Joe untied Sunshine and led her to the gate of the holding pen. As he did so, I walked over to a table and put my hands on the sides of a stainless steel pail half full of milk.
It was warm, almost hot, to the touch.
The just-milked Sunshine, a 2-year-old part Jersey, part Brown Swiss cow, sauntered back to her bovine family.
Joe is Joe Clark, a retired logger and lifelong resident of the Butler community in southwest Noxubee County.
In the 20 minutes it took Joe to milk Sunshine, he talked about his life.
College at EMCC in Scooba, then a degree in industrial arts education at Mississippi State.
It took only a short time in the classroom for Joe to realize he wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. “I went out and bought a pulpwood truck,” he said.
In the early 70s as the Vietnam War was raging, he did a stint in the Army.
He feels fortunate to have been assigned to the White House in a communications detail.
“Some of the men (I trained with) came back in bodybags,” he said.
Joe has lived on this small family farm all his life. There are several dairy cows and about 30 beef cows he works with his brother Bud, who lives nearby.
The dairy cows have names. In addition to Sunshine, there’s Ellie Mae Clampett, who has a couple calves following her around, and Little Debbie, Sunshine’s mother.
There are chickens, guinea fowl, a barking dog named Blue Boy and a hive of bees. Brother Bud used the bees to sting his late wife who was suffering from a rare arthritis.
“The bees helped more than anything the doctors gave her,” Bud said.
For most of my adult life, I’ve aspired to taste real buttermilk just once. Not the store-bought stuff, some of which is pretty good, but real buttermilk that’s been churned, straight from the cow.
Not a grandiose ambition, one would think. Simply a cold glass of real buttermilk.
Somewhere in the world this is still common, I figured, but the last of the milk churners are long gone from these parts. Or so I thought.
Still, every now and then I would inquire. Recently I asked someone from that area if he knew of anyone, who made buttermilk. He told me about his neighbor.
On the phone Joe said he didn’t sell his milk — the sale of raw milk is subject to tight controls — that he and his family consumed what he produced.
But if I wanted to taste his buttermilk, he would be happy to pour me a glass.
Not that a sales pitch was needed, but he told me about his great niece Tina, who was breastfed as a baby. When Tina’s mother tried to give her store-bought milk, the child threw the bottle across the room.
“Milk went everywhere,” Joe said.
The mother put some of her brother’s milk in the bottle and said, “Tina’s milk.” Tina has drank Uncle Joe’s milk ever since.
“She’s 16, plays soccer and volleyball and is healthy as a horse,” said Joe. “She’s a pot of gold.”
And then there’s Joe’s mother, Christeen, who died in June of 2020. She was 98.
“Every night she ate cornbread and buttermilk,” he said. “Just like the Little Jimmy Dickens song.”
Keep a-eatin’ that cornbread and buttermilk, a country boy’s delight
I eat it ev’ry mornin’, I eat it noon and night
Some people like fried chicken while others like their ham
But cornbread and buttermilk made me what I am
— “Cornbread and Buttermilk,” Little Jimmy Dickens
Joe got a gallon jar of buttermilk out of the refrigerator on his porch. We went inside and sat at a table covered with old magazines, jars, several eggplants and about half a dozen Asian persimmons. At the other end of the long table was a stoneware crock, a churn.
The long awaited moment had arrived. I closed my eyes and took a sip.
The milk was slightly tart, thick, creamy with flecks of butter. Delicious.
When I finished, I sat for a minute savoring the moment, then I pushed my glass in Joe’s direction and asked for another.
Birney Imes ([email protected]) writes a Sunday column for The Dispatch.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.