I met my Jersey cow for the first time in the spring of 2010, just across the Ohio River on a farm outside Gallipolis.
She was old, bony, ugly, and she had a limp. She'd been with a Brown Swiss bull for four months, but her current owner didn't think she was bred.
"Just milk her as long as she has milk," the man said. "Then she'll make good hamburger."
She'd spent her working life in a small Ohio dairy. She was a professional cow. And I'd never milked a cow in my life. The man had younger, prettier cows available, but when I reached out to test one of her long, heavy teats and she stood there placidly staring back at me as warm milk squirted onto my fingers, her humongous brown eyes gave me trust.
One of us had to know what we were doing, and it wasn't going to be me.
She was priced at a bargain, and I took her home. I gave her the only name she probably ever had, and became besotted with her even as all the milking and handling of the milk nearly beat me into the ground.
It took me an hour and a half the first time I milked her - to get three-quarters of a gallon. Two weeks later, I looked up and realized I was milking twice that much in half the time. My fingers and arms and back were stronger. I had more stamina.
My milk pitchers were overflowing. I had milk and cream and butter. I made cheese left and right. I was feeding my family out of that skinny, limping, ugly cow I called Beulah Petunia.
I learned to sit still in the mornings and listen to the bird because I was sitting at my cow's udder and couldn't do anything else. I learned every movement of her tail and her hooves and her head as I grew accustomed to predicting her movements to protect my milk bucket. I was one with a cow.
And whether she was walking off with a milk stand still locked around her neck, refusing to budge when I pulled on her lead, or stepping on my boot because I didn't have enough sense to get out of the way, she tolerated my every incompetence with a patient dignity.
Despite her previous owner's prediction to the contrary, she gave birth to a calf, a beautiful heifer, heir to her mother's milking throne. And probably also for the first time in her life, she was allowed to keep her baby.