Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hayfield Hijinks

Although this is not a photo of the wheat field I grew up with, it reminds me of it because of the hay bales and the tree right in the middle of the field. Our forty acres boasted two apple trees--both planted smack dab in the middle of the arable acres. Dad refused to cut them down and each year planted around them. The trees produced wonderful fruit for our family and dad's motto was "if it's edible, leave it alone." To mom's dismay, flowers had no standing with a man who had farmed all his life. Soon as mom would choose a likely spot for some beauty, dad would rip them out and plant vegetables. It was a battle that continued throughout their lives.

I absolutely loved harvest time. The Minnesota sun was softer now and our hayfield wove its own magic by smelling both sweet and dusty at the same time. Every autumn my middle sister and I rode atop the horse-drawn wagon while my dad and our hired man walked alongside and pitch-forked the hay shocks onto the wagon's wooden bed.

With great anticipation, we watched for the field mice to scamper out of the shocks so we could catch them and pretend they were our children. Hey, we didn't have dolls. Besides, mice were cuter. We loved the way they wiggled their tiny nose.

Once the wagon was piled high it was over to the thresher where the wheat kernels went one way and the stalks another. My sister and I were allowed to sit in the grain truck bed. We loved having those millions of wheat kernels rain down over us. Dad had shown us how to crack the wheat shell and dig out the germ. Get enough and you had a sort of chewing gum. Who knew?

The year came when dad announced that a bunch of farmers had gotten together to help one another with the harvest and my sister and I wouldn't be part of it. We were devastated. "But dad," we whined "we always go so we can ride on the wagon and play with the tiny mice. Besides, we like sitting in the grain truck.

My mom was soft spoken, seldom raising her voice. But not today. I hear a shriek and a single word. "Mice," she shouted. "What do you mean--mice?" We explained and I swear, she looked like she'd just stuck her finger in a light socket. "No," she said as adamantly as I'd ever heard her. "You're not going."

Dad laughed. It was the wrong thing to do. Mom turned her snapping hazel eyes on him. "Why on earth would you let the girls play with mice?" she said accusingly. "Such filthy, dirty, germ covered animals. Dad looked at her, shrugged his shoulders, and said he was always so busy with the wheat bundles he hadn't known what we were up to. He figured we were just riding along for the fun of the harvest.

My sister and I knew how to approach dad. We grabbed his hands and pleaded. "Please, please, daddy. You always let us ride the wagon." I could see him giving in but what he said was, "It's up to your mother." Being the eldest, I came up with what I thought was a good compromise. I turned to mom and said, "What if we promise not to play with the mice. Can we go then?"  She gave it some thought, then reluctantly agreed.

Harvest time was the highlight of my whole autumn season. To this day I cannot drive by a hayfield or see wheat shocks or even come across a photo that reminds me of that time without seeing two little blond girls giggling in delight at the sight of a furry mouse or the cascade of wheat kernels or the hay flying off into the bailer. It's one of my favorite memories and although I'm now past 70, my minds-eye remembers every detail.

Perhaps the reason haying season remains so indelibly printed on my memory card is because it was not only an adventure for my middle sister and me but because it ushered in crisp mornings and the knowledge that as autumn crept into the hardwoods in layer upon layer of color, it would be time for hayrides and apple cider and molasses cookies. Soon it would be time to walk through drifts of crimson and gold leaves, just to hear them crunch underfoot--my middle sister's and my favorite past time.

The spectacle known as Fall was on the way and though each year seemed the same, it always varied as the crimson and gold blazed across the countryside. How I loved watching the colorful parade as it spread from tree to tree that I might walk to school beneath a blaze of crimson or clouds of gold and orange. Or sit atop a hay wagon full of hay bales, nothing but a lantern or two to show the way along dirt roads, and all the time singing songs with the friends my sisters and I had invited to ride with us.

I've heard it said that city kids have the greatest advantages and the best chance at a productive life. Who makes up this stuff? Far as I know, all the adventures those city kids ever had involved either riding a bike or playing with dumb old dolls. I always felt sorry for them. They had no idea how cute a field mouse was up close and personal. Or how soft was their fur. Or how intriguingly they twitched their nose. I can still envision it. And it still makes me happy.

1 comment:

  1. 'Who makes up this stuff', Sandy? Umm...the same folks who think that giving unwed teens a $3,000 grant for each new baby they have is gonna help society? Oh, don't get me started!