This column by Dave Peyton first appeared in 1988. It was a favorite of many readers and is offered again.
I cannot think of barns without thinking of that special barn on Cyrus Creek in rural Cabell County where the cow named Pet dwelled.
Pet was a brindle cow. I suspect my grandmother got Pet’s name from a can of Pet evaporated milk. Grandma Peyton was like that. She took delight in brand names. She named her youngest son Delmont because she liked Delmonte brand peaches.
Pet may have had a plain brown wrapper, but she was an uncommon critter, as gentle a cow as I ever knew. She spent lazy days on her hillside pasture, chewing her cud and ruminating about private things which cows apparently find stimulating.
I loved it when I could be on Cyrus Creek at milking time. The milking ritual began when Grandma went to the kitchen to get the old zinc bucket. She washed it carefully in cold spring water. Then she’d turn her head to the pasture on the hill and cup her hands around her mouth.
“OOOOOOOOO-EEEEEEE, Pet,” she’d cry. “OOOOOOOOEEEEEEEE.”
It was special cow language, I’m sure, known only to cows and the elders who lived close to the land. I never understood it, but Pet knew what it meant, because, in no time, there’d be a reply. It was a long, low “Moooooo,” and then another and usually a third that ended on a higher note rather than the low note, a crescendo of sorts.
I think it was Pet saying, “I’m going to the barn. I’ll meet you there.”
The barn was one of my favorite places. It was a bank barn. The lower level had been carved out of the yellow clay hillside. The upper level was a wooden structure where the fragrant hay was stored.
The walls of this lower level were huge sandstones carved from the nearby hills. Giant hand-hewn oak beams and posts provided the supports on which the upper level of the barn rested.
I loved the smell of that place. It was the mixed aroma of earth and hay and a happy cow — one that’s allowed to roam freely on a good pasture.
It’s softer than a summer breeze and as pleasant as a rose garden. In fact, there’s no finer smell and no finer place in all the world than a barn where happy farm animals live.
That’s why, as a child, I was always perplexed when folks said it was so sad that Baby Jesus was born in a barn. The first time I heard the Christmas story, I knew he was blessed.
If the barn he was born in was anything like Grandma’s barn, and a cow like Pet was there to greet him, there could be no better way to come into the world.
Even now, when I think of the Nativity I conjure an image of Grandma’s barn.
I see the baby Jesus wrapped in blankets, lying in Pet’s feedbox. Pet is chewing her cud. Her eyes are soft and half closed in the dim light.
There’s a calm that approaches drowsiness in air that is scented with the marvelous aroma of life, old and new, and of things that perhaps only Pet and the baby and Grandma can fully comprehend.
I wish that barn, Grandma and Pet were still there. I’d love to see her milk Pet one more time, to see those sights and smell those smells.
I sometimes think that if I could, maybe I could unravel the meaning of it all the way I’m sure Pet did.
OOOOOOOOO-EEEEEEE, Pet. If you and Grandma can hear me, I love you both. Merry Christmas and thanks for the memories.