Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Little Stool For A Big Job

It is very nice to be able to get in the car and drive just two miles to the store where I can pick up a half gallon of milk any time I wish ~ no hunkering, squeezing, or pulling. You know what I mean, don't you?

The little stool shown above was owned by my step-grandmother, Luella. Although she was my paternal grandfather, Eldon Smith's third wife, she came into my life shortly after my maternal grandmother, Grammy Nofsker, had passed away. And so, even though Luella was not a blood relative, she most certainly became my true grandmother. She shared with me her memories, and sometimes, as in this case, some cherished items from her life.

Luella (Burket) Smith lived a hard life ~ much like the life that most women from the Pennsylvania Appalachians lived during the time reaching from the earliest settlement into the late-20th Century. It was a life of taking care of the children, cleaning the house, cooking the meals, washing the clothes, besides perhaps having to work outside the house to help make ends meet. (For those young readers who never heard that phrase, "making ends meet" was another way of saying "earning enough money to pay all the bills".) Luella worked for a number of years at a railroad repair facility to help make ends meet. She told me stories about the work she did ~ such as having to roll barrels of parts and materials from one location to another. My own mother took a job housekeeping for a local dentist to help make ends meet. It was a time before mechanical conveniences, so work was, in many ways, tedious and tiring ~ and not only for the men.

The three legged stool that is shown in this post was an object that my grandmother, Luella, used just about every day for many years. This stool, and a tin bucket, were the two things that were used for the job of milking cows. Luella would carry the bucket to the barn. There, she would grab the little stool ~ perhaps by the oval hole at the stool's front edge ~ and position it to the one side of the cow that she intended to milk. Then, hunkering down onto the stool, she would get into position to begin the task of coaxing milk from the cow. Luella would grasp one of the cow's teats in one hand by encircling it at the point where it extends from the udder with her thumb and forefinger. With a gentle, but firm, pressure, Luella would tighten her grasp between the thumb and forefinger, and then in an even rhythm, the teat would be encircled by the middle finger, the ring finger and finally pinkie. The grasp would be released and repeated a couple times with the first few squirts of milk being directed onto the floor. This ensured that any bacteria that might have grown from the last time the cow was milked would be cleaned out of the teat. After the first few squirts, the metal bucket would be placed under the cow, and the milk being squirted out would be directed into the bucket. In case the cow gave a kick while being milked, Luella could move quickly off the stool and out of harm's way.

With the milking completed, Luella would stand up, picking up the little three-legged stool with one hand and placing it out of the way, perhaps by hanging it on a nail stuck in one of the barn's support posts. The little three-legged stool was the perfect type of seat for this job. A four-legged chair with a back would have been difficult to handle when the milking was finished. A bench would have been equally unwieldy. Luella could easily grab and lift the little stool with one hand. She would probably grab the handle of the bucket at the same time with the other hand to lift it out of the way before the cow had a chance to kick it.

Since a cow needed to be milked twice a day, the little three-legged stool shown above was, no doubt, used hundreds, if not thousands of times. The little stool served a useful purpose for a job that was very important in the lives of the Appalachian people because there weren't many stores close by to which you could drive for a half-gallon of milk any time you desired.

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