From her perch on the milking stool, Sylvia patted the cow’s side and cooed to her, enjoying the warm softness of the cow’s hide. “You’re feeling better now, ya?” Puffs of white vapor left her mouth when she spoke, and her fingers ached from the cold.
The cow mooed gently as if answering her.
Sylvia removed the claw milker from the cow’s udder and sprayed Udder Care to prevent chaffing and to ward off mastitis. She set the stool and bucket out of the way, moved to the far end of the stalls, and pulled the lever that opened the tie rails, releasing the last round of cows from their milking stalls.
Daed lifted two buckets of milk and headed for the milk house. “What are you humming this morning?”
“Oh. Uh…” She hadn’t realized she was humming, so she had to pause for a moment and think. “Moon River.”
“Sure does sound nice. This place don’t seem the same when you’re off. No one else I know hums while working a herd.” He disappeared into the milk house to dump the fresh liquid into the milk tank.
Unlike a lot of Daeds, Sylvia’s hadn’t minded when she bought an iPod during the early years of her rumschpringe. The Englischer who picked up their milk three times a week had always recharged it for her. But then, five years ago, it fell under a cow during a milking and was trampled to death. Since she still hadn’t joined the faith, she could’ve bought another iPod, but Lilly was seven by then and hanging around the barn more. It would have hurt Lilly to realize that her older sister didn’t always keep the Old Ways, so she never replaced it. But she missed some of her favorite songs, like “Moon River.” The lyrics about the dream maker always made her think of Elam.
Her pulse quickened as she envisioned Elam next to her in the barn. His good looks seemed more suited to modeling in Englischer ads than managing a dairy herd, and she found his physical presence frustratingly compelling. He frequently mentioned marriage lately, and she could imagine their future together, always being close to him, waking alongside him in the mornings. But she had reservations too. Didn’t she want more from true love than heart pounding attraction? Maybe she just needed to spend more time talking with him about their “rainbow’s end,” and all her reservations would melt into nothingness.
She patted a few cows on the rump, gently moving them along. The herd desperately wanted in the barn at milking time, each cow hurrying to a stall in the milking parlor, but they weren’t eager to leave the building afterward. Their contented lowing and the ease with which they lumbered outdoors toward the bunk feeder and water trough made her smile. The large creatures were the same today as they’d always been—peaceful and productive.
In a side stall a new calf nursed from its mother. Ginger slid her head across the wooden gate, and Sylvia rubbed her long forehead. Sylvia had been up half the night making sure Ginger didn’t have any trouble bringing the calf into the world. Fortunately, Sylvia hadn’t needed to pull the calf or call a vet. Both were victories she was proud of.
Two years ago after she’d cried over the death of both a cow and her calf, her Daed did the unthinkable. He gave her the right to tend to the breeding of the herd as she saw fit. Her ways took more effort than his, but she’d not lost a cow or a calf yet. Milk production was up, and the overall health of the herd had improved. She had her grandpa’s teachings to thank for that.
Her Daed returned from the milk house. “I bet you’re thinking about Daadi Fisher.”
“Ya, I think of him every time a healthy calf is born.” As a child she’d been her grandfather’s shadow while he tended to the cows, and she’d been young when he began training her in the value of careful breeding and vigilance during every labor and birth. In spite of her being a girl in a patriarchal society, he believed in her. When he’d passed away a couple of years ago, she thought her heart might break.
Daed headed toward the remaining buckets of milk. Sylvia pushed the wheeled cart that carried all her milking supplies toward the mud sink. “I need the two heaviest of those buckets, Daed.”
“Two?” His eyes met hers, reflecting interest. “You making more yogurt already?”
“Are we eating that much, or are you selling that much?” He poured the white, frothy liquid into a sterilized milk can for her and securely tamped down the lid.
“The answer to both is yes.”
It was rare to see a smile on Daed’s face before breakfast, but he grinned broadly. “Sell iss gut, ya?”
“Ya, it’s a good thing.” She pushed the supply cart into the milk house ection of the barn and then returned to the parlor. “Daed, do you mind if I go to the house early? A bad dream woke Ruth up last night. I promised her that this morning I’d prove it was just a dream.”
He tossed a pitchfork into a wheelbarrow and went into the first stall. “Sure, go on.”
Sylvia abandoned her usual routine and climbed the haymow. After finding the mama cat’s new hiding place for her kittens, she gently placed Ruth’s favorite tabby into the inside pocket of her coat and then went back down the ladder.
He turned, and she pulled out the kitten, once again hinting at her ultimate goal: for Ruth to be allowed to keep this one inside the house when the little fur ball was a week or so older.
A lopsided grin caused one side of his face to wrinkle, and she wondered what had him so jovial this morning. “Just don’t get me in trouble over it. And make sure Ruthie knows it can’t stay inside. Barn cats tend to become mean once they get a little age on them.”
Sylvia put the milk cans into a wooden handcart. “They wouldn’t if—”
“Go already.” He shooed her toward the barn door. “I don’t want to hear any more of your newfangled ideas about how I could run this farm differently. They always cost me money and energy.”
His tone was playful, but she’d be wise to accept that he meant his words…for now. He’d come a long way in accepting her ideas concerning the farm. She often wondered if he’d give her any say if he had a son. She’d never know, because he had nine daughters, of which she was the eldest and the only one with a heart for farming.
His other daughters were more typical and girlish in every possible way, preferring housework over farm work. The three teenagers—Beckie, Lizzie, and Naomi—hated farming, always had. Lilly, who’d just turned twelve, would never complain about anything, but the smells and hard work made her queasy. The four youngest—Ruth, Barbie Ann, Salome, and Martha—were a hazard in the barn, causing Daed to shoo them away if they set foot inside the milking parlor.
Pushing the milk cart, Sylvia hurried from the barn to the house. Last week’s snow glistened under the early morning sunlight. She toted the heavy milk cans inside one by one, being careful not to lean the containers against her body and squish the kitten.
The warmth of the entryway made her cold fingers scream in pain. Delicious aromas of sausage, biscuits, and coffee made her mouth water and her tummy rumble, keen reminders of how long and cold her night had been.
Her Mamm was adding wood to the stove, and Lizzie stood at the sink, washing dishes. There was never a shortage of dirty glasses and plates in a house with eleven people.
Sylvia removed her wader boots. “Morning.”
Lizzie yawned. “That it is, and it arrives way too early in this house.”
“Why, there you are.” Mamm closed the door to the stove, smiling and motioning for her. “Kumm. Warm yourself. How’s that mama cow?”
“Ginger and her newborn are doing great.”
“I’m glad, but a girl shouldn’t have to work like you do.”
“I love it. You know that.”
Mamm put her arm around Sylvia’s shoulders and squeezed. “Still, we need a solution, and your Daed’s found one that is right around the corner.”
Sylvia would never get used to Daed making plans about the farm without telling her. “What does that mean?”
Naomi came through the back door, carrying an armload of firewood. She held the door open while Beckie entered with a lighter bundle of wood.
Beckie’s blond hair peeked out from under one of Daed’s black felt hats, and her blue eyes shone with spunk. “Good grief it’s cold out there. Isn’t it time for warmer weather?”
Mamm pulled several mugs out of the cabinet. “Your Daed said they’re calling for a long winter and a late spring this year.”
Clearly her mother had no intention of answering Sylvia’s question. She’d find out whenever her Daed was ready for her to know.