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by Mike Finley


Star climbs out, stuttering, bawl­ing, breech, unruly child with a tomboy forelock. July 17, 1939, and war is in the barnyard air, and mud, and straw.

As a calf she dotes on mother's milk, always stooping, always sucking. She grows, she swells, she rounds like the corners of a Holstein balloon.

An idea forms in an oblong head. What a thing, to make food in the body, to take food from the body, and what a thing to feel oneself growing, living, the wet Wisconsin grass all around! Star grows broad in the shoulder and staunch in the rump. Her walk never falters, it is the lolling sway of the maid of the pasture. Pink lips mulling grass, methane scenting the meadows of spring.

When she is mounted for the first time ever she returns the bull's push with her own affirmation, her parts a soft suitcase for the seed of the thousands. A factory whistle deep inside her stomachs sounds loud and low and warm. The career of an artist begins.

The milk flows, tons of it, it gushes from her bag, by the canister, by the crate, by the tankerload, by the refrigerator car. It streams from her aching teats like an army of paint, it pours across the Wisconsin watershed.

One-year-olds in Chicago suck, and whole families in Michigan. Old men breakfasting alone in apartments soak their toasted bread in milk. Convents of bustling women empty steel milk cans to the last white drop. Plastic jugs on Escanaba tables. Young women pricking the cardboard stop and spooning the greasy white around the lip into cof­fee cups.

These are the figures: 325,000 pounds of milk, 100,000 gallons, a half million quarts shimmering and condensing in milkmen's carriers, a million pints of milk from one feminine engine. Twelve years the blue ribbon winner at the Wisconsin State Fair in Wauwatosa. Photo­graphed, garlanded, hailed above all other cattle.

Years pass, tourists from as far as Mitchell, South Dakota travel to see the gracious, dignified, bountiful beast. Thirty calves, each with the tomboy forelock, are her offspring.

At the age of 38 years, the equivalent of 230 human years, the oldest cow in history, she labors yet, surrendering daily 15 pounds of high-butterfat milk.

Just this week, on January 16, 1979, in the same weathered barn she was born in, Star's heaving flanks come to a stop. No life, no milk, no chinking bottles, no titan of production, no heroine of health, no raiser of children, no fortifier of America. Star had shambled into memory.

"It seems so empty now," says the woman in overalls who led her to pasture all those years. "She was a good creature, a hard worker. She was a friend."