Lehi, Utah 1969
We moved to the dairy farm in March and hired Delbert, a sixteen year old cowboy from Cache Valley to milk and take care of the cows. Soon we hired his younger brother, Hank. We paid the boys a wage, but in addition we offered to let them have the bull calves that were born to the cows in our dairy herd. Sold as newborn calves, the animals were worth about fifty dollars. If they were fed and raised for a month or so they doubled in value. The teenagers chose to sell all the 'bully' calves as soon as thy appeared, even though we offered to feed and house them at our expense.
Even with two hands to help there was much that Richard had to do, even though I pitched in by cleaning the milking barn and milk storage area. I also had a lot of cleaning and renovation to do in the house. The family that had lived in the house had left it in bad shape.
Forecasting my future adventures in plumbing, I ripped out the back of the shower and enclosed the bathroom side so that we had a shower in the laundry area that served as a place where my husband and the cowboys took off their manure covered overalls and put them in the washer. I figured that it made sense to put the shower opening where they could clean themselves off without entering the main part of the house.
Meg and David quickly adjusted to their lives as farm kids. They enjoyed playing with the various smaller animals which included a few rabbits, some feral chickens and the calves. David had been terrified of large animals before we moved to the farm. My formerly cautious four-year old son was dropping from the fence onto the back of a bull calf to catch a brief, exciting ride. Meg often walked a half mile up the dirt road to catch the bus to school.
One evening Richard and I left our two children in charge of the teenagers we employed and attended an activity with the "Young Marrieds" group in the ward. As soon as we got near the house I heard three sounds. One was the sound of our two cowboys laughing raucously, another was the sound of rock and roll going full blast, and the worst was frantic screaming of my six year old daughter. I leaped from the car, leaving the baby with my husband and ran into the house, the worst possible scenario growing in my mind. I was adrenaline driven and ready to kill when I wrenched open the door to my daughter's bedroom and found her just inside, naked and smeared with blood. My only precaution was that I wanted to know for sure what had happened so I could tell it to the judge when I was tried.
I found clean clothing for her, bathed and calmed her and listened. To my great relief, it turned out that my worst fears were in error. She had tried to leave the bedroom to use the bathroom but the linoleum had curled up and kept the door from opening. Frustrated when her cries didn't bring assistance from the boys who had been left in charge while we were out, she began to cry in earnest, wetting her pajamas in the process. This made her even angrier and her nose began to bleed. Discarding her wet, blood-stained clothing, she settled in for a furious tantrum.
I was still angry at the cowboys, but only for being oblivious to the needs of my child in the midst of their teenage revels in rock and roll and jokes. I was profoundly glad I had waited to interview my daughter before letting my anger drive me to injure them or worse.
We had other adventures on the farm, most of them humorous. One morning the cows got loose and we were wakened by the sound of David yelling when a cow stuck it's face up against his window. Richard leaped out of bed, put on his overalls and his cowboy hat, raced out and jumped into the Volkswagen Van and took off to herd the cows back into the pasture with the cowboys running along behind.
Another time the song on the milking shed radio that blasted into the morning air had the lyric "Get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged." from "Get Back" by the Beatles. Meanwhile the two cowboys were in hot pursuit of a skittish heifer who had bolted from the milking line. As they raced around the holding corral after her in almost perfect time to the lyrics, I laughed until tears ran from my eyes.
I made creative use of my art and cooking materials for dairy purposes. We needed to mark the 'dry' cows so they wouldn't be brought into the milking barn by mistake. They were isolated together in a field while we waited for the vet to breed them using artificial insemination, but they had a habit of breaking out and joining the milking herd who received daily rations of corn silage and hay. I hit on the idea of loading one of my larger hog bristle artist brushes with bright red acrylic paint and flinging it at the hips of the dry cows when they passed near me. I was able to mark all of the dry cows and the paint stayed intact for quite a while.
One day I noticed that a cow who had recently calved was starting to bloat and I consulted the dairy farmer manual. It recommended using a wine bottle to pour mentholated oil down the throat of the cow. All I had was some rather expensive sesame oil in a narrow-necked bottle. It did the trick. Later, another cow went down with bloat and I coached my husband and our hand Delbert in using a knife to relieve the bloating by punching it into the small area near the hip bone where the fermenting stomach neared the outer skin. We couldn't get a vet to see the cow after taking the piercing into our own hands, so we purchased calcium lactate from the pharmacy and administered it with an enema bucket hooked up to a cattle syringe. The cow finally lurched to her feet and was soon indistinguishable from the other Holsteins in the herd.
My father was recovering from his accident. Several times he came to visit us at the farm. One day I watched him walk gingerly around a ten acre parcel and I commented that he wasn't limping. "You don't limp when both legs hurt the same," he explained. My parents and sister Jane with her baby Bobby were frequent visitors. My mother was eager to help us organize the farm yard. She wanted us to hire a truck and carry all the detritus away, but there were valuable tools mixed up with the discarded tractor gears and broken springs in the barrels she wanted us to discard. It would take time to sort out the useful tools from the trash and we were busy with the daily routine and immediate tasks. With two hungry teenagers, two small children, a baby and a busy husband to feed, I made hearty breakfasts, often featuring egg foo yung, a dish that everyone seemed to like. My mother was scandalized that I regularly prepared a dish for breakfast that she associated with dinners at a Chinese restaurant. I said I might consider calling my biography "Egg Foo Yung for Breakfast" to demonstrate my tendency to ignore convention in favor of logic. To me, egg foo yung was just another form of omelet.
