Friday Night Family Heirlooms… telling their stories: Bessie’s Cow Bell
When “heirlooms” aren’t identified, and their stories never told, they often become items tossed or sold – as they have no history, no ties to the family. So take the time to identify your family heirlooms history and memories so your treasures aren’t tossed in the trash. They are just as valuable as your family photographs and also need to be documented. Sometimes it’s not even the value of the item in question; it’s the story which holds the value.
You can tell the bell was used often by the repair on the top loop where the rope hung – it took a beating from the years of dangling under Bessie’s neck.
It was Bessie, the lead cow, who wore this cowbell on a daily basis. She led the cows to the barn for milking and the others followed the sound of the cowbell. I’ve always hoped to find a photo of Bessie wearing this cowbell, but so far one… it has eluded me.
Mama’s favorite activity at milking time, was to ride Bessie up to the barn. She often ran ahead and climbed up in the persimmon tree which sat alongside the path. On one of the low limbs, mama waited for Bessie to walk under and quickly slid off onto her back.
To bring the cows to the barn for milking, granddaddy often yelled for Bessie, but somehow she knew when it was milking time and he’d look out to see her already going up the lane toward the barn, with the other four cows following behind her. Sometimes he knew Bessie was already heading to the barn if he faintly heard the clanking of the bell around her neck.
Milking was done twice a day… morning and evening. Leroy, her brother, often went alone for the early morning, but mama tagged along for the evening milking chore. Mama wasn’t the only one who tagged along for the milkings… Leroy’s big yellow cat, Clark Gable, always followed Bessie to the barn. Her objective was the free squirts of milk that Leroy sent her way, against granddaddy yelling, “that damn cat is getting more milk than what’s going in the bucket!” Leroy just smiled and continued to squirt milk at Clark Gable as he sat perched on the ledge of the stall next to mama. Can’t you just picture that yellow cat sitting up there?
The cows supplied milk, cream, buttermilk and eventually butter for the family. I haven’t heard that he actually sold any, but I know that grandmamma saved extra cream in a bucket and there was someone called the “cream man” who came around to buy leftovers; if it wasn’t refrigerated, what did they do with it? One day mama decided that it would be such fun to take a “cream” bath in that bucket… just sitting in the corner of the kitchen. When grandmama discovered her, I think she received a whipping for ruining the cream. The cream money was always saved for things not really needed, but wanted; when Leroy was in high school grandmamma bought his high school ring out of that cream money saved.
After talking with mama, I learned that the leftover cream saved was used to make cheese. Granddaddy never sold milk, but he did sell butter – keeping enough for them and selling the rest; I also have grandmama’s two butter molds.
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