Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hill Country Column in MONROE JOURNAL: February 17, 2010

[Note: Hill Country is a column from the Monroe Journal, Amory, Mississippi. My articles appear there every other week. After the column appears in MOJO it is then published here on the blog. I am happy to be writing in the newspaper of the Hill Country, the Monroe Journal. Below is the column from February 17, 2010. I'm still playing catch-up as a result of eye surgery on 2-17-10.]

Parham Milch Cow Replaced by Reece's Dairy

by Terry Thornton

Well, if you've seen my milk cow
Please drive her on home
I ain't had no milk or butter
Since that cow's been gone
Lyrics, Milk Cow Blues by "Gitfiddle Jim" James "Kokomo"
Arnold (1901-1968), Decca Records, 1934, Chicago, Illinois

The late Sam A. West (1926-1988) of Amory could out-sing anyone on Milk Cow Blues. Many of the megastars of Nashville have covered Arnold's song but none have done it better than Sam singing at Pickin' 'n Grinnin' in Amory. Not even Elvis Presley's version was as pleasing as Sam's.

It would take a man of the South to write Milk Cow Blues --- Gitfiddle Arnold was from Georgia --- just like it took someone from the South like Sam West to sing those words effectively.

Another Southerner who knew about cows was my father, Garfus Thornton of Parham (1902-1976). Twice a day he and Bossy, the cow, would meet in the front left stall of the barn. Twice a day he would bring a pail of milk to my mother who would process it into various foods we needed --- milk, butter, buttermilk, and cottage cheese.

Sometimes the milk would taste of bitterweed or some other substance Bossy had eaten. And, worse of all, at times Bossy would "go dry" leaving us without milk.

Milk, buttermilk, and butter were such important foods that many families kept a herd of milch cows so they would always have one or more cows actively producing milk. Several of these families would "loan" a cow to a dried-up family especially where there were children in need of milk. Some individuals would barter or sell their surplus milk.

It was not unusual to hear discussions at Thornton Store about whose cow was about to go dry, was dry, who was using a loaner cow, or who was helping provide milk to the needy family. Milk supply was reliable if a person had good neighbors or if he had more than one milch cow.

A great deal of work was involved in milking, pasturing and feeding a cow; more work was done to process milk into butter or cheese.

Shortly after the end of World War Two, the work and worry of maintaining a milch cow came to a sudden end for my family. Reece's Dairy in Amory started supplying the stores in Parham with bottled milk products. Thornton Store soon had containers of cold pasteurized milk to sell.

Bossy was out of a job.

Garfus sold her immediately. His milking stool was recycled into firewood and his milk bucket was converted to a garden "pick" bucket. And homemade butter and cottage cheese became a thing of the past.

We started drinking Reece's Dairy milk.

At first I didn't care for the taste of pasteurized milk --- I liked the robust full-flavor of raw milk. But the major thing I didn't like about bottled milk was that it was cold --- we had always had Bossy's milk at Bossy-temperature. Even if the left-over milk had been stored in the refrigerator it was always warmed to cow-temperature before it was placed on the table. Cold milk was a taste I had to acquire.

But acquiring it was easy. I soon loved the sweet, smooth and never-with-the-taste-of-bitterweeds milk from Reece's Dairy. I remember the beginning of the school lunch program at Hatley School and how we loved to drink the milk from those little glass bottles. I remember when Reece's milk was improved and was homogenized in addition to being pasteurized. But the biggest change I remember occurred the week when Reece's Dairy switched from glass bottles to wax-cardboard containers.

We all thought the milk would taste "cardboardy" but soon learned that those little boxes of milk were just as delicious as that in glass containers.

Reece's Dairy was founded by Joe Reece (1907-1989). Joe was born in Indian Territory (Oklahoma). His parents were Roscoe and Fleta Reece who had migrated from Monroe Country. After marrying a Monroe County girl, Mr. Reece learned dairying in Rockford, Illinois. He and his family moved to Amory where he started Reece's Dairy in 1946.

Thousands of school children in Monroe Country were shown the diary operation on one of the most popular of all school field trips --- a visit to Reece's Dairy.

But those of us who remember "before" Mr. Reece built his dairy in Amory remember well the problems and work involving with keeping a milch cow.

Maybe that is why we older folks enjoy Milk Cow Blues so much -- or maybe we miss the taste and texture of raw milk and all that good fresh homemade butter.


Terry Thornton is a retired college administrator and former Amory Middle School principal who resides in Fulton. He can be contacted at at his FaceBook account.


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