Updated: Oct 27, 2019
They crossed the barnyard humming to the music in the coop, but their hearts sank as the melody faded away. The cool wind was startling as it rustled the fall leaves around them. Walter and Charlie hopped like Reba crunching the leaves as they landed.
The barn creaked in the breeze and the huge doors were fastened shut against the fall weather. Reba grasped a hidden knob which opened a small hatch. It swung open with a squeal and they slipped inside.
The warm air struck Charlie’s face and the memory of the barnyard receded. The floor was covered in sawdust and the stalls were labeled with hand painted signs. The tools and tack were organized on the walls next to barrels of sweet oats. The smell of dry hay and molasses tickled Charlie’s nose.
The first stall was labeled ‘Pansy’ and was decorated with tiny purple flowers. Charlie noticed how short the stall door was compared to the others further down the breezeway. As they approached, a crusty snout poked over the door and made a snort.
“Hey, Reba and Walter, who’s your friend?” the pig said as she sniffed the air again.
“This is Charlie. He’s living at the farmhouse this winter. Reba and I are showing him the barn,” Walter said. “This is the first time he’s been on a farm and we are here to get some milk.”
“Nice to meet you, Pansy,” Charlie said. “Do you have milk? I’m really thirsty.” His throat felt like sandpaper and he gave a little cough.
“Milk… gee… no milk here. I’m the champion truffle hunter! I find the most delectable truffles in the county.” Pansy snorted. “You need to visit Sidney. He runs the dairy and there is plenty of milk at the dairy.”
“Thanks,” Charlie said and turned to Walter and Reba. “No milk here.” And they moved to the next stall.
The stall was labeled 'Mercury' and a black pony hung his head over the door.
“Hey, Reba and Walter! Nice to meet you, Charlie,” the pony whinnied.
“Are you a horse?” Charlie asked. “I’ve never met a horse.” Mercury chuckled at Charlie's enthusiasm.
“I’m Mercury and I’m a pony.”
“Mercury pulls the Marti’s buggies on the farm.” Walter said. “He’s the finest buggy puller in the county.”
Mercury beamed with pride because pulling buggies was his favorite activity and he tried his best on every ride. He shook his head in the air throwing sawdust everywhere.
Charlie stepped back and landed on something squishy.
“Hey, watch out there, Charlie, that’s my good paw!” a voice exclaimed in protest.
Charlie jumped forward and tripped over Walter’s vines. Reba, fast as any jackrabbit, caught him just before he hit the stall door. They landed in the sawdust and began to laugh.
When Charlie looked up he saw a big cat with a short tail sporting a cane in one hand and a mug of milk in the other.
“I heard someone was in need of a mug of milk...! Was that you?” the cat purred.
Walter was laughing so hard, all he could do was point at Charlie and the cat knew who needed the drink. Charlie accepted the milk with gratitude. His parched throat soaked it up and it dribbled down his chin.
“Thank you,” he said. “That was the most amazing milk I’ve ever had. Where did it come from?”
“Why, the dairy of course,” purred the cat. “I’m Sidney. Have you ever seen a dairy?”
“Only in books,” said Charlie and then he looked into the mug to see if he had missed any milk, but it was gone.
“Well, follow me and I’ll show you around. We started the dairy with one of our finest cows and now we have more than I can count.”
They said goodbye to Reba with hugs and big smiles, then walked down the hall to the next stall. It was labeled ‘Margret’ and they slinked under the door. By now Charlie knew what to do so he got down on all fours and crawled under the stall door.
Once again, Charlie lit up in amazement as the dairy became a symphony of sights, smells, and music. What he imagined was a simple room with Margret the Cow turned out to be an enormous place with a glass ceiling. Views of mountains on one side and an ocean on the other cascaded through the windows. It smelled of pine trees with a hint of sea foam blended with a warm breeze. The floor was covered in a soft layer of woven hay. There were rows of smocked raccoons milking the cows and a Mariachi band swaying down the aisle playing a lively tune. Each station was lined with milk buckets and raccoons who were pouring the milk into white troughs.
As they walked down the aisle, they greeted each milking team and followed the flowing milk which was poured into glass bottles. Each bottle was capped by hedgehogs and then collected into wooden crates. The crates were wrapped in burlap cloth and loaded onto carts.
A sharp whistle echoed through the space and the carts groaned under the pressure of their heavy loads. They pulled away from the loading areas and formed a parade of outgoing deliveries.
The whole process was mesmerizing, but Charlie managed to pull himself out of his daze to ask, “Where are the carts going?”
Sidney pointed out the doors and said, “the cooling area.”
Then without warning a whistle blasted! The room appeared to exhale and Sidney mumbled under his breath, “time for pasture.”
He was always conflicted at this time of day. He loved to milk the cows, but relished the thought of catching a nap. “Ah,” he thought, “the evening shift will start soon enough,” and he turned to enjoy the company of his friends.
The raccoons packed up their smocks and the cows backed out of their stations. They sauntered toward the enormous barn doors and a chilling breeze flowed through the space as the doors rolled open. The soft clopping of hooves, the clacking of buckets, and the gleeful chatting brought a halt to the milking process.
Sidney started to say something when a ruckus erupted from behind them. A voice called, “Walter, Walter, we need you in the Buggy Shop!”
Charlie turned around to see Mercury pulling a beautiful black lacquer buggy. His breath was labored and suds foamed under his harness.
Mercury’s ruckus launched a flock of birds above their heads. They shrieked an alarm as they swooped down grazing Walter’s head.
Charlie’s face grimaced as he wondered what could be wrong in the Buggy Shop. He’d hardly noticed that Walter had climbed aboard.
“Hop on, Charlie!” Walter exclaimed. “We need to go help Arthur.”