I know that some people are fed up with the exceptionally hot weather we’ve been having lately, but I love it. When I step out into the sunshine and feel myself wrapped in the heat, or when I hear the lazy drone of the cicadas and smell something that I can’t quite describe in the hot summer air I know, without a doubt, that it’s haying weather.
Small square bales are as rare as common sense these days. You’re more likely to see huge round hay bales, or even the large square ones, half the size of a house, but back in the day everyone made the smaller, more labour-intensive bales, and so did we.
Many people stacked their bales on the hay wagons, and then unloaded them in the barn, filling their loft as though playing a huge Tetris game, but not us. Because Dad’s back kept him in pain much of the time, occasionally sending him to bed for days, he did his farm work as “back-smart” as possible. That meant buying a baler with a bale-throwing attachment. ⇐ Quite short, and fun to see!
We loved watching the machine gobble up windrows of dry hay. A few minutes later the spinning rollers at the back would catch a newly-formed bale and pop it through the air and into the wagon.
Usually it was Grandad who drove the tractor and baler, and usually it was Dad and his girls who picked up and unloaded the full wagons. First we’d make the ride into the field in an empty wagon – rattling and bouncing along like small toys in the bottom of an empty box.
Once in the field, one of us would climb down to unpin the wagon. Then dad would back up to the full wagon and we’d attach it to the drawbar of the tractor. When we were small, it often took two to do the job — one to pick up the heavy wagon tongue, and a second person to drop in the pin after Dad had inched the tractor into place.
That done, we scrambled back into the wagon piled full of bales, trying to find two that were angled like a lounge chair. There we lay, eyes closed, enjoying the sway of the wagon as it moved over bumps in the fields and back lane. I can still feel the sun, hot on my already hot skin, and smell the wonderful scent of dry green hay.
When we got back to the barn Dad would park so the back of the wagon was even with the bale elevator. He’d lift the back door of the wagon up and prop it open, then start pulling bales out with a hooked fork on a long handle. He placed the bales on the elevator and they would make the long ride to the peak of the barn, where they’d tumble off into the haymow.
We’d mostly behave while the wagon was being emptied, often playing house on a woodpile nearby, and sometimes running to the house to get cold drinks.
If haying continued late into the afternoon Dad would often ask one of us to go and put milkers together so he would have time to bring in one more load of hay. The younger ones would be sent to the pasture to bring the cows to the barn. If we all did our jobs, everything was ready when Dad came to do the chores.
Writing all of this down makes me realize how entirely different this life was from that of my grandchildren, and even my children. It’s hard to imagine sending five- and six-year-olds across 100 acres to herd cows from a distant field. How many ten- or twelve-year-old girls these days would agree to enter the damp milk house to put milkers together — not necessarily without whining, because we did plenty of that — but how many would actually do it?
I know that the “good old days” were never as wonderful as memory would trick us into believing, and they certainly were a lot of hard work. But from my perspective now, I can’t think of a thing I’d change.