“The Churn”


 It is a lovely Saturday morning coming about here in the quite of Ballengee. I have finished a wonderful breakfast with all the trimmings of a farm fresh countenance. I found myself in an old habit, that I somehow wanted to relive the memories of earlier childhood days, and fix a meal equal to the standard of my mother. I am somehow glad that I have missed the mark yet feel confident that I had come close. I would not want to surpass her ability, as I might then lose the desire to again try to achieve the measure. I had an error in my preparations the day before at Medders Market. In my haste to come home I grabbed what I thought was milk only to later discover it was buttermilk. I have never cared for the taste of buttermilk and again was reminded this morning of my dislike for it.

There are times these little provocations, such as the taste of buttermilk, cause childhood memories to pop into the forefront of my mind. I suppose this is the way of saying, “Hey! This moment is to be treasured and we do not want it to be forgotten.” You know as well as I that we consciously forget the majority of our lives. How many times have you wished you had kept a diary, well maybe you do. But I have never done so and find myself many times wishing I had. So I reckon the mind decides what is worth reviewing and brings it up now and again just to be sure the thought doesn’t fade with the years.

In the earlier years here in Ballengee, my family and I lived in a wonderful farmhouse just on the outskirts of town. Today it still remains but has long ago become the residence of another family. I pass by there time and again and look about the home site and wonder what life there is like now. Do the parents have the same joy of working the land as my Father did? Are the children busy each morning with their farm chores? Gathering the eggs or milking the cow. Do they play in the hayloft and explore the wooded areas beyond the lower field? I wonder if they have been curious about the initials carved on the door in the upper bedroom? I have thought maybe I should stop by sometime and introduce myself but never have done so. Why not I wonder, they probably would find it interesting to learn what all went on there so long ago.

The farmhouse was a log home-built by Robert Ballengee’s son William back in the 1850’s. It was built upon ground that slopped off to the East, with the house facing the North. I remember how we could sit on the front porch and watch the sun’s light travel from one side of the front yard to the other as it crossed the sky. Many a day started watching the sunrise and ended watching the sun set from the rocking chairs on the front porch. Now do not think this is all we did, as each day was filled with plenty to do. The ground to the east sloped down to a large field. I spent many a day in that field hoisting bales of hay onto the wagon and then taking it to the barn. To the back of the house was the chicken coop and hog pin. Farther down was the shed that had all the farm equipment. In the center was the outhouse and behind that was a woodpile. On the West side was a grape vineyard, which to the far side of was the garden. To the North the ground rose just beyond the hard road to a barnyard. To the right stood a large barn where the hay was stored for winter feed. On the left was an old school-house where William Ballengee used to teach. In the middle was where an old Jersey cow named Ruby grazed.

In the earlier years my mornings would always start following my father around feeding the chickens in the coop behind the hog pen and the one a ways down the hill. After feeding the chickens, pumping water into the troths for the cows and making sure there was salt blocks out for them, we’d go back to the house for breakfast. After breakfast Dad would gather the farm hands and plan the chores for the day. Sometimes Dad would take me with him to plow a field or out to the upper farm where our cattle grazed. If it were bailing time I’d be on the ground tossing the bails onto the wagon to be transported to the barn across from the house. I might find myself picking beans or shucking corn and various other duties that a boy could do. Other times I’d go with my mother to milk Ruby. She tried and tried to teach me how to milk Ruby but I expect that cow didn’t like strange hands. I never could get more than a squirt and once I was doing good but Ruby kicked the bucket over just so no one would know I had actually gotten any milk from her. To this day it is a task I have never mastered. She was a good milk cow and we’d get a bucket full every day. I remember the first time I tasted milk from Ruby and I thought it tasted terrible. Mom would secretly skim the butterfat off and tell me it was store-bought. For many years I never guessed.

Some of the milk form Ruby mom would pour into a large churn and let set till Saturday. Saturday was her day for churning the milk. It would sit there all week and just curdle up and smell horrible. I couldn’t believe how good the butter tasted after she was through churning. She’d also get buttermilk that no way would I ever drink but Dad and the other hands loved it. There is nothing like the taste of real butter but the buttermilk tasted just like I thought it should coming from that old smelly churn. I could never figure how such a good tasting butter could come from it. There was nothing better than sitting down to a meal with real cornbread soaking in real butter. That and red beans with ham hocks, snap beans, fried tomatoes and sweet corn on the cob was lunch and held us up to the big feed at supper.

But today it is the butter that comes to mind as that mouth full of buttermilk jolted my mind back to those days on the farm. I remember how right before mom churned she’d take the cloth off the top of the churn. Why the smell that came out of it would chase even the flies away. She’d start churning pulling the stick, which had a flat surface with holes in it, up and down. She’d get to going and the whole porch would bounce right along with her. Every now and then she would stop and wipe her fore head and holler “Whew boy”, throw in a pinch of salt and some sugar and go again. When she was done she’d dip out the golden butter and form it into separate mounds on plates and put it in the ice box. Then some of it was thick looking stuff that was buttermilk. The rest a thin white yucky looking mess she’d throw out. Now and then she’d let me have a lick of butter and it was all so good.

I now find myself here to muse how something so good could come from that old smelly churn. You couldn’t get me close to that churn and when I watched her sometimes it would splash on me and I’d run for the rain barrel to wash it off. It was to me as bad as stepping on a fresh cow chip. But still it never kept me from enjoying the butter that would come from it.

I think maybe there is a secret here in the workings of life. As we travel down the road to our destiny we will have troubles in our life. Some we bring upon our self and others are handed to us. Perhaps this is needed. A churning, a test of fire and faith, a discipline of preparation for the golden heavenly bodies we some day shall be. For in My Father’s House we are all prodigals. Yet at home where His light is there is a place for each of us. But the road back is not an easy one as nothing of value is free. Along the way we endure the churning of our trials here through life. In the temperance of the churn for those who hold fast to their faith the victory will be won. Is this not love? Does a Father give his child all that he wants or does he teach his child how to obtain all that he needed. Which of these is the sweetness of love and which is just the sour taste of buttermilk?

 Copyright: 2001 Thomas N Kirkpatrick

Durant Bible College