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Thursday, 26 February 2009

Long Ago Summer

By Chester Baldwin of Multifaceted Musings

The merciless Oklahoma sun beat down and seemed to penetrate my western straw hat as if it were made of woven fence wire. The sweat beaded up on my forehead, causing me to wipe it out of my burning eyes at increasingly annoying intervals. I'd been told it would be better to wear long sleeves but I just thought it was too hot, and now I was paying for it by getting my bare arms all scratched up from the coarse hay.

The bales of hay were nowhere near as heavy as I had been told they'd be, but after a while they became a little more tiring to hoist onto the flatbed truck that was being driven by my withered old step-grandpa, only none of us ever used the word "step". He was just Frank to me.

We were in a large hayfield following a tractor that was pulling a hay baler that was picking up loose hay, baling it, and kicking it out the rear end as regular as a horse does recycled oats.

I don't guess I had the right to gripe too much because he was bucking the bales on the driver's side of the truck and I'd pick up the ones on the passenger side. He'd just put the ancient Chevy into "granny gear" and let it drive itself while he'd hop out, throw on a few bales and then grab the steering wheel and straighten the old truck out. After a while, he'd stop and get up on the bed and stack the bales we had accumulated.

I was 14 and it was the summer of '62, hot, dry and, sometimes, windy. The heat could burn through you from the wind just as surely as it could bite through you from the cold in the winter. But by sweating and having that hot wind hit my skin, a natural cooling effect was felt, and made me feel good.

The old truck was only a three-quarter-ton flatbed and we could only get a couple of tons of hay on it, in contrast to other trucks in the field – ton-and-a-halfs that could haul up to five tons on a load. But to an old man and a boy, it was the perfect size for us.

I was making seventy five cents a ton for hauling hay. That included picking it up in the field, taking it to a barn somewhere and unloading and stacking it in the barn. A ton was about 30 or 32 bales. Sometimes, I'd get lazy and pray that the barn was miles away so I could rest between loads.

I was staying with Frank and my grandma that summer so I guess I did better than just the six bits a ton because they also gave me a place to stay and my grandma was a pretty good cook. Sometimes, I'd go fishing down at a creek a mile or so from the house and she'd cook my catch for supper and feed all three of us. Frank also had ten acres in corn and a large garden that I helped him with. I never went hungry while staying with them.

They were just an old-fashioned couple who had married late in life. She always wore a print dress, old-timey lace up shoes and I seldom saw her without her hair done up in a bun on the back of her head. He was what was known as a "slight" man - short and slim - but he could throw a bale of hay higher than I could. He always wore a pair of Hyer brand cowboy boots and blue bib overalls over a blue chambray work shirt. On Sunday, they'd go to church in town and he'd wear a newer pair of boots and newer blue bib overalls over a starched and ironed blue work shirt.

I never saw him wear anything else.

I worked for Frank most of that summer and when the work was done and I went home to my folks house 35 miles away. I had saved about seventy five dollars - enough to take a bus home and buy my own school clothes for my ninth grade year. I bought new Levis and long sleeved shirts. I was also sporting a nice "farmer's tan,” and although I didn't have bulging muscles, necessarily, I was in great shape and really felt good.

I never worked for Frank again after that summer and my grandma came down with cancer not long afterwards. She passed away in 1965 and, somehow, I lost track of Frank. I only saw him a few times after I'd worked for him and would always joke that we needed to be out hauling hay. He'd just smile and agree with me. I heard that he'd died not long after Grandma did.

It's been almost fifty years since that long ago summer and I've had many hot ones since then, but I'll always mark that one as when I learned the true value of hard, hot, physical work.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


The values of yesteryear provided just what a boy of 14 needed. You were lucky to have been given the opportunity to show what you could do, providing a memory for a lifetime.

Imagine some of today's youth who, given video games instead of "real" challenges, will soon forget their stage of video accomplishment.

My grandsons should be so lucky as to have a summer like that!

Thank you for your nice comments.
Yes, not knowing it at the time, of course, I had a remarkably lucky childhood and adolescence. Even though we were poor, we never thought we were. Work was just an everyday experience.

Kids today do have it easier than we did, perhaps, in some ways, but I believe every generation has their own problems and given the same set of circumstances, the youth of today would show their merit just as we did in our day.

There are still some pretty good, responsible kids out there.

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