The Grapes of
On Burr Road, Part 4
Dad, with his adventuresome attitude, saw no harm in technical advances if their viability could be demonstrated. Exploration and discovery was a basic part of survival, so why resist the changes that came with it? You just had to make sure an idea was practical before trying it out. And you had to push your pen if the idea involved investment. Artificial insemination, Dad said, bore up to scrutiny.
Other aspects of modernization which we encountered as we ventured into dairying in the 1970's failed to meet Dad's approval. Some were major things, like the outrageously expensive Blue Silos (Harvestores) which were being erected either by farmers with money to throw around or farmers who didn't mind burying themselves in debt. Other issues were as trivial as whether or not to depend on radio weather forecasts when making hay. Dad said that observing the clouds, the sunset, the wind direction, and the moon at night told you as much as you needed to know. People who waited for a clear weather forecast missed their chance to get their hay while it was young and nutritious. Never mind how all the neighbors did it, it didn't make sense to Dad. When he and the big sisters made hay while other farmers waited for a better weather forecast, they did so in proud defiance.
One hot morning in early July, when Dad was preparing to start mowing, he announced that he wanted Nancy to do the day's crimping with our new tractor. Nancy knew how to drive the little 1520 John Deere; everyone Chris' age and older had been allowed to take simple driving lessons after the tractor arrived. "You're old enough to take a responsibility seriously." Dad told his 14-year-old daughter, and she listened carefully to his instructions, intent on proving him right.
They hit the fields just after our 7:00 breakfast, the earliest farmers to be out mowing that day. "When the drying's good," Dad explained, "You can get the hay in the next day if you mow it real early."
Dad mowed with the Nobles' tractor, Nancy following his windrow of mowed grass with our 1520. Her tractor towed the crimper, a simply-built machine with power-take-off driven rollers that pressed and crushed the grass to help speed up drying. The crimper belonged to Jay Noble, who didn't object to Nancy's new role in haymaking after Dad's explanation that "she'll be responsible enough to handle it."
This time—never mind the weather forecast—the skies promised good haying conditions, and Dad put several fields of grass down at a time. The day after mowing and crimping it, the hay had to be raked, also a job that a "responsible enough" teenager could easily handle.
The temperature soared to 90 that day, with moderate humidity, which allowed the hay to dry fast. On the next day, the fourth of July, we were in for the big haul. Not only was the hay ready that had been cut the day before, but the early morning's mowing appeared to be getting dry as well.
We had 1700 bales of hay stacked into the Noble's hayloft by 11:00 that night. Almost everyone older than myself had been helping. Just that morning, Chris and the girls had hardly been able to contain their anticipation over the challenge that lay before them. After more than twelve hours of pitching and shoving hay bales, they made quite a different impression: sagging footsteps, wildly disheveled hair, weary faces smudged with dust and sweat. Yet even as they drooped physically, you could read in their calm, dignified expressions the immense satisfaction welling up inside them. Seventeen hundred bales! Who else in all of Brocton could boast such a feat?
Word of our interest in helping out with neighborhood jobs had spread quickly, and a variety of requests were constantly finding their way to our door. A local dentist with an office in town called on us from time to time to feed the herd of swine he was raising. Chris and Barbara were assigned that job, since they could easily get to the pig shed on foot. Barbara was just nine at the time and found the half-mile walk through a mostly wooded area to be challenging enough to be proud of. She'd always had a reputation of being more faint-hearted than the rest of us, but that was going to change.
"Mom, can't I go instead of Barbara once?" Rachel asked. She acted slightly insulted when Mom said she was too small for the job, while Barbara was deemed "old enough." Rachel found such a distinction hard to comprehend.
The Becker family—Gaius, Olive, and their two sons Buddy and Brian—asked us to help make their hay.
Drusilla headed this project most days, enlisting the help of Chris and as many of the sisters that were available. The Becker boys, aged 10 and 6, completed the crew for bringing the hay bales in and stacking them in the Beckers' barn. The new acquaintances our famiy was making meant we younger ones were getting more opportunities to play with neighborhood children. The Becker boys, among other area youngsters, were just occasional playmates. Not so with Linda Crowe, a girl Barbara's age who lived on a dairy farm within sight of our garden. She'd phone almost every afternoon. "Can I come play?" she'd ask Lydia or anyone who answered the phone. Always in the same small voice she'd ask the same question. That was Linda's way, and we liked her for her predictability. We also liked her impartiality. Of course she was Barbara's friend, but we were too innocent to exclude each other. Linda, Barbara, Rachel and I were all friends together, passing many of our "off" hours playing house or freeze tag or any silly diversion we could think of. Sometimes we'd accompany Linda to her grandmother's trailer where there were books and Barbie dolls, and once in awhile we were allowed to go spend playtime at Linda's house. Looking at Linda's collection of toys and games was mindboggling. I wasn't exactly envious, for I simply could not comprehend life among such an array of personal possessions. Besides, Mom would soberly tell us, if we made wistful references to Linda's toys, "it doesn't make you happy to wish for what belongs to someone else."
Watching TV was not a possibility for pastime with friends—or anytime. It was hardly even tempting, with our parents' warnings stamped into our minds. Mom and dad said watching TV put ugly, wicked pictures and words into your head, which I found to be true in most cases when I happened to be in the room of someone who had a TV running. Once when we were at a friend's house, I witnessed a man on TV being shot. I glanced at my companion, a girl scarcely my own age, and saw, in near disbelief, that her face showed no concern.
One activity which Mom encouraged us in was visiting and helping out elderly folks in the area. Whenever Nancy or one of the other big sisters could go with us, we liked to go across the road to see George and Lu Lu Farnam. Even more special, however, was taking the 15-minute walk over to "Aunt Grace" or "Aunt Gertrude's" place. The elderly widows doted on us, and sometimes gave us goodies to make sure we'd keep coming back.
© 1994, Hannah Lapp