There are a lot of stories about haying season when you grow up on the farm. Putting up hay is a lot of work. It’s hard work. It’s dirty and dusty work. You sweat a lot. You drink a lot of water. You get blisters. Sometimes it’s miserable. And there is always the weather. Those beautiful cumulous clouds over the hayfield working with the sun to dry up the morning dew on the windrows of freshly raked hay can become your enemy with afternoon rains. There were so many times we were fighting the elements to get hay in before it rained. In fact, it’s a tremendous mixture of science and good fortune to predict just when to cut the hay, rake it, dry it, bale it, and get it in the barn without getting it wet. Which was dangerous.
The reason you wanted your hay to be well-dried and certainly not wet when it was put in the barn was spontaneous combustion. Damp or wet hay bales stacked on each other is known to get so hot that it can combust and burn the barn down. Being the smallest, I was generally the stacker. I would ride on the hay wagon while my brothers or Dad would toss the bales on the wagon. I would drag them across the wagon and stack them, usually about five or six layers high. I have no idea why or how I was chosen for this task, except like on most farms, everybody got a job.
Once it was stacked on the wagon, the journey across the field and to the barn was the next dangerous step. If I didn’t stack well, the hay could fall off the wagon. If you were riding on top of the hay, you went down with the ship. I remember one time my know-it-all cousin Bobby from Phoenix said he was the best stacker and told me to get off the wagon. Yep, he stacked them all right. We lost half the load before we got out of the field. No more Bobby-stacking. He took revenge on me by feeding the bales into the hay loft on the elevator so fast that I could hardly keep up with them. But, I thought it would be fun to build little tunnels in the loft and rooms as I stacked. This is something that is also very dangerous because the hay would be known to collapse on kids like me playing in the tunnels. Dad expressly forbid it. But…
My cousin Steve and I would play in the mow, going to the top, and sliding down the tunnels I secretly built. It was great fun, until Dad caught us and we both got a good lecture and I had to fill in the tunnels. At least we didn’t get crushed under a cave in or suffocate—like what happened to some other kids. It was big news. I just kind of cringed when Dad and Mom were talking about it at the supper table, laying on me a passive aggressive guilt trip. I got the message. It seemed to work out that we would often finish getting that last load of hay into the barn just as the rain started coming down hard.
Sometimes we would go under the downspout to wash off once the hay was in and it was raining. Other times it was washing in the horse watering trough. Still other times, Mom would hose us down with the cold water from the garden hose. Once all the hay was in, there was a traditional treat of cold A & W root beer from gallon jugs, accompanied by that certain worn out satisfaction of a hard job done. Haying season was one of those dreaded times, but also a time that created great memories of comradery, teamwork, and celebration. Psalm 126:5 says, “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.” Hay season was sowing with sweat and sometimes tears, and it was always a joy when it was finished.