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And Now, a Word From My Uncle

June 8, 2013

This will be a little different this time round. My cousin Lydia passed my most recent post along to her father, my Uncle Peter. He was kind enough to write me and send along HIS recollection of haying in an era slightly before my own. I always enjoy hearing from him and I thought you all might as well, so I am reprinting his email to me.

Hi Malcolm,
I greatly enjoyed your reminiscence of haying which Lyd forwarded. My memories, of course, go back a generation earlier when traction was supplied by horses for cutting, tedding and raking, and by oxen which pulled he hay wagon. At some point I was deemed competent enough to drive Charlie while we either raked the freshly cut hay into windrows, or later, after it had been kicked and dried, in to piles ready for loading. Driving, on reflection, implies that the driver is in charge and knows what he is doing. The reality, I suspect, is that Charlie did as much driving as he did pulling, while I had a lovely time relishing my new responsibility.
My father was particularly insistent that he, and no one else, do the mowing. He also insisted that the dogs be kept in the house while he was mowing, a practice which persisted into your time and was due to a horrid accident which happened when I was still an infant: he ran over our boxer named Arco cutting of all his feet. On a happier note, during my youth I don’t remember his agonies over weather which you recall so vividly, and which persisted until heart problems forced him to quit mowing. Perhaps the weather was more predictable in those days or I simply was too young to notice his handwringing. In any event, the advent of the hay drier was like a gift from heaven and the roar of its kerosene fired blower became a familiar racket during summer nights.
Of course when I was small, he did not have a bailer. Instead, the loose hay was forked onto the wagon as the oxen sauntered from one pile to the next. Building the load, however, was something of an art form, requiring considerable skill. The maestro (Bill Kirboy, a life-long farmer from Vermont who with his family lived in the farmhouse which later became Bill Walsh’s home), stood atop the pile directing the exact location where each forkful was to be placed. A properly built load could then be taken apart, one easily lifted forkful at a time, as it was unloaded into the loft. Once in the loft, however, skill was replaced by simple brawn applied by the likes of me, as the hay was piled close to the ceiling in no particular order. Hot, dusty, and itchy, just as you describe, but bordering on sheer misery for those who were afflicted by hay fever. Your uncle Frank suffer so severely that he was kept out of the loft. One final memory. During WWII, German submarines patrolled the coastal waters, sinking ships to a fair the well. Stony Beach, now known as Sherbrook’s Beach, became so oiled that we could hardly find a clean spot to sit on, and one of our favorite objects was a stove-in lifeboat washed up beyond the high tide mark. Blimps were the military’s response. One or sometimes two could be seen from the beach almost every day cruising slowly over Boston Harbor looking for subs. Lacking any armament themselves, including depth charges, their task was to alert biplane bombers stationed at Squantum Airbase, when a sub was spotted. The great rubberized sacks that covered the bales packed into the wagons with slotted bottoms through which the heated air blew, of course, resembled blimps.
As you can see, your well-written memories have stirred a batch of my own. It was fun, and thank you for the opportunity.
Uncle Peter

I certainly want to thank my uncle for sharing his memories of summer, and also my cousin Lydia. Not only for passing my post along to Peter, but also for bringing us lemonade when we were sweltering under the hot sun, haying. It is a small irony that the two cousins who remarked on my post last week were not included in it because the females in my generation were not included in most of the farm activities when we were young. This was an injustice for which I feel no responsibility, but do regret. And it is a great pleasure to see how egalitarian the farm is today. The head farmer is a woman. Many of the volunteers are women. Many of the campers are girls. My cousin Emily is just as likely to be out in the woods with a chainsaw as her brother Justin (which i am thrilled to say, my daughters think is totally bad ass.) And of course my Aunt Jean is one of the hardest working people the farm has ever seen. So, there you go. A lovely example of preserving the past and changing with the times.

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