Starting the Day

My father taught me how to eat breakfast
those mornings when it was my turn to help
him milk the cows. I loved rising up from

the darkness and coming quietly down
the stairs while the others were still sleeping.
I’d take a bowl from the cupboard, a spoon

from the drawer, and slip into the pantry
where he was already eating spoonfuls
of cornflakes covered with mashed strawberries

from our own strawberry fields forever.
Didn’t talk much—except to mention how
good the strawberries tasted or the way

those clouds hung over the hay barn roof.
Simple—that’s how we started up the day.

~Joyce Sutphen, “Breakfast” from First Words, Red Dragonfly.

By the time I was four years old, my family owned several Guernsey and Jersey dairy cows who my father milked by hand twice a day. My mother pasteurized the milk on our wood stove and we grew up drinking the best milk on earth, as well as enjoying home-made butter and ice cream.

One of my fondest memories is getting up early with my dad, before he needed to be at school teaching FFA agriculture students (Future Farmers of America). I would eat breakfast with him and then walk out into the foggy fall mornings with our dog to bring in the cows for milking. He would boost me up on top of a very bony-backed chestnut and white patchwork cow while he washed her udder and set to work milking.

I would sometimes sing songs from up there on my perch and my dad would whistle since he didn’t sing.

I can still hear the rhythmic sound of the milk squirting into the stainless steel bucket – the high-pitched metallic whoosh initially and then a more gurgling low wet sound as the bucket filled up. I can see my dad’s capped forehead resting against the flank of the cow as he leaned into the muscular work of squeezing the udder teats, each in turn. I can hear the cow’s chewing her breakfast of alfalfa and grain as I balanced on her prominent spine feeling her smooth hair over her ribs. The barn cats circulated around us, mewing, attracted by the warm milky fragrance in the air.

Those were preciously simple starts to the day for me and my father, whose thoughts he didn’t articulate nor I could ever quite discern. But I did know I wasn’t only his daughter on mornings like that – I was one of his future farmers of America he dedicated his life to teaching.

Dad, even without you saying much, those were mornings when my every sense was awakened. I’ve never forgotten that- the best start to the day.

A new shipment of this book is arriving soon – you can order here:

8 thoughts on “Starting the Day

  1. No, Marybeth, unfortunately my father took a desk job when I was five and we moved to a different town and only a few acres, so the animals we had were sold or given away. I guess I’ve tried to recreate my childhood farm as I remember it with the acreage we have now (minus the dairy cows- that is a huge commitment!)

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  2. That’s wonderful you’ve been able to give your own children and grandchildren a similar slice of heaven! Your description was so enjoyable! I hope your own children and grandchildren hang onto your farm!

    The best times of my family’s life for the first seven years of my life, I am the youngest of five. My oldest brother is 16 years older than me and I remember him coming home from leave from the Air Force in the mid 60s, all of us so excited! My other two brothers worked at the local grocery store and my two year older than me sister and I , LIVED for Barbers, Wishnik Trolls, our cats, and Batman lol. Later was fun too but of course we were not all at home anymore. I’ve always dreamed of buying back the house we grew up in, but unfortunately it was remodeled to an extent that it’s not even recognizable. But oh the memories…. I praise God for giving us that ability! Thank you for reminding us of the good ol’ days…and also for keeping us aware of eternal joy!

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  3. Summer visits to my grandparents and to my cousins, aunt and uncle, both on farms, were my only experiences close to those described in today’s post. Wonderful memories! One exquisite treat was perfectly ripe peaches topped with cream that my aunt whipped from the morning’s milking! Perfection!

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  4. How I love your descriptions of farm life both past and present! Your writing puts this city living girl right there on the back of your milk provider watching the cats and hearing the milk ping in the bucket. Thank you, as always!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. dear emily, i am so jealous of the barn and animals and life style on the farm!!! don’t get me wrong — i am so happy for your wonderful farm life growing up, as well as what you have now. in my heart i am pure country girl. i tried so many times to get my dad to find us a little farm…one with a barn and a big garden. i am #3 of four girls, and my oldest sister was able to have a horse. but we never had a farm. i have always had a romance with farms….thank you for your precious recollecting. i just might have a country dream tonight!!

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