We had a Red Durham cow, which is also known as a milking shorthorn. I was in close contact with her daily and raised up her calves as they came along, so I came to know as much as anybody knows about red cows. She was outstanding in her field, and could be seen from a distance like the sun in summer sunset. Mollie was her name, and so that's what we called her.
"How is it," she said to me one time, "that I can eat green grass and give white milk that makes yellow butter?" I thought about that for some time, but never figured it out.
Mollie, like all good Republican cows, was right-handed. That, I think, is in the Vermont Constitution. To extract the lacteal fluid from her bountiful generosity, one properly arranges the tails of his society suit, and sits upon the upholstered milking stool at a cow's starboard side, athwart the rear.
This is not a legislative decision but was originally predicated on the way cows are fabricated. I have inquired many, many times as to why all cows are milked from their right sides and, while nobody really knows, I have always gained the same rational answer: "Oh, that's the way the cow likes it." This is true.
One time Joe Metidier, my French-speaking neighbor down the road, offered to attend Mollie a couple of days so I could go to a wedding (not my own) in Maryland, and Joe approached Mollie absently from the left, or sinister, side.
Presumably, Mollie saw what he was doing, but refrained from comment on the grounds that she and Joe had not been formally introduced. But when Joe tried to milk her, she kicked the stool, the pail, and Joe through the barn wall into the wheat field. Joe returned to shift to the other side, and she stood properly for him.
Some issues ago, now, Yankee Magazine (which is our best authority on New England, except sometimes), printed a picture of a resident agriculturalist milking his bossy from the wrong side. Yankee explained too much that this particular cow was left-handed and there was nothing they could do about it. This may have been so, as many things in Yankee are.
When Vice President Calvin Coolidge succeeded Warren Harding as president of the United States, the Boston Sunday Post sent its crack photographer, Frank Jason, up to do a picture story on Calvin and the old Coolidge farm.
When Frank arrived, he found Mr. Coolidge affable and obliging, and he was privileged to pose the new president as he wished. Mr. Coolidge took direction well, and Frank got some of the best photos ever made of the man other photographers called "old picklepuss." Only once did Mr. Coolidge refuse to do as asked. That was about milking a cow.
When Frank Jason suggested a pose showing Mr. Coolidge milking a Vermont cow, he kicked a milking stool into place, hugged the milking pail with his knees, sat down, and began the manipulation in the usual manner.
Now, Frank Jason said, "Mr. President, I wonder: Would you move to the other side of the cow? The light here in the barn is at cross-purposes, and the way you are, it's not good."
Mr. Coolidge said, "Do you think I want to get my blinking block knocked off?" And he explained to the city-boy Frank Jason that in the long history of dairy farming in the Green Mountain State no cow had ever yet been drained other than in a dexterous fashion.
Photographer Jason then said, "True, but I need the light. And when I print the photo in the darkroom, I'll reverse the negative. You'll be on the right, or correct, side, and nobody'll know the difference."
So this was done.
And Frank Jason did reverse the negative, and President Coolidge did appear in the Boston Sunday Post milking his Vermont cow from the correct, or right, side. But two unopened burlap bags of cow grain, just abaft the proper cow and her attendant president, presented an interesting fact to the readers of the Post. The bags were printed in big letters:
GRANDLIN MILLING COMPANY
Except, of course, the letters were in reverse.
Now, one more thing: Studying Vermont dialect, I asked people by the dozens, one at a time, how to spell the commonest word in the vernacular, "caow." Unless you've heard a Vermonter say "cow," you don't know how a Vermonter says it. "Haow naow braoun caow?" Without exception, every Vermonter I asked said, "C-O-W." Same for red caows.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society