Their needs were priority because they were the literal butter of the business.
Contented cows grazed on pastureland during the warm months. The D’s grew field corn to feed the cattle during the winter. The leftover stalks were chopped into silage to supplement the corn gluten. It smelled horrible as it fermented in the silo and was explosive. Extra land grew oats or wheat depending upon what was most profitable to sell. After the grain was harvested, the hay was valuable to the cattle. I tried to help with baling hay but my allergies were relentless. I could sling the heavy bales but suffered greatly.
We would go to the Lutheran Church on the windswept prairie for Sunday services. Surrounded by fields and next to a cemetery. It would be packed full with folding chairs added to the back. I thought it was unusual to have specific materials to read since my parent’s church had none. Why vow to the Holy Catholic Church if you were Lutheran? Didn’t Martin Luther get excommunicated? It was all very peculiar to me. I was more interested in the cute guys who were parishioners but attended another school district.
Lana and I gravitated to different groups during junior and senior high school. We still remained friendly but weren’t friends anymore. I hope that she is doing well. I’d try to find her but she has changed her last name. It is demoralizing for women to give up their last name when getting married. We aren’t cattle. I’ll hyphen if he hyphens or else we can combine our last names together to create something new. Period. End of Discussion.
In retrospect, I should have tried to woo one of her younger brothers. The thought never entered my mind when I lived there. I would have loved to be on the farm. When I was 17 a swine farmer proposed and I said no. Great guy but I wanted to go to college. I knew that if I got married before finishing school that would be the end of my education. I didn’t realize that a person’s path might change through time. I would have been content to work part time in town and help coordinate the business aspect of farming. Who could predict that the Internet would reduce isolation? Too late to hold regrets. Heavy sigh.
© 2012 Ima B. Musing