“I hate the rain”, I used to say, and Grap would tell me that rain was important, and that we should welcome a bit of it every now and then. “But if it rains, we can’t work the hay”, I would say, and again, he, being such a positive man (and maybe somewhat of a poet), would reply “Then we can work another day”, “The rain helps the hay grow”. He was always right about the rain, because soon after we had a few days of rain, we would be rewarded with days of sunny, hot weather. This is when the work started.
Grap had hundreds of acres of land, in which he grew hay to be harvested by his livestock, or where he planted fruit and vegetables. As a kid, I would carefully maneuver my little yellow ‘Banana bike’ in and around the potholes and up the gravel road to my Grandfathers house. It seemed that no matter how early I got there, he would already be hard at work in his fields.
Grap, as I affectionately called him, worked many jobs, and farmer was his favorite one of them. Grap owned about 10 head of cattle, and a barn filled with pigs, hens, and sheep, several cats, and a team of huskies that pulled his dogsled in winter. Out back, he had a little stable where he kept Bess, a beautiful horse that was his pride and joy.
I remember Grap telling me to be careful when walking in the cow pasture, as the soil was very wet, and of course, because there were many ‘cow patties’ waiting for me to fall into. How many times did I rush home to change my pants after accidentally falling into one of those stinky patties of cow poop, only to have mom scold me for not being careful when around the barn?
Back in the day, many people used superstitions to predict and determine the weather.Grap was no different. He believed that if you mentioned how nice the weather was, it would surely rain the next day. He also forbid the opening of any umbrellas in the house, and avoided listening to any weather forecasts that may have been broadcast on the old radio that he kept on his kitchen table. He did not depend on forecasts, but rather, he chose to study the signs of nature, and then determine what the weather was going to be like. Grap was usually right when he predicted a sunny day. He used things like the amount of dew that fell in the evening. He used to say that if we had a heavy dew around 8 or so, the next day would be clear. He also believed that if the sun went down red, the next morning would be sunny. Other signs he used included keeping track of his sore legs and back. When the weather was about to get damp, he would say he was as stiff as a board, but if it was going to be sunny and warm, he was ‘as spry as a chicken’. I guess back then, watching signs was the only way they could prepare for the next day.
On the day when I finally arrived at the farm, after going home twice to change my very soiled by cow poop pants, and getting a bite to eat with my grandmother, I arrived in a very dry patch of hay field where my grandfather was working. I watched as Grap carefully and lovingly turned over the large piles of hay, allowing the hot sun to dry the hay just right. Grap took great care in everything he done, and it showed in his cattle, who were always healthy and gave the tastiest milk. When all the pre-cut hay had been turned over and dried, he asked me to help load the hay to the back of the old cart. The cart was attached to the finest mare in the land, his beloved Bess. Bess was a horse that he had bought five years ago, and he treated her with kindness and respect. He said that if you treated your animals well, they repaid you with hard work and love.
Loading the hay to the cart was my favorite part of making hay. I remember being impressed with the strength of my grandfather, because at only a little over 5 feet tall, He had very large arms, filled with muscle gained from years of hard work on and off the fields. I can still see him effortlessly lift huge forkfulls of hay, when I could barely lift a small bit of straw on the end of the fork. When the days got hot, me and Grap would walk over to the little stream than ran through his fields. We would drink water from our hands and watch the tiny pinfish swim down the rushing water, and into the small pools that lay just before the stream bent into a larger river.
When the cart wall filled, Grap would hoist me to the top of the hay stack, and he and I would ride all the way across the field to the loft of the barn, were we would both work to load the dry hay into the barn. When we finished, we would return to the fields. Grap would always allow me to visit the strawberry garden while he cut more hay, saying how dangerous it was for little boys to be around these sharp hand scythes. Even though I loved eating the fresh strawberries from the garden, I would still watch Grap cut hay. He made large circular thrusts with the scythe, cutting the tall hay that would eventually serve as food for the cattle, and for Bess, who waited patiently for the next load of hay to be loaded on the cart. Often, he and I would spend long days out in the fields, and he would tell me stories about when he was a boy.
Grap told me stories about the long days he spent out in the fields, some days with my dad and my uncles, and how they watched him cut hay, how they ate fresh strawberries, and how they rode to and from his barn on top the huge stacks of hay that he cut, just like he and I were doing that day.
Grap is gone now, 4 years ago to be exact, and the hay fields that once served as his livelihood and my enjoyment still remain around the old house where my grandmother lives out her final days. The barn still stands, but just barely, the roof collapsing and the once strong timbers falling from years of use. The little stream still runs through the fields, but the pinfish are but a memory, a species of fish that once swam our waters, but are now endangered. The hay in these fields grows wild now, long strands of straw that will never again feed cattle, will never be cut for the horses, or will never again provide memories for the next generation of kids that grow up around the old farm.