This past week I surprised myself. After nearly two decades, I stood on top of a trailer load of hay, stacking square bales while my brother Vince and nephew Bradley tossed them to me. My sis-in-law Lisa was behind the wheel, keeping things moving steadily along as a gentle breeze kept us cool in the June sun.
The surprising part for me was that, after a little coaching from Bradley, my hay stacking knowledge all came back to me like the proverbial riding a bike. And the memories of former days in the hay came back to me as well.
From my earliest days I remember when Vince and I would run out to the front field to catch my dad’s brothers as they loaded a flat wagon full of square bales. One of our uncles would hoist us up on to the load to ride. As they stacked the hay, we’d climb higher and higher. What a ride!
Not so many years later, I wanted to help out in the fields, too, though the crews were all guys. I’m not sure how I talked Dad into letting me work, but he did, and though I dealt with teasing—girls weren’t supposed to be out in the hay—I eventually gained respect.
In my late teens and early twenties, bucking bales was a regular summer ritual, not only for our farm, but many in the area. In fact, I remember our county paper running a story, calling it a “rite of passage.” And it was then. Although some farmers started gravitating toward round bales, the square variety still made up the majority. Ads in the paper for hay crews were common, charging so many cents per bale. I even lured the guy I was dating then (and married to now) out into the fields to help. I remember those days, working the flatbed wagon, Dad and Mike throwing bales to me as I stacked and Mom drove. My younger brothers would roll the stray bales in line so Dad and Mike didn’t have to walk as far. Eventually those brothers ended up working the wagon, too.
Years later Dad bought a small round baler, and we didn’t put up as many square bales. But we still worked the fields. Then we’d roll those bales on to the wagon, and he’d store some on the loft. He even added an extension to his loader bucket to hoist them up with the tractor. Kids and dogs loved jumping on those round bales, my daughter included.
At some point we stopped doing hay ourselves. As Dad got older and the boys traded in the hay field for the mission field, there were more cows to feed and milk, and it made more sense to buy hay elsewhere. Our days bucking bales were behind us. So many of the neighboring farms abandoned the tradition as well.
Yet now we find ourselves back to our old ways, bucking bales. People still need to feed horses and cattle, after all. Which brings me back to this moment in time: Me, standing on the trailer, stacking hay, recalling all the little things from days in hay fields’ past—hay inside my clothes and in my nose, tiny scratches on my arms from handling the bales. The conversations, flowing like the stray breezes as we move from bale to bale. All of us together, out there, under the forgiving sun. Seeing Dad in the back of my mind, patiently tossing up another bale for the top of the load.
And me, loving every minute of it.