By Annette Dashofy
I owned horses for twenty-five years. And for many of those years, we spent every summer baling hay.
We had a deal with Zelda, a neighbor lady who was well into her seventies. In exchange for giving us enough hay to fill our barn, whenever she called stating that she was baling, we would be there to help. With the cost of hay, it seemed like a good idea. At first.
The process of putting up hay begins around Memorial Day. My mom always says that first cutting should be done by the fourth of July. Then you have a couple of weeks to breathe before it’s time for second cutting. In other words, it never stops. The only way I knew I wouldn’t be called to come help with hay was if rained.
You gotta make hay when the sun shines.
Early in the season, we’d have help from the neighborhood kids who thought working on a farm might be fun. And from Zelda’s daughter’s friends who came for all the beer you could drink. There were also home-grown funny little cigarettes for those who wanted them. But baling hay is damned hard work and evidently booze and drugs can be gotten through easier methods. The kids and the stoned friends soon stopped answering their phones.
But we had a deal. So hubby and I went each and every time we were called. All summer long. Year after year after year.
Did I mention that it’s about 120 degrees in a hay mow? Did I mention how heavy bales of hay get especially when you’re throwing them from the ground up (way up!) onto a hay wagon already stacked several rows high? I never had to worry about putting on weight back then. I sweat it off. I walked hay fields stacking bales. I tossed those bales onto the wagon. I stacked them on the wagon. I tossed them off the wagon and onto the hay elevator (a conveyor belt contraption that gives the bales—and an occasion kid—a ride from the ground to the second story of the barn). I stacked those bales in the hay mow. Not usually all on the same day. But there were a couple of times when hubby was working his real job and the neighborhood kids and druggies were otherwise occupied leaving Zelda and me to manage an entire hay field on our own.
Did I mention that Zelda was well into her seventies? Tough old broad. How can you whine about the work when a seventy, almost eighty year old woman is doing twice the work that you are?
All those summers of back-breaking work and no vacation days unless it rained, served as excellent preparation for my writing career. Okay, so now I spend those hot summer days sitting on my backside in air conditioned splendor, pounding away at the keyboard. But long days of hay baling taught me tenacity. If I wanted the horses to eat that winter, I went when called to labor under the scorching sun. If I want to eventually get this novel published, I will stubbornly stick with it and do whatever it takes. Long hours? Hard work? Bring it on!