A week ago today, Dad and Mom sold the cows.
I’ve been wishing for this to happen for years now. Ever since they started the cleaning jobs, around three years ago, they’ve worked too hard. They’ve had to milk the cows morning and evening, of course, besides feeding and cleaning barn and putting up hay and dealing with frozen water pipes and whatever else comes with dairying in Wisconsin. It’s hard work for anyone, and far harder at sixty years of age than thirty. And since we children have grown up and have jobs and responsibilities of our own, it’s just been the two of them to work the farm.
In addition to the regular chores, every night after milking for three years, they’ve gone uptown to do janitorial work at two local businesses. We children have helped with those cleaning jobs some. But not every night. And I’ve felt sorry for Dad and Mom, driving uptown night after night, coming home late. For three years, hardly ever an evening at home.
And now–finally–they’ve sold the cows. I didn’t expect, after the trailer carrying the last eight of our milk cows had gone out the lane, to feel . . . SAD.
But I did.
There have been milk cows in our barn as long as I’ve lived. Always, we’ve had milk in our refrigerator and hamburger in our freezer and the not-so-pleasant odor of manure drifting up from the barn. Always, Dad goes out in boots and coveralls and comes in covered in silage and the odor of cow. Always, he stands at the door to hand in a brimming container of milk and goes on down the basement to change. Always, there has been hay making and calf feeding and the big solid swaying bodies of cows. Morning and evening, milking has been a rhythm of life and the only thing, ever, that never changed.
And now the milk cows are gone.
Already we are falling into new rhythms. Dad kept back some of the young stock to raise as steers. Right now he’s working on changing the barn over from a place for milk cows to a place for young steers. There will always be chores to do as long as he has the steers, but they will be less labor intensive than the milk cows were. Mom doesn’t have to help anymore and has more time for homemaking.
Every evening Dad and Mom still do the cleaning jobs, but now they can go earlier and come back to have part of an evening at home.
When the apple trees they planted last summer bear fruit, there will be apples to pick and sort and sell.
There will always be plenty of work. But I hope—I pray—that Dad and Mom won’t have to works such long hours, that they can have time in between to relax, to enjoy their family, to do something fun for a change.
For me, this time of change for my parents feels like a time of release. I’ve felt responsible, as long as they were overwhelmed with both milking and cleaning, to help as much as I could. I don’t feel that anymore. It is time to move up, move out, find a life of my own. To step away, just a bit, from the protecting arms of my parents and find a purpose independent of them.
Not because I don’t love my life as it is. I do. Only because it is time. The rhythm of life is always surging forward to meet change, growth, maturity . . . and then death. And though this makes me feel sad and sentimental–like I want to hold on to now, always–the pulse to move forward is good. It is the thing that makes new life possible.
I’ve finished a book, finally. It will come out in July. The next book I want to write glimmers on the horizon. Perhaps writing is the one part of my life that will never change, at least until I am too demented or blind or arthritic to do it anymore. Writing is a rhythm within me, pulsing from one day to the next like morning and evening milking.
And always, besides the writing, I will carry within me my family, this community, this life. That will never change, no matter where I go or what I do.
“What are you waiting for?” we used to ask each other sometimes, as children. “Til the cows come home?” The words run through my mind now, when the cows are gone, and change and maturity and eventually death lie low on the horizon.
None of us are waiting around, because waiting isn’t an option in life. But love is an option. And family. And doing something useful with a life while one still has a life to give.
These people around me, within me—they are the rhythm of my heart and life. They are a part of me always, and I will love them ’til the cows come home.
The feature photo was taken by Egalo Palo and originally posted at http://www.freeimages.com/photo/threesome-1380736