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Discourse in Dad's Dairy Barn
Editor’s Note: Nancy Ruskowsky, a native South Dakotan, lived on a ranch near Cody, Wyoming when this story appeared in the March/April 1988 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call 1-800-456-5117.
Long before articles on positive motivation moved the world toward success, most of my at-home education took place with me seated on a ledge by the barn wall, waiting for the next cow to be milked. As a child on our eastern South Dakota farm, it was my job to wash our Holsteins. There was only one requirement — that I stay just one cow ahead of my dad and our lone Surge milker.
Milking was the only time of the day that Dad stayed in one place long enough to talk. Sometimes he and I would practice naming all the counties in South Dakota. The next morning we'd dig into why I thought Judy Daniels was prettier than me. If I got good grades at our country school up on the hill, there'd be something new to offer Dad at milking time. The reward of his smile guaranteed my renewed attempt for another A tomorrow.
I always knew it was milking — and discussion — time when I heard Dad at the back of the barn calling, “Come boss, come boss.” As soon as the stanchions were closed and the first cow washed, I'd wait expectantly for Dad to adjust the milker on Rosie. "Okay, honey bunch," he'd say, "what will we talk about tonight?"
I'd dust off one of the stanchion supports, sit down and take a deep breath before asking, "Did you know there are trees in Australia that have an oil used for medicine?" Dad would listen intently, as he readjusted Rosie's milker and I rolled the word "eucalyptus" around my tongue.
Sometimes Dad would already know about my topic of conversation and could add more to my mental picture. Other times he'd never heard of my news, and the questions flew. I was always glad if I could answer every query.
It's been years since those conversations. But last night I again leaned against a barn wall, a thousand miles and twenty years from those South Dakota memories. I watched as my own twelve year old, Traci, attempted to milk her newly fresh Jersey heifer for the first time.
She and I talked for nearly the whole hour it took to milk that cow. As if it was yesterday all over again, I found myself backing against the wall as we discussed her day at school. As the sky darkened the single pane window, I slid down the wall to a dusty seat. We tried to define reasons for the world's troubles she'd been reading about in class.
Later, as we crossed the barnyard toward the house, she and I watched stars blinking over Sheep Mountain. The moon slipped up behind us, reflecting the satisfaction each of us felt. Suddenly my daughter stopped. As she shifted the pail from one hand to the other, she looked up at me with a glow that could have been the reflection of moonlight or inspiration as she asked, "Well, Mom, what will we talk about tomorrow?"