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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Milking cows


My first partner, David, had grown up on a dairy farm just east of Zanesville, Ohio, about an hour’s drive from our home in Columbus. From time to time we’d visit his family on that farm, and things went well. I always got along splendidly with his parents and numerous siblings. David’s father John particularly liked having long talks with me. Inevitably during these visits our musings would be interrupted by John saying to me, “Well, Doug, it’s time to milk the cows. Want to come down to the milking barn and talk to me while I do it?” I agreed to this, but there turned out to be a catch. After the first visit or so, no one can stand around and watch twenty or so cows being milked in the repetitive way this is done (let the cow in, close the gate, swab down the utters with a tool, attach the hoses, start the milking machine, detach the hoses, let the cow out, repeat until you run out of cows) without it occurring to the observer that he/she could easily help with the process.

Thus, reluctantly, I learned how to milk cows (mechanically, I hasten to add). When David and I parted after four and a half years (1977, when we met, romantically, at a Valentine’s Day party, until the summer of 1981), that was hard (though we are still good friends—he came to the 2010 New Year’s Eve party I threw, but missed; see post of Jan. 7). But, it was some small consolation to think my milking days were over.

Move now to the summer of 1984. By this time I was engaged in writing the text of a casebook on the law of Contracts with Professor Thomas Crandall, then a member of the faculty at the Gonzaga Law School in Spokane, Washington. Casebooks are the standard texts for teaching law to law students, and Tom and I were out to create a very new way to do it. After I gave a bar review course lecture in Los Angeles that June, I took a train to Portland (beautiful journey: whales on one side, mountains on the other), and then a different train to Spokane, where Tom and his wonderful wife Candace (called “Dace,” pronounced “Dace-uh”), met me at the train. They drove me to the farm they’d purchased fifty miles outside Spokane, where they lived with their two children, Kelly and Franklin, then ages four and two.

Thomas Crandall is one the great characters of our time. Huge man, big laugh, very intelligent, and willing to try about anything, wise or not. Dace is smart, and funny, a naturally nice person, and to top it off, beautiful (which Tom, alas, is not). The kids were fun to play with, so, all in all, it was a good visit. My task while there was to confer for a week with Tom over the details of our book, then a work in progress. (He also cajoled me into teaching a Consumer Law class at Gonzaga, which I enjoyed—the students were very good, and they adored Tom.)

By the time I had been driven me from the train to the Crandall farm, it was just getting dark. We sat at the kitchen table, had a quick drink, and talked and laughed for a bit. Then Tom, to my great surprise, suddenly said, “Well, Doug, we’ve got ten cows to milk before supper.” My heart fell. Ten cows! It turned out he was kidding—they had no cows, nor any animals except two very friendly dogs—but Tom couldn’t have picked a better foil for his little joke. I certainly knew what milking ten cows was like.

One last favorite story about that visit:

I was put up on a living room fold-out bed each night. This was comfortable enough, but one unforeseen difficulty was that there was a huge picture window facing the front of the house and as I lay in my bed and looked at it over my feet, I was to learn it had no curtain. The spectacular view was of Mount Spokane and the Selkirk Mountains, but in the summer when the sun came up early my bed was engulfed with dazzling light. I’m not a morning person, but, with a pillow over my head, I was able to get through the effulgence with only a minor grumble. The first morning, I awoke about six a.m. and had to go to the bathroom, which involved a short trip down the hall to my left. No problem, well, except the noise of my passage woke the two young children, and they were quickly up and ready to romp with old Doug (well, then only middle-aged Doug). At six o’clock. Let me repeat that: six o’clock. This frivolity woke parents too (Tom may have slept through it all, come to think of it), and the early morning revelries began (made worse, I think—memory being uncertain here—by my having had a bit too much to drink the night before).

The next morning I awoke again at six with the same urge. What to do? Then a happy solution occur to me: just put on slippers, step outside the front door to my right, and take a whizz in the woods (there were no neighbors for miles, and Tom and I had done this very thing while exploring his property the day before). So I quietly climbed from bed, donned the slippers, and exited into the chilly morning air. I was wearing only shorts and a t-shirt, but I wasn’t planning to be out there long; the woods were close. I was greeted by the two dogs, who knew, from yesterday’s adventures, that I know how to pet a dog and was a friend of the family. They were delighted to accompany me on my short journey to the woods.

But when I turned to go back, an unexpected problem arose. Can you guess what it was? It certainly never occurred to me.

Obviously, considered later in a more reflective mood, I should have rememberd it was the duty of the dogs to guard the house and not let anyone back in; they took this solemn obligation seriously. When I started for the house, they ran and got in front of me, growling softly, tails wagging (they were pretty sure I was okay, but still . . .), and the male dog even grabbed my wrist gently in his teeth. I froze. Seeing that I’d stopped moving, they wagged their tails even harder, and suddenly were friendly again. Now what? It seemed colder every second, standing there in my skivvies, looking longingly at the door only twenty feet away, rethinking my choice of Tom as a coauthor.

So I played with the dogs—fetch the stick, that sort of thing—and with every possible chance I moved a few feet closer to the door. Finally I got near enough to turn the knob and let these trusty guardians run into the house ahead of me, which they did with great enthusiasm, settling themselves in the hall between me and the bedrooms, still on watch, tongues out and panting, doggy smiles on their faces. Fine with me. With a shiver, I hopped into bed and quickly fell asleep.

When I related this story to Tom and Dace later that day, I was considerably annoyed to realize that Dace seemed pleased with the dogs’ behavior. Okay, I understand her reaction—mother protecting her brood and all—but let her shiver out in the chilly dew in her underwear for twenty minutes and then we’ll revisit the incident.

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“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

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