SHOULD START SOONER
gay yellow school buses do not make their appointed rounds if the
highway crew has not first cleared new-fallen snow. So if a plow breaks
down there is no school. On a morning when the new snow is deep and you
can sit in a rocker in the kitchen with the cat on your knees, there is
time for both you and the cat to meditate quietly, and just now I got
to thinking about the time I got buried in the cowshed. Just such a
storm as this, and I was late for school.
already had some good storms that winter, and this one I mention added
a couple more feet. It was enough, too, to demonstrate a flaw in our
architecture, because we'd hung the cowshed door so it swung out. In
the snow belt of Maine, this is silly, and I don't know how we came to
do it. We'd widened the shed that summer, added some windows, and
thought we'd done well.
I came down into the kitchen that morning snow covered the windows, so
Mother had a lamp burning as she stirred the porridge at the stove.
Upstairs, there had been the noise of the wind and the driving flakes,
but here in the kitchen there was no sound of the welter outside.
Insulated against noise, cold and light, we were snug as any Eskimo,
and I pulled on my storm clothes and made ready for my morning trek to
chore the cow.
wasn't a six-footer then, and the drifts were. I slung the milk pail
over one elbow, clutched a turned-down barn lantern in that hand, and
held the big wooden snow shovel in the other. So I wallowed to the
shed, and it wasn't easy. I dug down, clearing snow until the door
would swing, and as soon as it swung enough I squeezed in. It took more
room for the fourteen-quart milk pail than it did for me. I made it,
pulled the door to, and shot the hasp.
black cow, usually up and eager at the first sound of approaching
breakfast, was not ready for me that morning. The snow had covered her
windows, too, and she had no warning that morning had come. As far as
she knew it was still last night. Abruptly, some intruder had violated
her boudoir and surprised her. She started to get up just as I squeezed
through the door.
cow, you know, gets up hind-end foremost. It is an anatomical maneuver
least designed to accommodate the style of manger in which man usually
installs her. When she is down, her head stretched forward on her grain
box and her great body relaxed in the sweet comfort of repose, she
would do a lot better to stand up front-end first. This would save her
from ramming her snout into the boards, and the whole manipulation
would be more congenial. But instead, she hoists her stern aloft, and
for the partial elevation thus gained she pays dearly on the bow. Given
sufficient time to awake, shake off drowsiness, and do the thing with
dignity and poise, a cow can make out, but when an element of urgency
or surprise is added she goes all to pieces.
cow then went to pieces. Suddenly intruded upon, she came to with a
jerk and began to stand up. By the time she had her hind quarters at a
point, I had closed the door behind me and with her head in the feed
box she decided whatever it was she had been mistaken. Neither up nor
down, she stood there deciding if she had heard something or not, and
at last she decided she had not and began to recline her posterior
again. But just then I turned up the wick in the lantern and bathed the
tie-up in the yellow kerosene glow.
convinced her it was morning so she shifted to rise again. But I
suppose she knew that lanterns were for night, not morning, and she
went back to bed. Her thought processes then went to pot entirely, and
I stood there in the shed and watched the stern end of my cow rising
and lowering, rising and lowering, so confused she was that dusk or
dawn she wotted not.
go into details, because all this took a lot of time and time is of the
essence. When at last I spoke to her she responded, engaging her
coordination, and she got the front end up the next time the hind end
went by, and she turned to look at me with sad brown eyes, asking
mutely how all this started, anyway. I brushed her down, speaking
cajolingly as is the proper approach, but she was taut and distraught
as I milked her, her ears laid back and her eyes bugged.
cow, thus wound up, usually becomes a "hard” milker, and it takes
longer than usual to drain her At that time she was filling the pail,
foam and all to about an inch from the top, and I worried about toting
that heft of splashing milk through the new snow back to the house.
Indeed, this same consideration had decided me against watering her
that morning, for in winter we lugged her beverage in pail from the
house. I could let that go until after school. But she stripped out at
last, I filled her crib with hay and there I was.
had taken so long that the snow had blown back against the door, and I
was trapped by an out-swinging portal in snow country. There wasn't a
thing I could do except wait to be saved. Mother, busy with bacon and
eggs and feeding and dressing the other children, would think of me in
time, and after she pulled on some heavy clothes would come out to see
why I was detained. The froth on my pail of milk had settled completely
by the time she did this, and the cream had started to rise. I heard
her call to me through the door, and then she began digging away the
didn't get bussed to school in those times, and we all went to school
that morning—I was on ahead breaking a path for my brothers and
sisters. We were all late, and my teacher asked me how that happened. I
told her about the cow and the driving snow, and she said on bad
mornings I ought to start sooner.
Should Start Sooner, Little, Brown & Company, 1949