When I was a little girl, there was always plenty of work to do. Believe it or not, most of the time the work seemed like fun. Especially, bringing in the hay, because at that time of the year, Dad hired lots of older boys to help out, mostly from town. They knew next to nothing about farming. Some of them knew very little about farm work.
Dad borrowed big farm equipment, like combines, rakes, and balers from other farmers. He had his own mower, which looked like a giant arm of a praying-mantis. When he was pulling it along, not mowing, it stuck straight up in the air, but if he was mowing, he let it down, turned on the hydrolic, and schick-schick-schick the hay got mowed down all stubbly and scratchy, just about the same as when he shaved his beard, except no lather and no little bits of blood. I stayed clear of that mower, whether it was up or down, ’cause I always had the feeling that Dad would mow me down if he got the chance. Maybe that was just ’cause he liked things neat and orderly, and I was hardly ever either one of those things.
After mowing, Dad hooked another big machine up to the tractor and raked all the hay into neat rows, then it sat for a day of drying, turned over with the rake again, and dried for another day. I wasn’t afraid of the rake, just the mower. Dad watched the weather report and the sky, because exactly when to cut and rake was tricky stuff. With any luck, we’d get a week of clear blue sky, the only white from a plane writing a straight line high up in the sky. If it rained on the hay, Dad had to rake again; sometimes it rained and rained, and the hay could get moldy. That was bad. But the worst was if the hay was not dry enough and it was baled up anyway and put in the hayloft. Then a fire could start just from the heat of the hay drying up there in the hayloft, all by itself, no matches, or cigarette ash or anything. It happened to my friend Annette’s barn; we could see the night sky all dark pink, looking like a sunset, but way up high where a sunset doesn’t belong, from our backyard, and Annette lived two miles away as the crow flies. Dad was afraid of fires, ’cause his house burned down when he was a little boy, and the whole family was split up, living at neighbors house for two years. He had ‘no smoking’ signs on all the farm buildings, and as far as I knew, nobody ever smoked around our house. Dad only smoked cigars right after a baby was born. Come to think of it, that was a darned lot of cigar-smoking.
After the curing, that’s what it’s called when the hay is drying, comes the fun part: the baling and putting up in the barn. That’s when the big boys came over to help. Some were on the wagon in the field, catching the bales tossed out of the baler and stacking them on the wagon. Some were up in the haymow, stacking them criss-cross, criss-cross, so the piles were like bricks without any mortar, so steady and straight, and impossible to knock down. Dad showed us how to stack the hay, and darned if he didn’t have to keep showing the hired boys more time than I can count. Me and Bonita were usually on the wagon with one boy, tossing the bales on the elevator going up to the hayloft.
Those boys were weak compared to me. They didn’t know anything about tossing bales of hay around. They tried hard to keep up, which made me laugh, ’cause for one thing, I was lots littler, and for another thing, I was a girl. Boys are supposed to be stronger than girls. That’s why those big boys tried so hard to keep up, sweating, taking their shirts off; and the guys up in the haymow, shouting down, “slow down, will ya,” then sticking their heads out of the trap door, hay sticking out all over them, and their eyes all bugged eyed.
Mom and Deanna made stacks and stacks of sandwiches: bologna, salami, cheese, and some peanut butter and jelly, which we washed down with Kool-Aid. My favorite was cherry red. Red was my favorite color, too. Once Dad sneaked one of Mom’s cork trivitts between two pieces of bread. I had to admit, that trivit looked a whole lot like a slice of salami sitting there between two pieces of Wonder bread. You should have seen that boy just a biting away at the sandwich, trying to be polite and not say anything about the tough piece of meat he got; first his neck started getting red, then his face and ears, ’til finally Dad had to let loose with a laugh that busted out of him so hard it threw his head straight back. Those boys just looked at Dad, then looked around to see what was so funny. I laughed so hard I had to run to the bathroom, so I wouldn’t wet my pants.
At night me and Bonita brushed all the hay out of our hair, inspected all our scratches, and jumped into bed. Pretty soon we were just laughing our guts out about those boys, and how they looked at us all bug-eyed when we threw the bales on the conveyor, and how they had so much trouble stacking hay, it seemed like they’d never learn. Just when I thought we’d fall asleep, Bonita started to giggle.
“What about that piece of cork?” she said.
“You mean salami?” then we were off on another giggle fit, ’til Mom shouted up and told us to pipe down, which was probably the third time she told us to get quiet. Then for sure we had pushed the limit, so we did what we were told.
Whenever I tell this story to guys from the city, they get that bugged-eyed look, and they jaws go all slack, like we were the meanest girls in the world. Maybe we were a little mean. G-Money says so. He grew up in the suburbs.
This is a video of men putting hay in the barn. It’s just like how we did it, except this is some sort of shed, not a barn. The man at the bottom kinda reminds me of Dad when he got to be a grandpa. Whoa, that noise brings back memories, too. When I look it today, I can hardly believe that me and my sisters did this kind of work and thought it was fun. Really, we did.