I came to dread my mother's visits. Too often her efforts to help had a reverse effect. If I asked her to do something specific, she would find a reason that she couldn't do it. On the other hand, she often busied herself in ways that led to problems.
I decided to try to grow some vegetables. It was still quite cool and I spent most of one day planting several low cardboard boxes with various seeds in good loam and placed them at the back of the garage where they would benefit from the afternoon sun, aided by warmth reflected from the white brick wall of the garage and protected from the north wind by a large lilac. The kids enjoyed playing on the warm plot of grass behind the garage and they didn't disturb my planting boxes. A few days later my mother visited and decided to clean up the yard. She came in not much later dusting dirt off her hands. "I just cleaned up the area behind your garage. Meg and David had lined up cardboard boxes and filled them with dirt."
"What did you do with the boxes?" I asked, hoping she had simply moved them elsewhere.
"I dumped out the dirt and raked it into the lawn and piled the boxes in the trash area. The kids tried to tell me you had put the boxes of dirt out there, but I scolded them for lying."
My father seemed to want to invest in a small acreage where he could farm and raise some produce. We had a ten acre piece of land that was separate from the rest of the property. It was located about a mile away along the highway that led west to our farm. Dad had walked the property several times and commented on its location and fertility. I spoke to Richard and both of us agreed that we would be willing to sell the piece of land to my father. We had one reservation which seemed reasonable to both of us. It was a condition that if my parents still owned the property when they died, it would be part of my inheritance, not extra, but included as part of my equal share with my brother and sisters. If necessary, I would have the right to purchase it from the estate. I wrote out our offer and gave it to my father. At first he seemed delighted by the proposition, but years of leaving most of the family decisions up to my mother could not be set aside. He approached my mother and she reacted with outrage. Apparently she felt that Richard and I were trying to cheat my brother and sisters of their due share in the estate. At that time my father was only sixty years old and my mother fifty eight, more than thirty years away from the end of their lives. Her accusations should not have surprised me. She had always had a tendency to suspect the worst motives from me. My sister Jane was privy to my mother's suspicions and she called me and raged at me for my selfishness and underhanded dealings. I had approached my father with the offer to sell him the property with the pure intent of helping him realize his dreams.
Within a year we sold the property for $80,000 instead of the $15,000 dollars we had agreed to accept if we had sold it to my father. I had been so often battered by my mother's unjust accusations that I considered cutting off all communications with her. But if I had done so it would have meant no further contact with my father.
He relied on her to write to those of their children who no longer lived in the area. I decided to continue the relationship.
Richard had dropped his graduate studies under the pressure of his many activities. A phone conversation with some of his superiors in Washington made him aware that he might do better in his career without the doctorate. Now he had to decide whether or not to keep working as a dairy farmer/federal government consultant/state government consultant/faculty member, or return to Washington DC and accept an offered promotion.
Several factors influenced his decision. The milking shed needed to be rebuilt at a cost of at least $50,000. We would have to increase the herd to make the farm profitable at an additional cost. Our cowboys were becoming unreliable, farming out their jobs to the neighbor boys who didn't really know what to do. I began to wonder if Delbert knew as much as he claimed when he told me that I didn't need to worry about his practice of running water along the milking lines a little too long and diluting the milk. "Water molecules are bigger than milk molecules," he explained. "The filter won't let them through."
The final straw came when one of the cows became mired up to her belly in a field that had been used as a manure dump for several years by the previous owners. Richard spent hours along with several other men trying to save the cow as they excavated and tugged at the stranded bovine.
The cow was rescued, but Richard returned to the house coated from head to toe in cold manure and resolved to quit the dairy business. He arranged for someone he knew to rent the farm and sold the cows to a dairy farmer in north Lehi.
When the cream of the herd, including my favorite, the queen of the herd, Tiger, a large Brown Swiss with pale tan stripes on her bay colored sides, were trucked away by their new owner, we were left with an ancient little jersey our predecessors had called "Mrs. Bull Juice," and a heifer that hadn't been successfully bred. A man came out to the farm and agreed to purchase the heifer, but he couldn't catch her. I remembered watching cowboy movies and I picked up a rope and made a loop. Much to my surprise, I successfully roped the skittish heifer. To my pain, the heifer ran and I got some mild rope burns. Fortunately, the buyer was able to step on the rope and get control of the animal.
We were left with the ancient jersey. We left her on the farm which we rented out to Orem West Stake as a place to grow alfalfa for their nearby dairy enterprise. Richard arranged to received donation credit instead of rent. Eventually she was turned into hamburger and we purchased a freezer.
Richard rented the house and the ten or so acres surrounding it to a man he met at the Highway Department. It seemed a generous offer for a struggling family. They would have the use of the house and the gardens and meadows around it for less than they paid on their mortgage on a smaller house further from his job. They could rent out their house in Orem for more than they paid us in rent.
We packed the Volkswagen van with our furnishings and towed it with the Thunderbird when we started east. Delbert and Hank found work at another dairy farm in Cache valley for less generous terms than we had offered.
Delbert had borrowed the Thunderbird for his prom and evidence from the odometer suggested that he had spent most of the night driving at high speed. The transmission was never the same after that prom night. Richard had the interesting idea that car troubles would eventually 'heal' themselves if ignored. When the Thunderbird would no longer operate in reverse mode, he became very creative at parking but there were several difficult moments as we made our way back east with the van in tow. It had been a varied and busy adventure. Although we spent only a few months on the farm, it seems to have lasted much longer.