“Betsy,” Friend, Aug. 1990, 2
I didn’t really mean to bring the cow to Primary that Sunday morning. I didn’t even know who the cow belonged to. On my way to Primary, this silly Holstein cow suddenly lumbered up behind me, mooing at the top of her lungs.
“Go home!” I shouted, trying to shoo her away. “Go home!” Not that I knew where her home could be. Cows usually didn’t just wander around our small town.
I ducked my head and started jogging, hoping that none of my friends would see or hear the noisy cow following right on my heels. But things only got worse. Rounding the corner, I saw Sister Allred, my Primary teacher, sitting on the church steps, crying.
Now I’ve really done it, I thought. Sister Allred is already a nervous wreck because of our class’s behavior. And now I’ve brought a cow to Primary! I thought about last week’s Primary class. It had been so bad that I’d even told my dad about it. Tony and Jimmy had been throwing chalk, tipping over chairs, and snickering whenever Sister Allred asked a question.
“In my day,” Dad had said, fuming, “those boys would have gotten a good whipping with a willow branch for not respecting their elders.”
I could almost feel the sting as he spoke. But I hadn’t told him the complete story. Scott and I had been in on those pranks too. Sure, I wanted to be nice to Sister Allred, but being part of the group was even more important to me.
“Hello, Phillip,” Sister Allred called, wiping her eyes with a tissue.
“Hello,” I murmured, hoping that she would mistake the cow for an extraordinarily large Dalmatian.
With her eyes all teary and puffy, Sister Allred didn’t look as pretty as she usually did. I had always thought that widows were supposed to be ancient. But Sister Allred wasn’t much older than Mom.
“Is something wrong?” I asked, hoping that her tears had blocked out the sight of the cow.
“Oh, nothing, really,” she said, starting to sniffle again. “I’ve just been thinking that maybe I’m not the right person to teach your Primary class.”
“I know how you feel,” I said. “The last teacher who resigned from our class dubbed us the ‘Frightful Four and Sweet Emily Clawson.’” I squirmed when I said “Frightful Four,” because there were only five boys in our class and Brian Tennyson never came. That meant that I was one of the Frightful Four, and right then I wasn’t particularly proud of it.
Suddenly the cow planted her forelegs on the step right beside Sister Allred and mooed loudly in her ear.
I was aghast, but Sister Allred didn’t seem to mind. “Phillip,” she said, “you never told me that you had a cow.”
Just then I saw Sister Parkin, the Primary president, and a redheaded boy heading toward us. Where can I hide the cow? I agonized.
But Sister Parkin looked right past the cow and shouted to Sister Allred above the cow’s mooing. “I want you to meet another member of your class.”
I looked at the redheaded boy, who was staring at the ground.
“This is Brian Tennyson,” said Sister Parkin. Then she fled.
My heart seemed to skip a beat. So this is Brian—the boy Mom and Dad are always telling me I should fellowship. While I was staring at him, a rubber band whopped the side of my head. I turned and saw Tony and Jimmy gleefully loping toward me.
Now I was in real trouble. I was caught between an obnoxious cow, a crying teacher, a shy boy who needed my example, and the two worst terrors of the Primary. To make matters worse, Emily Clawson came bouncing up to Sister Allred and smugly announced, “I read all the scriptures that you talked about last week.”
“Say, Emily,” taunted Tony, “we’ve finally found another girl to read scriptures with you.” He jerked his thumb toward the cow. “Want to ride her into class?”
Sister Allred cleared her throat and said, “I think that we can manage without the cow.”
After opening exercises, the lesson started with no major catastrophes, but only because Scott’s dad stood just outside the door for a while. The loudest sound came from Emily answering questions. I wondered how long it would last. It didn’t last long. Suddenly there was a terrible bellowing outside our window. The cow had found us. She was stamping her hooves and mooing louder than ever.
“I know what’s wrong with that cow!” Sister Allred exclaimed. “It’s past her milking time. The poor thing’s in pain.” She started gathering up her lesson materials.
My eyes widened. “What are you doing?”
