The onset of warm weather always brings back a dark cloud in my memory banks. It is the hateful recollection of baling and hauling hay on summer days when I should have been playing ball, swimming naked in the creek or participating in other worthwhile recreational activities.
I have unsuccessfully tried to purge this ugly thought from my brain since childhood but no amount of psychoanalysis has been able to erase the damage of one of the worst chapters in my life.
I actually would have escaped without major emotional damage had I been able to maintain my original role in our hay baling and hauling operation. At the age of 12, my job was to drive the truck along in the field so that Daddy and his helper could load the bales onto our old pickup. I honed my skills of driving a vehicle with a clutch and a three on the collar transmission. Although my early learning curve resulted in three burned out clutches and several dozen gear grinding episodes, the expertise I gained helped me later in life when spinning tires and shifting gears in the fashion of a NASCAR driver was an important skill to possess.
That idyllic role changed in the summer of my 14th year when Daddy deemed that it was time for me to change to the manual labor side of the equation. My younger brother took over the clutch burning responsibility and my nightmare began.
The job seemed to be an unending one. First, the pasture had to be cut with a mowing machine, then the freshly cut coastal Bermuda grass had to be fluffed in order to dry out. Next, it had to be put into windrows so the baler could more easily pick it up. Had that had been the conclusion of the process it would have been bearable because those chores could be done while riding a tractor. That, however, was only the beginning of this most arduous exercise.
My trauma truly began when those square bales of hay hit the ground. It was now time to pick them up, efficiently stack them on our ancient pickup and take them to the barn. The truck was outfitted with a set of homemade bodies that rose approximately six feet above the rim of the truck bed. Those bodies had multiple uses (serving as a cow trailer from time to time) but functioned primarily to enable us to put as many bales as possible on the truck and thus fewer trips to the barn.
On my maiden voyage as first mate of our hay hauling operation, I stepped in briskly behind the truck, walked confidently up to the first bale, put my fingers under the strings to lift it up and was stunned to discover that it barely moved when I tugged on it. Daddy had the baler set on maximum size so the blasted thing weighed 50 pounds. I probably weighed in at around twice that and my skinny arms were hardly a match for that sturdy bale of hay.
It was at that precise moment that I knew this was going to cause me some serious pain and suffering. After much grunting and sweating, I was able to nudge the monster up on the tailgate using my knee as a lever. Little brother immediately gunned the motor and moved up toward the next one. I trudged forward and for the first time took note of the fact that the landscape was dotted with what looked to be about a hundred thousand of those hulks just waiting to be wrestled with.
By the time we had secured that first load I was staggering around and my arms felt numb. I gratefully fell onto the back of the truck and we headed to the barn. There were new lessons to be discovered there as well.
We backed up into barn and once there I became aware that it was stifling hot. No breeze, no air to breathe. The dust was whirling around from the hay bales and I could not get any air into my lungs. Had to stack the bales neatly so they wouldn’t fall over and by the time we got out of there my eyes were watering, I was sneezing and wheezing and dizziness had set in.
We returned to the relative comfort of the field where it was sweltering hot and began anew. When the day was blessedly over I was little more than a zombie. That night I had trouble sleeping between the nightmares, sneezing fits and Daddy’s inspirational message that the job would probably only require three more days to complete.
The next morning I tried to fake a severe allergic reaction and even offered to show Daddy some nasty looking stuff that was coming out of my nose but that didn’t fly, and so back into the breach once more we went. After three additional days of frolicking in the pasture we finished and I breathed a sigh of relief.
The last straw (so to speak) came when I found out that the next job would be to fertilize the field so the grass would grow faster. That was a crushing blow and to my consternation discovered that we would be able to cut hay at least three more times that summer if we were lucky.
When I went to bed that night I earnestly prayed for drought, legitimate allergies and equipment breakdowns. Nowadays when I pass a field with hay bales in it my arms quiver and I call my psychologist for an appointment.
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