Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

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!

9 comments:

Tory said...

When I had a horse in high school, we bought the hay but my Dad and I and the barn's owner, Mr. Smith, all had to load it from the truck into the loft. As a 16-year-old, it was a great physical toner, but my Dad ended up with tennis elbow, not from playing tennis, but from moving hay.

You didn't mention the part about the sweat running down into your eyes and the prickly little hay pieces sticking to your arms and inevitably working their way down the back of your shirt.

Annette said...

Oh, there's lots of good stuff I didn't mention. Another neighbor of ours fell while working in the hay field and the wagon ran over him. He lived to tell about it.

Ray was driving the tractor one time while I was waaaayyyy up high on the hay wagon. He was goofing around and accidently hit the throttle. I had to claw and scramble to keep from falling off.

He lived to tell about it, too. Barely.

lisa curry said...

Annette, talk about a flashback. As a person who spent EVERY summer of her childhood baling hay, I can totally relate. I remember my sister and I rolling bales into rows for easier pick-up when we were too little to lift them. And much later, I learned to drive in the hayfield -- behind the wheel of a one-ton flatbed Ford with a stick-shift, a fully loaded haywagon on the back, and my father telling me if I dumped the load of hay I'd have to reload it all by myself, but if I stalled the truck again, he was going to kick my butt. No pressure there! File these memories under "Why I never wanted to live on a farm as an adult". But you're right, "Make hay while the sun shines," is great advice to live by!

Nancy said...

I have never, never worked as hard as I did helping to bale hay. Oh, the sweat!

Joyce said...

I'm a city girl. The most I had to do in the summer was mow the grass in our tiny yard with a hand mower!

Kristine said...

I'm also a city girl, so I have no experience working in the field. Does yard work count?

Annette said...

Kristine,

No.

Sorry.

mike said...

My happiest summer on the farm was the year Jake (who "farmed" our land--we didn't do any of the planting ourselves but we helped with the harvesting) switched from hay to corn. I concur, tossing around those bales of hay was exceedingly hard work, esp. for a pudgy preteen. But the reward for helping out was worth it: stripping off shirt and shorts and skinny-dipping in the creek--all the while ignoring Mom yelling from the house 75 yards away, "Get some clothes on!" Pure bliss.

Judith said...

I grew up riding horses but was deathly allergic to the hay. It might be why I finally gave up riding! And I wasn't much fun on those hay rides either. Ahhhchooo.