Her tool of education was a little glass churn

On sea, on land, and in the sky, whatever is, was, and shall be are the tools of education, but first you must start with a teacher. You have no idea how many times in my formative growing-up I would do something foolish, and my mother would say, "There! Now let that be a lesson to you!"

My baby sister is now a widowed octogenarian of pleasing disposition and surprising charm with grandchildren all over the place. To look at her you'd never suppose she once taught school and knew all the tools one from another. I mention her because she has our mother's butter churn. The little one, the one when we had just one cow. The big one came later.

Quoting what he said was an old Italian saying, our father said, "If you keep a cow, the cow will keep you." He led home a heifer soon after I was born. I was first of four, two of each. But by that time our family included a great uncle, two great aunts, an orphaned niece, several we didn't know, and Grammy Benck, who stopped in one day and stayed. This group put a demand on our cow's bounty and left little cream for butter.

So Mother would collect enough cream to churn about every other week, and she had this two-quart glass wide-top churn with a screw-top and a handle that turned a small inside paddle. Later our father got a second cow, and got Mother a barrel churn that she made us youngsters crank tediously every week. So the little glass churn went up attic until our mother gave up housekeeping, when my baby sister took it as a keepsake heirloom.

Nobody remembers what became of the big churn, but we were glad to know our baby sister had the little one tucked away. And our baby sister taught school and was a good teacher.

She was teaching intermediate children in a city situation, and she was sad about them. None had ever been a country kid who knew one tree from another, and if she tried to tell them about bob-o-links, spruce gum, how a haymow smells, and why the wind whistles at the sink spout, they had no idea what she was talking about and grew restless and looked much more so. She saw that no great adventure would take place because these youngsters had no place to start. They did number work all right, and read well enough, but they didn't know anything!

She gave this some thought, then one morning she said, "Ladies and gentlemen, raise a hand: How many ever spanked butter?" No hands went up, and she said, "All right, tomorrow we're going to get ready to start making butter, and we'll have a lot of fun."

She had no idea of the capacity of the floodgate she had opened. And she realized the only thing in her favor was Mother's little glass churn. Everything else was a problem to be solved. She set about solving them.

She knew butterfat can't be separated from homogenized milk, but she wasn't sure if pasteurization would hamper. Then she found homogenized milk is pasteurized, too, or was it the other way around? One storekeeper told her she should use either his chocolate or his strawberry milk, as schoolkids like it better.

Somebody told her a man over at Tillbury had a cow, and maybe he'd accommodate her. But when she asked him, he said he wouldn't dare unless the board of health gave a written permit. When she called the board of health, they said they never heard of such a thing. They asked, "What was that you said you wanted to do?"

She said, "I would like to make butter at school."

They said, "That's what we thought you said."

The youngsters did get to churn butter. While some cream and the official paperwork were being attended to, my baby sister began wielding the tool of instruction. Nobody had seen a cow except one boy who saw one at the Bronx zoo, but he didn't remember it. So they learned about chewing a cud, and how a cow has but one row of teeth, and milk has goodies in it but also stuff to make it turn sour, and how you can make cheese, churn butter, and have custard pies. Oh, yes, and a cow must always be milked from her right side or she'll kick you through the barn roof. If she gets fractious you say, "So!" If she hangs back, you say, "Co' Boss!"

Then the youngsters were told about the long train that comes down from Essex Junction every afternoon, bringing Vermont milk to Charlestown, so we can have milk on our cereal.

Then they churned. Each child got 25 turns at the crank. They had been told what to expect, so they looked forward to the slap-slap noise when the butterfat "gathered." Now they could have a taste of real buttermilk, try some real butter on a slice of Teacher's home-baked bread, and because a photographer had appeared, somehow, they all had their pictures in tomorrow's newspaper!

Well, the way I heard it, the butter churn was also a huge success as the pupils went home to regale parents with the incredible magic of making butter, and how milk rides all night to be there in the morning.

My sister repeated her butter act for a number of years, until it became a tradition and too many parents were crashing the gate to enjoy the show. She said that when parents appear in a classroom the teacher loses the rhythm and it's time to close shop.

Anyway, the little glass churn is still available if some teacher cares to try it. If we can get all the school youngsters spanking butter, it will do no harm.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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