Remembering that it happened once…

One cold Saturday morning when I was 8, my Grandpa Jennings tried to show me how to milk a cow by hand. The old cow didn’t like it, and neither did I. After trying hard to get the milk flowing, less than an ounce of milk had landed in the bottom of the 2-gallon galvanized bucket.

My Grandpa kept saying, “You’re not doing it right.” The old cow kept swishing me with her long tail, scaring me. “You’ve got to concentrate,” Grandpa said, frustrated. “She’s not going to hurt you. Work with her. Give her your full attention.”

Finally he grabbed the 3-legged stool I was sitting on and took over, milking the Holstein like there was nothing to it.

Meanwhile, I wondered over to a pen in another part of the barn that held a few sheep. Turned toward me, Grandpa asked in a sharp tone:

“What are you looking for? Don’t you want to learn how to milk a cow?”

Remembering that cold morning brings to mind one of my favorite Advent poems, a poem written by farmer/poet Wendell Berry. Berry, too, milked cows. If my Grandpa had seen Berry daydreaming and lolly gagging as he went out to milk his cows on a similarly cold morning, I think he might have said to Wendell Berry, “What are you looking for?”

Remembering that it happened once By Wendell Berry

Remembering that it happened once,
We cannot turn away the thought,
As we go out, cold, to our barns
Toward the long night’s end, that we
Ourselves are living in the world
It happened in when it first happened,
That we ourselves, opening a stall
(A latch thrown open countless times
Before), might find them breathing there,
Foreknown: the Child bedded in straw,
The mother kneeling over Him,
The husband standing in belief
He scarcely can believe, in light
That lights them from no source we see,
An April morning’s light, the air
Around them joyful as a choir.
We stand with one hand on the door,
Looking into another world
That is this world, the pale daylight
Coming just as before, our chores
To do, the cattle all awake,
Our own white frozen breath hanging
In front of us; and we are here
As we have never been before,
Sighted as not before, our place
Holy, although we knew it not.