As every dairy farm kid knows, cows have to be milked at least twice a day.* That means morning and night, and when I was growing up, the morning milking required being in the barn by 6:30 a.m. We lived in an old two-story farmhouse and all the kids slept upstairs. Mom and Dad’s bedroom was on the main floor. Dad’s alarm would go off around 6 a.m. He’d get up, get dressed, and start water boiling for coffee. Next he’d come to the foot of the stairs and give the first call: “Laura, Russell, Nancy, Neil — get up!” Then he’d head back to the kitchen for breakfast.
Sometimes that first call produced the desired results and all four of us would come on down. If the results were less than 100 percent, and often they were, Dad would come back for the second call: “Time to get up!” The second call would bring down the stragglers most of the time. But when two calls weren’t enough, Dad would come back one more time. When he had to make the third call, it was not pleasant: “Get your ass down here!” And we did.
I can’t speak for my brothers and sister, but I never really got in trouble for needing the third call. However, I knew I’d disappointed my father. I knew I hadn’t held up my end of the farm family bargain. I’d also shortchanged myself. By the time I got downstairs, Dad already had finished his breakfast and left for the barn. I missed that early morning kitchen time with him. And time with my Dad I did not want to miss.
*Some dairy farms have switched to three-times-a-day milking.