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Slightly Retired

"I have to make a short comment about the throngs of visitors on South Whidbey last week. My main reaction was a mild panic and then a decision to increase my donation to family planning. It served no purpose to ask myself, Where did they all come from? Family planning is the only remedy I can think of.Truthfully, I'm glad they've gone home now and our quite incredible span of blue skies and sunshine has remained. It has revived my memories of long- ago summers in New Hampshire during the haying season. When it seriously decides to prove it can produce good weather, New England, like the Northwest, goes all out. Looking back, I can smell the drying mowed grass on the hillside fields, hear the voices, and see the faces--I can't remember the names.I was thrilled at being given the responsibility of driving the hay truck--only nine or 10 years old, not strong enough to pitch hay, and a girl. I much preferred the hay fields to working with my mother and the other women in the kitchens, carrying water, and running dishes of food. I wrapped my arms tightly around the steering wheel to hold myself on the edge of the seat in order to reach the pedals. I concentrated hard on steering, not too close and not too far away, from each mound of hay waiting to be pitched onto the truck. This was before baling machines and loaders, or at least before New Hampshire farmers could afford to buy expensive equipment. Grandfathers, fathers and sons worked in the fields pitching the hay up onto the truck with their hay forks. Two or three men would be on the truck catching the hay with their forks as it was pitched up and arranging it to make a perfectly balanced and shaped load of hay.It was important to these thrifty people that little or no hay fell from the load on the trip to the barn. Everyone turned nut brown and sweat bands on the straw hats turned dark. The sweet fragrance of the cut grass filled our lungs and, I thought, smelled good enough to eat. We constantly chewed on long stalks of grass; maybe we envied the cows a bit.An adult drove the truck back to the barn and I would lie on my back on top of the huge hay load, cooled by a gentle breeze, looking up at the blue sky and a few white clouds. I was sure heaven couldn't be any better. I didn't care that the hay itched my skin and stuck to my body as the truck gently swayed, rolled, and bounced. Some of the men also rode to the barn atop the hay, others stayed at the field unless it was meal time. When the weather turned perfect, haying didn't stop until the moon came up and/or everyone agreed it was time to quit. Whoever could make it joined in helping with the haying, moving from field to field, farm to farm. It was hard work. I was glad my mother, and sometimes my father, regularly brought me extra food and water and checked if I was getting too tired.Once in the barnyard, the loaded truck stopped outside the barn beneath the huge pulley fork at the small doors opening to the hayloft. In some barns, unloading had to be done by hand with hay pitched into the hayloft. Whichever way it was done, a few men would be in the loft spreading the hay evenly. Loose hay in the loft was the best because that meant most of the year we kids could walk out on the large hand hewn beams and jump. Of course, the jump grew longer and farther as the supply of hay diminished.During the cold winters when adults gathered around the woodstove, conversation usually turned from the bad weather to the bright, cloudless days of summer. The men retold funny and scary stories of incidents during haying. The women (ladies, as they were referred to) would be complimented, especially on their good pies and cakes, or a joke made about the pot of undercooked baked beans. The women recounted their stories of successes and calamities in the kitchens and of the men who ate the most and sometimes too much. We younger ones sat on the floor listening and remembered the cool refreshing dip in the creek after a hot itchy day in the hay field. Everyone laughed and, for a time, contentment would flow like the warm haying sunshine. "

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