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Ryan Dennis

Ryan Dennis is the son of a New York dairy farmer and a literary writer whose early essays were originally published in Progressive Dairyman.

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My grandfather grew up in Germany during the second war. The eldest of a poor family, he was sent to work in other farmers’ fields in exchange for being fed that day.

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My father, in spite of himself, scratched the back of the cat’s neck when he passed by. The cat lifted his head and looked up at him. He followed the trajectory of my father’s hand with blank eyes as it slipped back into the pocket of his jeans.

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I was 12 when I first started milking. I stood on the rusted steps and looked into the parlor. Yellow rubber hoses throbbed in unison and squirmed against the lip of the pit when milk flashed through them. Each inflation grabbed the teat it held and softened its grip only for a moment before squeezing it again.

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Editor’s note: Ryan Dennis is the son of a dairy farmer from western New York and a literary writer. One of his first published essays originally appeared in Progressive Dairyman in 2009 – “Tempting the Language of Farming.” That essay was nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the most prestigious creative essay awarded to a U.S. essay writer.

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I milked with my father every morning in the dark. We herded cows into the parlor eight at a time and dipped their teats. When we were at the end of the row we turned around, wiped it off, and started putting milkers on. We smelt like iodine and manure, and while we waited for the cows to milk out we passed the time talking.

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