It’s the most wonderful time of the year in northeastern Pennsylvania– not December, but June. School is out for the summer, the sun is shining (between periods of rain this year, but still…) the kids are swimming in the pool, and- it’s haying season!
Today, on our farm, “Gramps” is spending his day round-baling in the fields, getting hay ready for the beef cows for the winter months. The kids and I, in contrast, are spending most of our day out at the pool, soaking up some much needed sun. Both of these activities– the haying and the swimming– are taking me right back to my childhood.
Some of my best childhood memories are from summer days at Grandma Jean’s house in Bradford County. Grandma Jean lived on the family farm, with my aunt, uncle and cousins, so it was always a fun visit for me and my sisters. When I was a little girl, my sisters and my mom and I would go to Grandma’s house more often than not during summer vacation. We spent our days playing with our cousins, staying in the pool until our skin shriveled up, and watching all of the grown-ups hustle to get the hay done.
Visiting a farm in the summertime is a unique experience. It is a mixture of all of the rest and relaxation of summer vacation and all of the hard work of harvest. A typical day for the kids at the farm is a much different day than that of the adults.
When I was growing up, the littlest kids were allowed to run around and play and go swimming under Grandma’s supervision. We also enjoyed eating all of her cookies and smelling her crusty homemade bread and slapping homemade jam on it, whenever we got the chance. We were little free agents.
Once we were older, however, we were drafted into the workforce. Haying must be done early in the summer when the grass is at its peak for nutrition and the weather is just right. Today, many farmers put their hay into round bales, which are gigantic bales of hay that can be wrapped and left in the fields (like my dad does now), but back when I was young, square bales were much more in vogue in our area of the country.
Square bales were baled in the fields, using a tractor and baler, and they were convenient for feeding the cows, because a person could easily lift a 50 pound square bale and feed it to the cows without the help of a machine. Storing them, though, was much more labor intensive than storing round bales. Square bales were stacked high in the wagon and then brought into the barn to be stacked in the haymow.
That’s where I got my first summer job– in the haymow. Stacking hay required a decent-sized labor force, which is probably why they welcomed the help of a ten year old girl. Ideally, at least two people would work on the wagon, one throwing bales down to the next person who would then throw the bales down to the people in the haymow who would then proceed to stack the bales neatly in rows, one on top of the other. At least, that’s how it worked in the Welch barns of northeastern PA, where the barn was built on a hill and the haymows went down below the entrance of the barn.
As a tween, I had the opportunity to climb up to the top of those tall wagons and sit up on top of the hay bales and look down– way down– into the haymows. I got to lift those bales and teeter them over the top of the wagon and hope that my throws didn’t hit a worker down below. It was a heady experience that made me feel like a grown-up even though I wouldn’t be a grown-up for some years after that.
Thinking back to those days brings me right back to the hot, stuffy, dustiness of the haymow, stifling on the worst days, the sweat trickling down the back of my neck, but always there was the cold, cold lemonade to guzzle between loads of hay. I ached in muscles that I didn’t know I had after a few wagon loads. Being part of haying on summer days made me feel important, like I was contributing to a bigger purpose than just my own fun. It was part of my coming of age.
My kids are getting older, and it won’t be long until they are “coming of age” too. (Doesn’t it go fast?) This summer, Lord willing, they are going to make some of their best memories. They will probably even hop onto the tractor with “Gramps” to make some hay. But, they won’t know what it’s like to throw those hay bales around. They will have to develop those muscles in a different way than I did, because times have changed, and honestly, I have a hard time imagining allowing my ten year old to climb all the way to the top of a wagon load without freaking out. But, really– wouldn’t it be kind of nice if the hay bales were still square?