The Adventures of Clifton Ray Middleton
I was dirt born the son of a share crop farmer in 19 an 47 in an age that was before everything, really. Life on the farm was full of hard drama; that would be a combination of hard work, high hopes and endless conflict with nature, up close and personal. Survival of the fittest on a daily, hourly basis all dependent on a deep style, this becomes your life.
Cows. Cows were very much a part of my day, in fact the entire family’s life centered on cows, raising cows, cows having calves. Stock cows for beef, milk cows for milk, feeder calves, bulls, we had cows of every description and age.
Milking cows is an ancient science, long cherished as one of our most useful activities. We milked cows by hand, twice a day, every day, the same two times every day. The cows need to be milked or they get sick so whatever else is going on the cows must be milked. There is no choice and you are a part of this endless, timeless ritual, forever. That is the Farm, the Land …
Cows like structure, order and peace. The whole thing is a ritual between the cows and the people. It begins early in the morning. My dad would wake up at 5:00 am without an alarm clock. The clock was inside his mind and body, imprinted years ago when he was young like all farm families, we rise with the sun. Up and out the door to the barn where the cows were already waiting, all in formation, 17 of them ready to be milked and hungry for the sweet grain mix that they knew was already there, right where it is supposed to be. Cows have expectations.
We were a family farm and only milked as many cows as we could by hand to make a little money, have our own milk. The operation was small and all the cows had names, some like Indian names based on characteristics, color and behavior and some, the most common the names of female relatives. Betsy, Mildred, Margret, after my aunts and one called Four Ten.
Four Ten was named for how much she cost, $410 dollars, a huge amount to pay for any normal cow. Cow prices for a young, already calving cows were 250 to 300 so when my dad paid 410 for one cow the entire neighborhood exploded in 1950’s style Tweets, that being the two to three sentence interactions that Midwestern farm folks exchange in passing…