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Life Arts    H3'ed 6/16/09

Old Bessie: I Loved That Milk Cow

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Our family of eight, six siblings; four older girls and two boys survived the Great Depression leaving Utah in early 1938 in a 1934 straight six Hupmobile with two extra fold down seats in the back pulling a nineteen foot homemade trailer. It was the Wallace exodus to the promised land of Oregon where seemingly constant rain produced an abundance of green. The hope of having five acres and independence lured the family patriarch to lead his dependants out of financial impoverishment of Utah. It was I am sure symbolic of many other families of the "Grapes of Wrath"- era venturing west for survival.

I was the fifth child with a younger brother Dale and celebrated my ninth birthday on that lush five acres of timber in Veneta, Oregon some 20 miles west of Eugene.  I think the book my father had read failed to mention that the five acres for independence required that it be cleared pasture land with an abundance of water. The sales come-on for that parceled forest boasted an all year creek which at the first glimmer of summer disappeared into the forest. A rudimentary pump was put into action with a hole dug into the creek bed by post-hole auger and while it graciously produced a stream of water at first it too faded into obscurity.

Having a commercial well drilled was not an option for this family as they had financially barely made it to Veneta with a down payment on the land parcel.

My older sister Jean and I were appointed the official water bearers. I don't to this day understand how the three oldest sisters escaped the duty! My sister and I daily transported a very large oval shaped canning cooker with handles on both ends in a red wagon over a very rough field to a kind neighbor about a half mile away and after filling it with water pulled the precious liquid home to maintain the family potable needs for the day [An outhouse was in vogue]. At first it slopped so badly that a loss of liquid by the time we got it home would leave maybe one half of that which we started with. Being the inventive person that he was, dad suggested a small block of wood be floated in the water which pretty much eliminated the loss and our clothes from getting wet! During this time the trailer had had a 20 foot square all purpose living area added on it.

As the water waned, the family patriarch abandoned his hope and sought carpentry work in Eugene. Being a Mormon family, The Bishop of the Eugene Ward which was building a new chapel at the time arranged for him to receive wages at a reduced rate to work on the building. He did that for a time and I joined him scrapping out mortar surpluses in the brick veneer as a donation of time.

Meanwhile summer was over and the kids had to go to school. The school was a two room structure with four grades taught by one teacher in each room. Since I had been in a hit and miss schooling for the better part of the 3rd grade, the powers that be decided I needed to repeat the grade. I later made up the grade loss.

The daily travel to Eugene together with the hauling of the trailer from Springville, Utah to Veneta exhausted the old Hupmobile and it blew some pistons necessitating acquisition of another family vehicle. Along with that came a decision by the parents to also acquire a dwelling in Eugene. They checked out tax defaults at the county court house and located a half acre lot which they purchased for twenty-five dollars.

Dad made a deal with a lumber company and was furnished on credit, the materials to frame up a house he designed to be built upon concrete pier blocks. He did this in the after hours of working on the chapel. After the roof was on and the side walls covered with tar paper, the family abandoned the Veneta project and moved in. It was late fall 1938 in time for the really wet rainy season!

While wall studs had been constructed with rooms, the only privacy to be gained was grey felt paper stapled on the studs. The house had space for three bedrooms in the attic.A larger one on the South and two on the north with a bathroom which was only finished years later just before the house was sold and the family moved to Portland.

The neat part was a semi-circular stairway which was the last part of the house to be finished some three years later. An outhouse accommodated the needs of the family for about a year until plumbing was installed. Electrical wiring was a minimum at first and the only heat was the wood range in the kitchen. Really though, this was a tremendous family improvement over the year spent in a nineteen foot trailer! Also this was an age wherein government did not interfere with the resourcefulness of its citizens. Today we need inspections and certificates of occupancy to "protect public health and welfare!"-

Stella Magladry was the grade school which the younger children attended. It was about a half mile walk up a curvy road on a forested hillside. It was an improvement over Veneta in that it had four rooms teaching eight grades with a single teacher alternating between a lower and upper grade. I fell in love with my third grade teacher, Olive York, I thought she was beautiful!

Back at the homestead, the family had brought three milk goats from Veneta to Eugene. Goat milk had been prescribed for our mother who had suffered for years from indigestion. I and two sisters had the responsibility of caring for one goat each. Somehow I got elected to milk at least two of them daily. After a time the goats were exchanged for a Guernsey milk cow. She became my responsibility and I called her Bessie!

Adjacent north to the half acre was an immense pasture in which arrangements had been made to pasture old Bessie along with other cows. Senator Wayne Morse from Oregon also pastured his cow there. We built a shed consisting of a milk stall/parlor with a feeding trough and room for storing hay. It was located at the fence with a cut out to accommodate the structure.

I took care of Bessie milking her in the morning and again at evening. Cows are creatures of habit so it is expected that at a given time they will come to the milking stall usually about twice a day. Occasionally when that didn't happen you'd give out a holler and Bessie would come sashaying in. Most times it was not necessary when I kept my bargain at the habitual time. But if I was early I'd call her name and in she would come no matter how far away she was. I'd give her big old head a hug and she understood.

I took care of old Bessie for about a year. It was not a burden and I loved every minute of the time I spent taking care of her 24/7.

One morning I went out to milk her and she was laying on her side in the milking stall bloated and groaning in agony. I ran back into the house. A call was made to the Veterinarian who arrived about an hour later.

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Retired Designer-Builder formerly practicing Attorney at Law.

Credentials include ordaining a Black man to priesthood in the LDS Church leading to a public struggle with the church yielding and ordaining Black men about 2 years (more...)

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