Hayin Season
Hayin Season

Hayin’ Season

by Joyce H. Goldfield of Inverness, CA

Mmmmm, that smell! That sweet, dry grass smell! Whenever I catch a whiff of it… I need to breathe it deeply – into me. They’re haying at the Gallagher Ranch as I drive by. I open the car window wide and smile. My mind drifts off to childhood memories and I’m back on our farm on Martha’s Vineyard, in haying season.

Being the youngest, I had no real job, so I got to ride in the hay wagon, or play at helping Nanna make windrows. She’d often send me on errands.

“Run up to the house, Sissie, and bring the jug and basket on down”

Delighted to have a ‘real job’ I’d race off for the house, Sam the German Pointer, hard at my heels.

In Nanna’s kitchen I’d fetch the jug of icy milk and basket of sandwiches and cookies she’d prepared at 5 a.m. after the morning milking. The big old-fashioned windows were open wide and long, sheer white curtains billowed into the rooms. Hay scented breezes blew in, touched with the smell of wild rambling roses that mounded over and sagged down the barbed wire fences surrounding the house. Pete, Nanna’s bald canary sang his heart out from his cage in the dining room, and the old clock on the high shelf struck noon – slowly. Bongbong- bong- bong…

I snuck cookies, hands full of them, from the stone crock Nanna kept in the back room pantry. Then I’d load up the lunch for the men. I can still remember the sound of the old John Deere tractor putt-putting steadily from the field by the orchard where they’d be raking hay. Cousin Ray, the eldest, drove the tractor, my sister Shirley, next in line, up on the hay rake, expertly tripping the rake to make long windrows. I’d go first to the field by the coal shed where Uncle Ray was driving our miserably mismatched team of ‘Frank’ and ‘Tom.’ They pulled the huge, crib-sided hay wagon which Grandpa, Nanna, and Stanley Mercier (hired hand) pitched full of dried hay from the windrows. Seems like yesterday that Nanna and I had turned the cut hay over and again with a pitchfork so the sun could dry it to this rich sweet smell that wafts through my brain.

Uncle Ray lets me sit astride the horses while he eats. He even lets me drive them. At nine, I realize the horses know where they’re going and driving is just a formality, but it makes me proud nonetheless. The best is the drive to the barn when Shirley, Ray and I jump on the load and burrow into all that soft, sweet smell.

In the barnyard, the sleeping cats scurry as the tired old horses approach. “Frank,” a huge fat Bay, pulls slightly ahead, the harness awry as bony old strawberry roan “Tom” lags. I loved “Tom” the best.

Uncle Ray expertly backs the rig up to the barn door, where the giant hay hook, terror of my youth, sweeps across the beam in the roof, and with an alarming clatter, trips and falls like a guillotine. Its shiny deadly points jab into the hay, bite a huge mouthful and shoot back up into the barn roof, flying along the track to deposit mounds of hay on the hay mow floor. Nanna is up there in her dress and apron, spreading rock salt through the piles of hay, her arm casting it about in huge sweeping arcs. The salt keeps the hay sweet and mold from forming. I like to eat the coarse, gritty salt chunks. Nanna says I shouldn’t. I do anyway. She lets me.

She died at age 94, yet she is as real to me now as she was in my childhood. Tall, probably six foot, or nearly. Big. Not fat, just big. She always wore housedresses covered by full, neatly patched aprons. On her feet, those black shoes old ladies wear, with nylons knotted over elastic garters above her knees. They say that’s bad for the circulation… gives you varicose veins. Ha! Nanna still had beautiful firm, shapely legs at 94! She worked too darned hard all day for any feeble elastics to hold back the blood pumping through her veins!

Uncle Ray tripped that awful hayfork – the gesture so out of character with his completely gentle nature. Every animal on the farm adored him. The cows strained at the end of their tethers to moo as he passed. We kids felt the same about him. He never got mad at anything we did, and never told on us, no matter how dread the deed.

Take for instance the time we were skating on the forbidden Goose Pond, and fell through the ice. We snuck back home through the woods to the milk house, stripped and hung our wet clothes over the boiler to dry, then sat there, stark naked, chewing Grandpa’s Apple Jack tobacco he kept on the window sill. Uncle Ray, coming back from delivering milk, just came in and said “Hi!” He never questioned what we were doing, and never told on us.

He was mostly bald, about Nanna’s height; though he seemed shorter, ‘cause he stooped a little. Always a tiny stub of a Camel cigarette in the corner of his mouth, and he coughing, his twinkly blue eyes (like Grandpa’s) squinted from the smoke and him laughing. We’d always run to meet him and try to see who could say first,

“Uncle Ray Prada is a regular ole tomato!”

“Joyce Harding Prada is a regular ole tomato!”

He saved the “Straight Arrow” cards from the shredded wheat boxes for me. I know he ate twice as much as he wanted so I could get the cards faster. He ate shredded wheat with canned milk. I wondered about this, even as a child. Them running a dairy farm and all.

Grandpa adored me, thought I could do no wrong. He was an older version of Uncle Ray, no teeth, and could spit tobacco juice a mile! He was rougher on the animals, and this troubled me, but somehow didn’t mar my love for him. He let me help him do stuff too, like Uncle Ray. Even grownup things like helping change the oil in the tractor on rainy days. Grandpa ran things, though I don’t remember how.

They called him “Pa” and deferred decisions to him.

“Well, we better wait till Pa gets here and see what he thinks we should do abut that udder.”

“Do you think we should peg out the Figueredo cow, Pa?”

The answers were often merely a grunt or shrug, but somehow things got decided and the farm hummed along.

He swore a lot – every other word.

“Blankety blank nice day!”

“Blankety Blank nice bag on that heifer!”

Yet, I don’t remember him ever getting mad or swearing in anger. Come to think of it, I don’t remember any of them ever getting mad! Even Uncle Ray, the day I pulled the wrong lever on the manure spreader and it shot fresh, green, runny spring manure forward all over both him and the tractor! He laughed! I remember his face, running green/brown guck and his deep blue eyes all crinkled up laughing…

Grandpa was cleaning the barn one morning, and Shirl was watching him shovel the fresh manure down the hatches into the manure cellar. I don’t know what possessed me – guess it just needed doing. I pushed her and she fell through the hole into the manure. Uncle Ray leapt in after her and pulled her coughing and spluttering out of the gunk. She could have smothered in there! I realized it that moment I saw the stricken look on Uncle Ray’s face. They never yelled or scolded, just said,

“Take her up to the house and get your Grandmother to give her a bath.”

Head hanging, I did. Never forgot it. Shirl says she doesn’t even remember, but I sure do.

Gosh I miss them and the farm… that time… hayin’ season. Especially today, driving by these fields where they’re hayin’…