Princess was calling.
Her moos were getting more insistent, “Milk me! Milk Me!”
It was still dark outside, really dark. There wasn’t even a hint of dawn on the horizon, but the cow needed to be milk, and my dad was still asleep.
Eric and Laura were still asleep, too. My younger brother and sister were really deep sleepers, the lucky ducks. I was an incredibly light sleeper, and I had agreed to this early morning chore, so I might as well get to it. After rolling out of my sleeping bag, I grabbed my shoes and quietly stepped down the stairs.
Grandma June was already rattling pans in the kitchen. I had no idea how she got up so early or how she managed to always be ready for when anything on the ranch needed her, but she was. I whispered a good morning as I slipped out the front door.
The sky was clear, though the stars were beginning to fade as the sun finally decided to grace us with its morning presence. Princess was waiting at the edge of the fence, desperate for release. I clipped a lead to her harness and pretended to lead her into the stall. She knew where she was going. She didn’t really need my guidance.
After grabbing a bucket and sliding a flipped one over to sit on, I got to milking. Princess was calm this morning, barely flicking her tail, and not trying to dip a manure-covered hoof into the warm, frothy milk. As I started on a second pail, I gave her rump a pat.
As soon as I was finished, I moved the pails out of harm’s way and led Princess back into her yard. Then I grabbed the morning’s handiwork and trudged back inside to give the pails over into the keeping of Grandma June.
She expertly poured the milk through a strainer. One pail was kept aside for the calves. That milk was poured into bottles. Nipples were attached so the calves could be fed – my favorite morning chore. Eric and Laura loved feeding the calves, too. There were two that needed bottle feeding that summer. The bottles got set aside for a bit, however, because the house was stirring and the flapjacks were ready. Grandpa Peary came back in from his own early morning chores, and like magic, a huge breakfast was served, and everyone was seated at the table.
I have so many memories like that of summers spent on my grandparents’ ranch in Montana. There are memories of struggles and hard work, but everything is bathed in the golden glow of July light. At the edge of every memory is Grandma June, working well before dawn and after dusk, running a household, making sure everyone was fed and safe and smiling. She knew how to tame my hair into a sedate French braid that stayed put whether I was doing chores, running through the fields, or riding a horse. She’d drive us all around the ranch land, checking on the horses, the cows, or to find the best spots for agate hunting.
Grandma June was strong, caring, unselfish, and made even the most mundane tasks feel like an adventure, though there were some real adventures to be had while she was in our company, too. She was the granite foundation of the Hannum clan.
Grandma June passed away two weeks ago. I’ll miss her so much, but my memories of her are bathed in that amazing golden glow of Montana summers, haloing her hair and causing her eyes twinkle.
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