by John Gould

The gay yellow school buses do not make their appointed rounds if the highway crew has not first cleared new-fallen snow. So if a plow breaks down there is no school. On a morning when the new snow is deep and you can sit in a rocker in the kitchen with the cat on your knees, there is time for both you and the cat to meditate quietly, and just now I got to thinking about the time I got buried in the cowshed. Just such a storm as this, and I was late for school.
    We'd already had some good storms that winter, and this one I mention added a couple more feet. It was enough, too, to demonstrate a flaw in our architecture, because we'd hung the cowshed door so it swung out. In the snow belt of Maine, this is silly, and I don't know how we came to do it. We'd widened the shed that summer, added some windows, and thought we'd done well.
    When I came down into the kitchen that morning snow covered the windows, so Mother had a lamp burning as she stirred the porridge at the stove. Upstairs, there had been the noise of the wind and the driving flakes, but here in the kitchen there was no sound of the welter outside. Insulated against noise, cold and light, we were snug as any Eskimo, and I pulled on my storm clothes and made ready for my morning trek to chore the cow.
    I wasn't a six-footer then, and the drifts were. I slung the milk pail over one elbow, clutched a turned-down barn lantern in that hand, and held the big wooden snow shovel in the other. So I wallowed to the shed, and it wasn't easy. I dug down, clearing snow until the door would swing, and as soon as it swung enough I squeezed in. It took more room for the fourteen-quart milk pail than it did for me. I made it, pulled the door to, and shot the hasp.
    My black cow, usually up and eager at the first sound of approaching breakfast, was not ready for me that morning. The snow had covered her windows, too, and she had no warning that morning had come. As far as she knew it was still last night. Abruptly, some intruder had violated her boudoir and surprised her. She started to get up just as I squeezed through the door.
    A cow, you know, gets up hind-end foremost. It is an anatomical maneuver least designed to accom­modate the style of manger in which man usually installs her. When she is down, her head stretched forward on her grain box and her great body relaxed in the sweet comfort of repose, she would do a lot better to stand up front-end first. This would save her from ramming her snout into the boards, and the whole manipulation would be more congenial. But instead, she hoists her stern aloft, and for the partial elevation thus gained she pays dearly on the bow. Given sufficient time to awake, shake off drowsiness, and do the thing with dignity and poise, a cow can make out, but when an element of urgency or surprise is added she goes all to pieces.
    My cow then went to pieces. Suddenly intruded upon, she came to with a jerk and began to stand up. By the time she had her hind quarters at a point, I had closed the door behind me and with her head in the feed box she decided whatever it was she had been mistaken. Neither up nor down, she stood there deciding if she had heard something or not, and at last she decided she had not and began to recline her posterior again. But just then I turned up the wick in the lantern and bathed the tie-up in the yellow kerosene glow.
    This convinced her it was morning so she shifted to rise again. But I suppose she knew that lanterns were for night, not morning, and she went back to bed. Her thought processes then went to pot entirely, and I stood there in the shed and watched the stern end of my cow rising and lowering, rising and lowering, so confused she was that dusk or dawn she wotted not.
    I go into details, because all this took a lot of time and time is of the essence. When at last I spoke to her she responded, engaging her coordination, and she got the front end up the next time the hind end went by, and she turned to look at me with sad brown eyes, asking mutely how all this started, anyway. I brushed her down, speaking cajolingly as is the proper approach, but she was taut and distraught as I milked her, her ears laid back and her eyes bugged.
    A cow, thus wound up, usually becomes a "hard” milker, and it takes longer than usual to drain her At that time she was filling the pail, foam and all to about an inch from the top, and I worried about toting that heft of splashing milk through the new snow back to the house. Indeed, this same consideration had decided me against watering her that morning, for in winter we lugged her beverage in pail from the house. I could let that go until after school. But she stripped out at last, I filled her crib with hay and there I was.
    It had taken so long that the snow had blown back against the door, and I was trapped by an out-swinging portal in snow country. There wasn't a thing I could do except wait to be saved. Mother, busy with bacon and eggs and feeding and dressing the other children, would think of me in time, and after she pulled on some heavy clothes would come out to see why I was detained. The froth on my pail of milk had settled completely by the time she did this, and the cream had started to rise. I heard her call to me through the door, and then she began digging away the snow.
    We didn't get bussed to school in those times, and we all went to school that morning—I was on ahead breaking a path for my brothers and sisters. We were all late, and my teacher asked me how that happened. I told her about the cow and the driving snow, and she said on bad mornings I ought to start sooner.

You Should Start Sooner, Little, Brown & Company, 1949