July 26, 2014

Places I’ve played: Bertha was a swayer not a swinger

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By Bill Skiff

 

Bertha was a female who enjoyed a softer approach to things. She preferred to sway her way through life rather than swing. I have known a few swingers in my lifetime, but Bertha was a swayer. She was big, buxom and full of spirit. Bertha was a cow.

The first thing dad did when he entered the barn in the morning was turn on the lights. This automatically turned on the radio. The old Motorola table model sat on a board Dad had nailed to a couple of two-by-fours half way down the barn. The radio was permanently tuned to WDEV. The announcer, the Old Squire, had things rolling by the time Dad arrived. Ken Squire always played music in between his yarnings. Bertha loved his selections.

When Bertha heard this early morning music, she would start her swaying. She would shift from one hind hoof to the other in perfect time to the rhythm of the song. You could always tell Bertha from the other cows as you walked down behind the herd: her broad beam could be seen swaying back and forth in perfect cadence to the song. She did not do well with fast tunes like Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood,” but give her a good slow Vermont tune like Moo Light in Vermont and she was in perfect sync with the music.

Dad’s dairy herd was like many Vermont herds in the 1940s: a group of Holsteins like Bertha for milk quantity, some Jerseys for butterfat content, and a couple of Ayshires for pure meanness. They all did their work well, especially the Ayshires keeping uninvited guests out of the pasture. The only problem: the Ayshires could not distinguish good visitors from bad.

One afternoon, Dad was crossing the cow pasture when one of the Ayshires began chasing him. When Dad realized he was not going to make it across the field before the cow caught him, he sought alternatives —he spotted the only tree in the pasture and raced for it. Upon arriving at the base, Dad ran around the tree hoping his adversary would give up. No such luck. Dad exercised his one last option—he climbed the tree. Sitting in the top of the tree, Dad suddenly realized he had just scrambled up a thorn-apple tree. He was bruised, battered and scratched.

When the cow finally got bored and ambled off to graze, Dad eased down the tree and headed home.

He came into the house giving that cow a whole new list of names, none of which I can print here.

I knew that old Ayshire was tough, but when I tried to chew a piece of her butt roast a couple of weeks later I knew it for sure. Dad loved swayers… but he had little tolerance for chasers.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at [email protected] 

 
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