I don't know about you, but I remember vividly the first money I ever made. It was a hot, muggy June afternoon and, as often happens in that sort of weather, clouds quickly began to build and darken in the northwest signalling a quick, lake-breeze induced thunderstorm. My grandfather had been baling hay across the field from our house for most of the day and he had a thousand or more square bales laying on the ground that were fixing to get wet. He came to the house to recruit help to stook them and among my uncles and cousins he made a point of asking *me* to go with him. I was playing in the sandpile at the time, and I threw my toys down, dusted myself off and gravely made my way to the truck.
Hand stooking hay is, except for the Amish, pretty much an activity relegated to the past, but in addition to making the hay at least somewhat water resistant, it was really something to see a big field of hay stooked in neat rows of four (or sometimes six) bales leaned together. At any rate, we got the field stooked just as the first drops of rain began to fall, and after he dropped everyone off and they went back to their respective tasks he reached in his wallet, said thanks for the help, and handed me a five dollar bill. I was so thrilled I was mute.....a rare event of itself, at least according to my mother....and I sat there dumbly staring at the money until gramps cleared his throat and said he'd better be getting home to grandma. I remember grinning as I exited the truck, still silent.
Each year after that I became more useful, eventually catching up to and then surpassing my grandad's waning abilities where the hardest work was concerned. When I wasn't busy at home I was free to hire my services to other local farmers and I filled each summer from grade 7 through high school with making hay for us and for others, and when the wheat was done, with straw, too. Somewhere along the way.....I don't remember when except to say it was probably shortly after I went off to college....we stopped stooking hay entirely, and a few years after that we stopped square baling in favour of rounds, which took a whole lot less labour.
Here in TN, with a mix of warm and cool season grasses predominant in most fields, making dry hay happens any time after the middle of May and we've been hard at it the last couple weeks. We don't use many square bales around here...certainly not enough to justify owning a baler/wagons/etc.....but a farm operation of our size has need of SOME small square bales. As such, we try to buy several hundred bales straight out of a freshly baled field somewhere locally, and I get to spend a few days in the same way I spent so many when I was a kid, loading, hauling, elevating and stacking hay in the barn.
While handling the volumes of hay I handled as a teen in this manner would get old very quickly, it's kinda fun for a couple days to relive a part of my youth that hasn't changed one bit in spite of time and geography. It even smells the same as it did back then ! I will say it's hard to believe that at one time I used to be able to work all day long building wagon loads of hay stacked four high completely by myself and I speared, lifted and placed every single bale on each of those wagons with a pitchfork. To see just how hard that might be to accomplish, I'd encourage any of you with access to go try spearing and lifting ONE bale of hay with a pitchfork. Either the bales have gotten heavier or I've got older, fatter and lazier because I assure you I couldn't do what I used to do today. After loading and unloading a trailer load of hay earlier today...even with HELP.... I was more than ready to go to the house even though the memories it conjured were good ones !
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