Carol decided to make one of her fabulous omelets from the freshly laid ostrich egg that was given to us by someone who just didn’t know what sort of treasure she had. One egg fills our big iron skillet. We always save the shell, which leaves me with the task of putting a hole in each end without getting shell fragments into the egg white. I found the right bit for my Dremmel tool. As I rolled the egg about in my lap, thinking about Olloo and the strike falcons, I had a flashback.
The hay shed was finished by June, and nearly the whole neighborhood showed up to help put up the first hay which ever went into it. Two of the Allisons brought over an extra hay loader apiece, and after a long private discussion about safety and responsibilities and not getting carried away in front of everyone, Dad allowed me to drive the hay loader. I nearly burst my buttons.
I drove Old Crip in first gear, idling astraddle the windrow, pulling the hay wagon which in turn pulled the hay loader along behind, languidly clanking and squeaking, feeding up the hay. Two men forked and tramped the hay from the loader onto a sledge which covered the back half of the wagon. When they had a stack that rose three feet or better above the loader, I stopped the tractor, un-hitched the wagon and pulled the sledge and hay to the front half of the wagon bed with the tractor and a cable. Then I hitched up the wagon and we were under way again, the men loading the back half.
The load of hay was drawn alongside of the end of the hay shed and parked under its hood. Dad stood by the wagon and pulled hand over hand on a trip rope which ran up into the shed under the hood to a heavy two tined fork suspended by a carriage which scurried toward the hood along an iron track under the ridgepole. The carriage reached the end of the track under the hood and tripped, dropping the fork to the wagon. It fell fluidly, feeding itself a long loop of heavy hay rope.
Dad mounted the wagon and drove the fork into the center of the front half of the load. After tramping it home, he pulled up a couple of levers, setting trip fingers in the hay, near the points of the tines. He took up the trip rope and slid off the side of the load with a bound, hollering: “All right!”
On the far side of the shed, a hand started his tractor and began backing, taking slack out of the hay rope which ran to the foot of the building, up to the eave, then along the track under the ridge pole to the carriage under the hood and down in a loop to the pulley atop the fork. As he backed, a large dollop of hay broke free of the wagon load, rising to the hood. The neighbors clapped and cheered as the fork engaged the carriage, jerking the hay inside. Dad waited a moment for the hay to travel to the far end of the shed before yanking the trip rope, dropping the hay to the mow floor.
When the hay was up and the neighbors gone, Dad went up into the mow to pull the rope inside. He crawled along in the tight space atop the hay, just below the track and ridge pole. From below we heard a muffled: “Ow…! Ow…! God…! Ow…damned… son of a bitch!” He appeared in the doorway shortly, squeezing shut one eye with streaks of blood running from the crown of his bald head.
What on earth happened up there, Harry?” said our hand. “Of course you don’t look much like ye want to talk about it.”
“Well,” said Dad with a rumpled glance about with his good eye, “I was a-crawling along, and damned if a son of a bitchin’ straw didn’t poke me in the eye. Well I reared up with a jerk, and damned if a son of a bitchin’ nail a-stickin through the roof didn’t stick me in the top of my head. Then I jerked back and poked my eye again on that same cursed straw, which made me run my God damned head into that same God damned, son of a bitchin’ nail again!”
It didn’t do it. It wasn’t enough. Dad managed his extra cows just fine, but the markets kept centralizing. Prices continued to fall. Soon we were paying for our milk to go clear across the state.
The United States Department of Agriculture was a big help, vigilantly looking out for the farm equipment and chemical manufacturers in the name of public interest. Our local USDA inspector paid us his routine surprise inspection and found a clean wash basin sitting in the middle of our spotless concrete milk room floor. With a flourish of zeal, the little martinet turned us into a grade B dairy for a month, forcing us to borrow money to operate.
At last, the USDA decreed that stainless steel pipe lines were no longer sanitary enough for the public’s milk. We were ordered to replace ours with Pyrex glass pipes if we wanted to continue selling our milk. We sold our cows.
Dad went into debt starting a brood sow operation, just in time for the hog market to begin several years of depressed prices. With Nylon and Rayon, sheep were out of the question. He turned the hay shed into a battery chicken house holding several thousand layers before the egg market followed hogs. “They’ve got us,” he said. “It’s nothing but row crops from now on.” We could no longer afford a hired hand. We would have to trade our three small tractors for two new big ones. Dad went to Grandpa and Grandma to borrow the money.
I lay on the floor of Grandma’s kitchen listening to Dad and Grandpa. Grandpa gave his chair a scooted screech. He cut up a toothpick with his pocket knife and a gathered his brow as the clock in the other room ticked. “Harry,” he said. “We ain’t loaning you the money for the tractors. You can have it as far as we’re concerned, because you’re in a position where you need a second start. You won’t owe us a thing. But why on earth do you have to tear out the hedges?”
“I don’t have the time to go cutting them back every summer, for one thing. And for another, hedges take up farm land. I’d just as soon have the extra corn rows.”
“No it won’t. I can manage the soil.”
“How? By ploughing more in the fall? I just heard you say that you were going to do more of that. You won’t hold your soil that way.”
“I’ll put in terraces if I have to.”
“Dad burn it, Harry! There goes the ground you’d save from having the hedges gone. Besides, ploughed terraces wash anyway. If you’re fixing to let it wash for a little money now, what’s Tom a-going to do when it’s his time?”
“That’s his problem. Besides, new practices like terraces work or the University of Illinois wouldn’t be promoting them.” he said, catching by accident my look of astonishment.
Grandpa whisked his pieces of toothpick into his hand and dumped them into his glass. “Know who planted the hedges? It was your granddad and your great-granddad.”
“So? I know that.”
“Suit yourself,” said Dad with an uneasy glance at me.
Grandpa pushed back from the table, found a particular Successful Farming magazine by the door to the dining room and flopped it open to a center-spread illustration. “What does the caption say?”
“It says: ‘Farming in the year 2010′” said Dad. “So?”
“Well, look ‘ee at it. See? They’ve got all the animals in batteries, covered by glass domes and fed by machines. And look ‘ee there at the crops, going clean to the horizon, cultivated by an unmanned contraption…”
“Well my question is: where are the people? Where are the people in that there picture?”
I enjoyed your “niarg.com”. The lead photo brought back some memories. I remember when the picture was taken. I think the tractor was sitting about where Joyce’s and my house trailer sat. The picture was taken to feature farm women who were helping in the war effort. I don’t think the picture was taken the year that we moved to the farm [which you grew up on] (1943), so it likely was taken in 1944 or before the war ended in 1945. I thought it was dumb that they had Joan and me climb on the tractor with Mom. I guess that Mom was supposed to be taking care of her kids and farming at the same time. Dumber yet was that they had me wear my “soldier” outfit. The neatest part of the outfit was the hat, which they made me remove to better show my face. I think the left part of the field in the background became the orchard and the little building in the background was the original part of the first hen house.
You gave a very interesting description of Mom and the Sweet Williams. I also brought Sweet Williams to Mom. I don’t recall tying it to Mother’s Day; I simply did it when the Sweet Williams were in flower. It seems to me that I started it when, one year, she didn’t have a chance to get over to the section of the woods that had a big patch of Sweet Williams, so I brought a bunch to her. I remember doing this on more than one year, but I really didn’t make it into an annual affair.
I thought it was neat when I learned that you were bringing a bunch of Sweet Williams to Mom as an annual event. Even so, I wondered if you might have started your annual event as a result of sentimental ol’ Mom having mentioned that I had, on occasion, brought her Sweet Williams when they were in flower.
[Dr. Richard L. Phipps]