Posted: Sunday, July 04, 2010

I mentioned last time that I grew up on a farm. Many of my Fourth of Julys were spent in some aspect of bringing in hay. I understood the literal meaning of "make hay while the sun shines" long before I ever knew about figurative language.

In the early years most of my help consisted of staying out of the way while the adults did the actual chores involved with haying, which included getting dinner for a crew that was mostly family, but sometimes a friend who had the day off would come to help "just for the fun of it." By the time I was in junior high I was big enough to help in the field if Dad needed me more than Mom did in the kitchen but mostly, I chose the field (if given the choice) to escape the drudgery of getting dinner and the inevitable clean-up afterward.

We baled wire-tied bales which were about 75 pounds, give or take a couple of pounds. As long as I didn't need to buck them above my head I could handle them OK, so I was usually put on the truck to move them to the stack while the men hefted the bales onto the back.

If we didn't have two people on the truck, when the stack got beyond my height, I was put on the baler to stack onto the slip as the bales left the binder.

Sometimes, if the hay was sparse, we let the bales fall into the field and moved the truck along to pick up each one. I didn't like that method much because I didn't ever get to drive either the truck or the tractor (probably a good thing). It was more work, but sometimes we'd find an abandoned pheasant's nest, or baby mice, maybe a snake or even possibly a fawn, hiding hunkered down in long grass alongside the field.

Getting dinner was another matter. Sometimes, if friends or relatives from town had come out, Mom had help in the kitchen and didn't need me except as a gofer, so I was free to go help with the hay. But usually, she was there alone, so my help was indispensable.

Where were the other sisters, you might ask. I was the oldest, and the next sister is nearly four years younger, so she was just emerging from the "stay out of the way" years. She could set the table, run to the basement for forgotten items and tend to the next sister who was still a toddler and needed to be entertained or changed, depending on her mood. The two youngest were yet to even be thought of, at least by me.

Dinner for the hay crew was not much different than for the harvest crew, except if it was the Fourth of July it tended to be a little more festive. Mom was a great cook (isn't everybody's mom?) and if Grandma happened to also be there, dinner was an "event." Almost inevitably we had fried chicken. Mom raised chickens and butchering season (another childhood experience I may someday write about) always coincided with haying.

Grandma was the ultimate pie baker, so at least two kinds of pie came to the dessert table, more if we had a big crowd which usually we did, as Fourth of July was often, in the "old days," more of a family get-together than a public celebration. And maybe, if it was really hot weather, the men would take the early afternoon hours off and spend them lolling in the yard or resting on the porch visiting, then go back to work as the afternoon got cooler.

Regardless, there was always after dinner clean-up. Dad didn't like paper plates, so we never used them. Dishes had to be washed, food put away ... usually to be brought out again before everyone went home for one more piece of pie or a chicken leg or glass of iced tea on the way back to the hayfield. Floors had to be swept and glasses and silverware brought in from the yard where someone always left them.

The kitchen chores were perpetual, it seemed. At least the bales of hay were finite, and you could see the end of the job until next year. Not so cooking and washing dishes. It seemed we just finished one meal in time to begin the next.

By the time I was old enough to go out with my friends on the Fourth of July to a lake or some community celebration, I discovered that most of my friends had spent the past years and were destined to spend the future Independence Days just as I had: making hay while the sun shined.

It was about then I vowed to NOT marry a farmer. And luckily, the farmer I married had made the same promise to himself. So here we are in Alaska where, in the past, we have spent more than one Fourth of July on the fish site because it fell on a fish day.

At least we used paper plates.

Have a great day!

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.

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