At the dairy farm we woke up in the dark and immediately went to the barn to milk the cows and clean their living areas. The Swiss are “work animals” as they said and we worked from darkness to darkness. The barn was kept immacculately clean with even the tiles on the wall scrubbed daily. I was told a funny story there about scrubbing walls. The mother of the farmer scrubbed the kitchen tile so hard and often that she was removing the pattern on the tiles.
We worked everyday, but Sundays we only did the milking in the morning and afternoon. The cows would later be let out into the field where they could graze on the fresh grass. The farmer was a tall, wiry, angry man. I would say he was insane but I don’t really know. I will have to check my notes later, but suffice is to say he terrorized his family and in particular his wife. I have always prided myself in being able to work with anybody but one of the reasons I left was that I thought I might attack him for his constant abuse of his wife, who was a wonderful person. We discussed more than once how bad it was. There were two sisters. Ursi I think was around 17 and Marianne closer to 20. Their bother Jorg was around 15. Marianne was strikingly beautiful with dark hair, dark eyes and an incredibly healthy complexion. She was an accomplished skier. She was very gregarious and loved to talk. Ursi was quieter but a very deep thinker who liked to discuss important issues. After dinner each night the two sisters and I would stay up late talking. It was great for improving my German. Years later, Ursi and a friend of hers came and stayed with us for a week not far from Seattle. We laughed a lot. Hard to believe they are in their mid to late 50s now.
When I arrived on the farm I was developing a sore throat. The farm wife would prepare me extremely hot milk, fresh from the cow and add lots of honey. I have never slept better than during the 17 days I worked there. I still use the milk and honey approach today, but is never as good as there.
At the end of the day I had to herd the cows back into the barn. I didn’t know it but they knew where to go. One day, I had to close the wire fence which was far from the barn. I tried to connect the two wire pieces of the fence but it was so highly electrified that I couldn’t. I kept trying and was sweating with pain and wondering if I was doing permanent damage to myself from the electricity. I didn’t realize that the cows would not try to escape. The farmer was screaming at me from far away, but all I could do was shout obscenities as I knew he wouldn’t understand.
The family situation was tragic and clearly there was no hope. I encouraged his wife to leave as it was living Hell for her. One of the things we had to do there was collect small pears that had fallen from huge trees. They completely covered the grass. We would crawl on our knees and put them in buckets. Unfortunately many were covered with hornets or wasps and one would be stung. The pears were apparently used to create a sweet liqueur called schnapps. Never tasted it.
One of the weirder jobs I did there was helping to fill a silo with ground up corn for storage. The ground up corn would feed steer cattle that are raised for meat. So we filled up a trailer with corn stalks and drove to some silos. I was told to stand at the bottom of the silo and rake the corn as it entered to level it out. I believe the silo was around 30 feet high. A machine ground up the corn and sprayed it into the silo…..on top of me. It was brutal, sweaty hard work. Eventually I was at the top of the silo standing on corn, itching like I have never itched due to all the corn debris in my clothes. I truly thought I might get buried by corn and nobody would hear me. In the Fall there was a big event of cattle coming down from the mountain meadows. The cows had traditional bells that clanged out their arrival. The streets were lined with the villagers to watch the procession.
The food was delicious there, the scenery breathtaking and the company of the children and mother very enjoyable, but the behavior of the farmer was too much to endure. Bizarrely, in town people thought he was kind. Ultimately I left after 17 straight days of work. The family told me that was the longest anybody had lasted. On the road again hitch-hiking to Zurich.