[October 16, 2023] She had a great body, was content and cooperative, and had a sweet temperament. And she seemed to like me. Every afternoon after school, I visited her, visited her family, talked to her, and helped as best I could. I was 11, and Bessy was 6, and she always seemed to appreciate me being there for her. We lived in the rural part of the state, where the roads were mostly hard-packed dirt and electricity and running water had become available for those living in towns during the last decade, not so much the rural areas. The farm kids I knew were tough because of living a hard life that required taking care of farm animals, planting and harvesting crops, bringing in money to help the family, learning ‘readin-writin-rithmetic’ in school, going to church, and doing those things their parents said needed doing and what is expected that young kids do. Their kids were ready to take their place in the family by showing they could do chores and lead younger children in life skills. Little did I know that our neighbor, farmer Jacob Simons, would go out of his way to help a little boy … me.
I’m not sure Mr. Simons needed an unskilled local boy from town to help him on his farm or milk his cow. He gave me the job anyway. That’s how it was so often done in the South, neighbors helping neighbors, part of our culture. His eldest, Linda, of seven kids, had the same job as me. We team-milked Bessy, first Linda, then me, then Linda, and so on. I’d never milked a cow before. There, on the farm, there are no days off. Farming is a seven-day-a-week operation. It’s a difficult job. I was paid 50 cents for about two hours of effort each day, including prepping Bessy by calming her, walking her to the milking area (usually she followed me), cleaning her tits and the milk bucket, milking her by hand, keep from upsetting her, doing a follow-up cleaning, and taking the milk to a special container with a lid. Once I was there for a while, I think Bessy started to like me. Then, after I arrived, she would raise her head and stare into my eyes, sometimes lick me with that huge, sandpaper-like tongue, and nudge me to get my attention when I wasn’t paying enough attention to her. She was a smart girl. Mr. Simons taught me what I needed to know: to stay focused on Bessy and not let my mind wander, or else the bucket of milk might spill. He also taught me about pride in doing a difficult job well and the importance of God and family.
I was a town boy, so I had it easy. Farm kids did many farm chores before school, things I never imagined doing, getting up before sunrise. And they often took jobs outside the farm to help support the family. Farm girls began babysitting early and helped their moms clean the house, prepare meals, and care for the younger children. All this required physical stamina, smarts, determination, and a sunny disposition. I liked Mr. Simons and his family. Their home was a hive of activity. By modern standards, they were poor: no plumbing, electricity only in the kitchen, a wood stove heater, a smelly wood outhouse for your private business (yuck), no television set, no air conditioning (none of us had AC), and a roof under constant repairs. They may have been house-poor, but they were family-rich. One could tell they were generous folks. Mrs. Simon would sometimes invite me over for a supper meal. That was great fun eating at their long kitchen eating table. And she once gave me an entire homemade apple pie, my favorite. They had a big family, and they worked hard for themselves. I never realized what a sacrifice it was for them all and the great trust that Mr. Simons had in me, especially to milk his only cow, Bessy. I’m eternally grateful and humble for what they did for me. I now realized how easy of life I was living.
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