“Why, I’m going to milk her,” Sister Allred replied. “I can just as well teach a lesson outside while I’m milking.”
“You know how to milk a cow?” chortled Tony.
“I used to do it all the time when we had the farm,” she answered.
Tony wrinkled his nose and gave one of his “Oh, sure” looks to Jimmy.
“But I need your help. Would you and Jimmy please find me some pans in the meetinghouse kitchen?” she said.
“Who, me?” said Tony, pointing at himself unbelievingly.
Grumbling, Tony and Jimmy shuffled down the hall.
Brian tugged hopefully on Sister Allred’s sleeve. “May I help too?”
She smiled. “You and Phillip can find me some paper towels and a pan of warm water.”
The bellowing cow was dripping milk in a puddle by the time we gathered around her. Sister Allred stroked the cow gently. “Don’t worry, Bossie. We’ll take care of you.”
Tony and Jimmy brought half a dozen pans from the kitchen, and I brought warm water in the biggest bowl I could find. We thought that we had lost Brian until we saw a cowlick of red hair sticking up behind a tremendous moving pile of paper towels.
“It looks as if we’re well stocked,” laughed Sister Allred. “Now, does anyone know what we do first?”
Brian was standing beyond the circle of the group. Finally he cleared his throat. “I know,” he offered shyly. “You need to wash the cow’s udder with that warm water.”
“That’s right,” said Sister Allred. “Have you milked cows before?”
“No,” replied Brian. “But my grandpa used to have cows, and I watched him.”
Soon everyone was helping to wash and dry the cow’s udder—everyone except Tony. I could see him hanging back, watching us silently.
“What’s next?” asked our teacher.
“Milking!” we exclaimed in unison.
Expertly, Sister Allred began to squeeze the cow’s teats with both her hands. Thick, warm milk squirted into a pan. Soon she pushed back her chair. “Anybody else want to try?”
“I do!” Brian piped up. A freckled grin creased his face as he squeezed a trickle of milk into the pan.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Tony edging closer. He began patting the cow’s neck. He cleared his throat again. “Before he died, my grandpa told me about milking cows too. He said that it’s important to always be gentle and kind to them.”
Sister Allred smiled. “Tony, I’m certainly glad that you’re here today. You’ve just taught my Primary lesson. It’s about being gentle and kind.” She chuckled. “Well, it doesn’t exactly talk about cows. But it does say that we should be gentle and kind to everyone, and that must include cows.”
“Does that also include Primary teachers?” blurted out Brian.
Sister Allred looked at Brian in surprise. “Yes, I suppose it does.”
“Of course, it’s easy to be kind to you. You’re the best Primary teacher I’ve ever had!” He lowered his voice. “You know what else? You’re the best cow milker I’ve ever seen.”
Sister Allred leaned down. Her smiling blue eyes looked prettier than I’d ever seen them. “You know what, Brian? I bet you can all learn to be great cow milkers.”
Soon we were all taking turns milking, even Emily. We must have lined up a dozen times.
“Wow,” said Tony, “I wish my grandpa could see me now.”
Suddenly we heard a voice behind us. “Anybody want a job? I never guessed that I was going to find my cow in the hands of such good milkers.”
We all looked up. A stooped old man was gazing at the pans filled with warm, creamy milk.
“I heard that my cow had headed in this direction, but I never thought that she’d get this far.” He paused and rubbed his gray chin. “I’m serious about that job offer. I can’t even get this much milk out of her myself. Oh, you wouldn’t have to milk very often—only when my wife and I want to get away for a day or two. Betsy here is our last cow, and we don’t want to give her up. She’s mostly a pet.”
“I’d love to milk her,” said Brian.
Tony ground the toe of his shoe into the dirt and motioned toward Sister Allred. “I wouldn’t mind doing it if our teacher helps us. She’s real good at milking. I’m sure that you could trust us to be gentle and kind to Betsy.”
Sister Allred smiled and put her arm around Tony. “I think that my five boys, Emily, and I could handle a job like that.”
I patted the black and white cow, and Betsy gave a final, contented moo.