Originally Published on 6/7/10, 2:02 PM Pacific Daylight Time
The saying goes, you never really know a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. My grandfather and other ancestors wore work boots and did most of their walking on a dairy farm.
Ah yes, the old farm, where every day was filled with chores, fresh air, and E-I-E-I-O. Or so I thought. A few years back, I traveled to Wheeler Historic Farm in Murray, Utah to get a “grip” on the “udderly” demanding job of my ancestors—a dairy farmer.
The first myth I busted when I walked onto the farm was that of “fresh air.” “Ripe” would be a more accurate descriptor. And just when you got used to the smell, the wind would change direction and bring a whole new array of scents. I learned from my father that this smell was commonly referred to as “the smell of money” on the old farm.
The second thing I noticed was the noise. My old See ‘n Say toy told me that farm animals made noises. What it didn’t warn me about was how startlingly loud and frightening these animal noises could be.
I took a tour of the old farmhouse, barn, and chicken coup, where I learned about the daily life of the farmer, early mornings, backbreaking labor, and the overall lack of hygiene.
Finally, my tour group was led into a warm brick shack with a cement floor. The floor had a trench about 8-inches deep that ran right through the middle of it.
Suddenly, two large sliding doors opened, letting in the natural light. Silhouetted in the light was a man in a grungy baseball cap. Behind him, being led by a leash, was a lumbering black and white spotted cow. Ripples shook through its plump body with each step that it took.
The man in the cap led the cow to a trough, plopped a tin bucket under the udders, positioned a short stool next to the beast, pointed at me and said, “you first.” I nervously sat onto the stool and was soon face-to-gut with what looked like a fat horse. I started to contemplate about my grandfather and wondered how many times he had taken in a similar view.
After some brief instruction, I reached under the cow and began to milk it. After a few tries I heard a long “ting” sound echo from the tin bucket. I immediately felt a sense of family pride and accomplishment. My pride was validated when the man in the ball cap told me that I was “a natural.” I then heard a gurgling sound coming from one of the cow’s four stomachs, shocking me out of my genealogical moment. The cow lifted its tail and I realized what the trench in the floor was for.
So, in the end, I got to connect with my family history in a physical and emotional way, and although I understand the appeal of life on the farm, I prefer the city life.
On an upcoming episode of The Generations Project, college professor, Andrea, retraces her ancestry back to her Irish homeland. While in Ireland, Andrea visits a period-style potato farm to experience, firsthand, what life would have been like for Andrea’s strong-willed great grandmother.
How well do you think you could perform the labors of your ancestors? Did you take over the family business or did you make your own way in the world? Leave us a comment and let us know.