Milking the Bull
By Emily Parke Chase –
“Does that chicken lay eggs?”
Pushing back the brim of my bonnet, I look up at the tourist and then glance at the hen coaxing her young brood across the barnyard before I answer, “You think she just lays chicks?”
“Can you tell me where Herb’s garden is?” another visitor asks.
Pointing to a garden full of parsley, basil and oregano, I sigh and reply, “You’ll find Herb over there.”
A husband and wife point at a team of oxen. “Look! They have a male and a female!”
Do modern biology classes never mention that an ox is a castrated steer? That means no females.
As a seasonal guide at a reconstructed historical village, I have grown accustomed to tourists who ask unusual questions. Many of our guests, growing up in cities, have no idea that milk comes from anything other than a carton or that the cotton in their tee shirts once grew on puffy plants. Only at a place like Williamsburg, Plimoth Plantation, or Old Sturbridge Village will you find a crowd of adults focusing their cameras on a costumed worker unloading a pile of manure from an ox cart. Where are those light meters and flashbulbs when I’m turning over my compost pile in my back yard?
Other visitors to our village are experts in their fields. A few specialize in guns, some in early American pottery. Their questions are welcome and get accurate answers, but I discover that guides on tour from other historical villages take diabolical delight in testing my knowledge. They ask for obscure details about wallpaper designs or flower arranging, not because they care but because they want to see if they can catch me in ignorance. Here comes one of those visiting guides with a question. “Excuse me, miss. That desk over there across the room…can you tell me if it was made in eastern or western Massachusetts?”
I scratch my head and furrow my brow before answering. “It all depends on your perspective. If you are standing on the New York border, then it was made in eastern Massachusetts. But if you are standing on the tip of Cape Cod, it was made in western Massachusetts.”
“Ah, thank you.” The guide nods solemnly and moves on to harass the next staff person.
When tourists are not in sight, we staff members create our own entertainment. My friend “Betsy” is working upstairs in a museum area that few people visit. Bored, she writes a note, “Help! I’m being held prisoner in the lighting exhibit.” She rolls the note into a scroll and pushes it through a knothole in the pine floor. She has most sincere regrets when it falls to the head table in the formal dining room below, in front of one of the members of the board of trustees. From then on, Betsy decides to let tourists—only tourists—provide the fodder for her wit.
The next day a man wearing an MIT sweatshirt approaches. After watching our farmer use the ox to plow a field, he asks, “Does that ox give milk? Does it taste like cow’s milk?”
Hard to tell. You see, I only milk the bull.
“If any among you thinks that he is wise by this world’s standards, he should become a fool in order to be really wise. For what this world considers to be wisdom is nonsense in God’s sight” (1 Corinthians 3:18, 19, Good News Bible).
Want to schedule the author as a speaker? Interested in learning more about her books, including Why Say No When My Hormones Say Go? Visit her at emilychase.com.