Mother's Blue Ribbon Cow
I was lucky to live in a resourceful family during the depression. We lived by the sea and my father was lucky to have his job, but he had to accept $50 a month, a third of his former salary. He was also an able hunter and fisherman. We had a small fishing boat to catch our own fish, so we had food on the table. We always had a barrel of salt cod or mackerel and we had a small barn where we raised two pigs for meat and a cow for milk, cream, butter and cottage cheese. We were always reminded of how lucky we were to have all this.
We had a beautiful Jersey cow named Blossy and it was my job to take her to the pasture every morning before school. I would lead her on a rope to the pasture which we rented for $3.00 a year.
Blossy was a kind, gentle cow, with the most beautiful eyes. It was always a pleasure to look after her. She never gave us any problems. At 5 o’clock, I would go back to the pasture and bring her home for the evening milking – keep her in the barn till morning. Caring for the milk was a chore. My mother mostly looked after her. We had to separator so the extra milk was put in large black pans till the cream separated from the milk. Mother would scoop it off with a spoon. That cream was so thick. Jersey cows were well noted for their cream.
Later in the day we had the old wooden butter churn to make our butter. The milk that the cream was taken off was put in a large pot on the stove until it became curdled. Mother would put the curds in cheesecloth and on a fine day hung it on the clothesline to dry for cottage cheese. Curds and cream was a delicacy in our household. Even though we had lots to eat and home-made bread made twice a week, we had salt fish and pork. Mother would always say ,”Go easy on the butter.” When the bread was hot we kids would love to smother our bred with butter when Mother wasn’t looking. She sometimes took the butter off the table if she thought we used too much. We had a chicken pen. Mother would put down eggs in Isinglass for the winter, occasionally a chicken was killed for dinner on Sundays. We raised our chickens with a clucky hen. I remember my mother borrowing a clucky hen to sit on the eggs to get our chicks and when the chicks were on the their own take the clucky hen back and give the neighbor a few young chicks for the loan of the hen. We sold a few quarts of milk a day, never got much money for ti. A few people paid and lots of time we were paid nothing. Mother never complained.
One day when my mother was walking home from helping some lady who had had a baby (Dr. O;Neil would always call my mother if he needed help) she was passing a house where a woman had six children, all very young. She called my mother and told her, “We don’t have even a piece of bread to feed the children.” So Mother asked me to take a double loaf of bread up to her. “Put it under your coat so your father won’t see it.”
The door opened as I was going out. When my father saw the bread, he said, “Where do you think you’re going with that loaf?” He took me by the hair and turned my head to where Mother was, and said, “Look what I caught this child with going out the door.” Mother told him she was sending it over to Mrs.X who didn’t have a bite for the children . Mrs.X had a husband who drank every cent he ever got his hands on . My father said, “Put the bread back. I am not working to supply the drunk’s family with food.”
Mother gave my father his supper and when he went back to work Mother said, “Put that bread under your coat and take it over to Mrs. X and don’t let your father see you.” My father never did find out that Mrs. X got the bread. Depression affected a lot less fortunate but Mother could never see children hungry.
In 1932 the worst thing happened that could happen. Our vegetable peelings were put in a bucket by the back door for Blossy’s treat. She loved vegetable peelings. I brought Blossy home from the pasture one night at 5 o’clock. That night, someone forgot to take a potato out of the peelings and Blossy swallowed it. That night she bloated and was choking. Mother sent for a neighbor, a blacksmith, to help us. He put a broom handle town the cow’s throat to push the potato down. It failed, and she died that night.
We kids were crying our hearts out. It was the biggest blow my mother and father had during the whole Depression. No milk, no cream, not butter, no curds and cream. It was a disaster.
My father was talking to a man off a vessel that was bringing produce from Prince Edward Island and he said that they had black and white cows that gave three times the milk of a Jersey cow. He said the cows were not that expensive. So Papa borrowed $50 (a month’s salary) from his boss and sent Mother up to the Island on the produce boat to buy a cow.
The owner of the boat charged a small passenger fee for herself and guaranteed Mother he would bring a cow back for her. I can still see that two-master little vessel leaving the harbour right from our kitchen window. It left all of us kids in a turmoil – the boat was old and it leaked and it always had the pump going .
After five days the boat came back and we saw the black and white cow on the deck strapped to whatever, we scrambled to the wharf so fast. My father got the hoist that they haul up fish, got a piece of canvas to put under her stomach, and put it on the block and tackle. At last she had her legs again. A halter was put on and a rope to take her from the wharf to our barn. We never saw so many people going in and out of our barn to see that blue ribbon cow that Mother paid the full $50 for the cow
We kept her tied on a rope and stake for a few days to eat the grass behind the sheds and stores not far from our house. The first bucket of milk Mother milked she kicked it over and we lost all the milk. We lost a few more pails of milk before we could manage her. We had to hold a dipper in one hand, milk with the other hand, and keep the milk pail far away from the cow’s hooves. She was a real kicker.
At last when Mother thought I could handle the milking, she sent me out to milk. She watched when I started. After a few kicks at my milking stool I managed milking in the dipper. I found it so strange as old Blossy would let us put the pail down and milk with both hands, plus we got the job done faster. We always had deadlines to meet – pasture and school. One evening when I was alone I rigged up two poles and drove them under the cow to the barn wall. I nailed them on a 2 x 4 of the barn. I brought them across her legs to see if I could hold her legs back and milk with both hands. I had nothing to fasten the poles on the other side I milked from. I found an old anchor and strapped it by the door and tied the poles to that. It wasn’t long when she kicked them right off the wall, and the anchor came down and spilled what milk we had. After six months we finally got the cow tamed down to milk with both hands. We found she was a real milker we never had enough pots and pans to keep all the milk. We sold more milk which gave Mother a few cents to buy extras like a spool of thread, etc.
We kids were starting to grow up a bit, too. We had an Aunt in Boston who sent all their old clothes to us and my sister Carrie found a beautiful blue Celanese dress in the bundle and it fitted her. She washed it and hung it on the line outside to dry. Our beautiful Blue Ribbon Cow was grazing close to the house and spotted the dress and by the time we got to her, half the dress was chewed right off to the waist. We had to watch the cow and tie her away from the clothesline. This cow was something else. The cow was forever knocking down fences and my poor father would get home from work only to have to go and fix them. Milk or no milk he cursed that Blue Ribbon cow every day.