You wake up to the smell of sausage and eggs, and run downstairs to enjoy breakfast. Your dad has been up for a while, and the milk bucket is steaming on the floor. After breakfast you head outside to do the morning chores as your youngest sister clears the table and your dad reads the morning paper. As soon as the dew is off of the ground you all head to your grandfather’s farm, four miles up the road. After greeting your grandparents you all wait for the sun to dry out the hay, and for your relatives to arrive. Your dad and grandpa sit in the dining room and swap lies while you and your siblings sit on the porch and greet uncles, aunt, and cousins as they drive up. By the time the last cousin gets there, the wagons have been hooked to the tractors, grandpa has declared that the hay has cured enough, and you all set out to bring in the hay. You are overrun with the harsh yet familiar sounds of this farm chore.
The thrashing of the hay. The smell of sweat and machinery and dried grass. The sounds of the cicadas and grasshoppers. Your own heartbeat. The dog’s panting as she follows the wagon around and around the field. The rumble of the tractor. The call of the hawk overhead. The crunch of cut hay under your shoes. The chaff on your arms. The stiff, hot breeze that blows said chaff into your face, stinging your neck and eyes. The jerky tu-chug, tu-chug, tu-chug sound of the baler, and the balancing act you must perfect as the wagon shifts under your feet with each sound. The baling twine under your fingers as you lift the bale over your head and stack it on the wagon. The heavy breathing of your brother beside you. The straw hat that shades your eyes from the white light of a summer afternoon. This goes on for hours. Around three o’clock you can see two other wagons in the other fields, already loaded with hay, heat waves dancing between you and them. When you get to the end of the field your brother tells you that he can finish this load, so you hop off and hook one of the other wagons up to your uncle’s tractor. You stand on the hitch and grasp the fender and the back of his seat as your uncle drives the tractor to the barn. You guide him into the barn and unhook him, and he drives off to get the second wagon. You stay behind to unload the hay. You hear the chug, chug, chug of the elevator as it deposits the hay high above you, the grunt of exertion from your father as he stacks the bales in the loft, and your own ragged breathe as you unload the wagon. The barn is shady, but hotter than the outside, without even a breeze to dry the sweat that runs into your eyes. You greedily grab the glass of cold well-water that your sister brings out for you, and, after drinking your fill, you put the glass to your forehead to try to cool your temperature. When the work is done, you will head to the porch to wait on supper. As you all walk down the road together, the younger cousins run down from the house and jump on your grandfather’s, father’s and uncle’s backs and try to make them ‘race’ back to the house, squealing “Go, horsey, go!” as loud as they can. You remember the fun that you used to have doing the same thing. Beads of moisture trickle down the bottles of beer that your dad and cousins nurse on as you sit on the porch, awaiting supper. Your cheerful aunt comes to the door and tells you that supper is on. You get to sit at the ‘grown-ups’ table, since you have put in a grown-ups job today, and you quickly take the seat by your grandfather. He grabs your hand in his large, calloused one and lets the kids say grace. Plates of golden corn-on-the-cob, picked fresh that afternoon, give off steam. Homemade butter, cold well water in a tin pitcher, fresh bread, applesauce and sweet tea grace the table. You sit there for a while, enjoying the conversation of cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, parents…you have all come together to get the hay in. When the meal is done the younger kids clean it up while everyone else heads out to get the last load in. The sun is lower now, and the breeze is cooler. The rush to get it all done is has abated, and you enjoy conversation over the sound of the tractor and baler as you sway with the wagon’s movement. Years of use have smoothed the wagon bed, and you have to be careful to not slip as you carry the hay to be stacked. As you work, you can see your grandfather raking more hay for the next day, turning the hay into golden spirals; and your uncle mowing hay for the day after that, leaving behind him a tail of green alfalfa to cure in the sun. When you are done, stiff and hot, you and your cousins and siblings run down to the pond and dive in. The water is warm at first, but after a good water fight the cold water has been kicked up from the bottom of the pond, and you shiver a bit. The sun is down, but you stay in the pond, floating on your backs and talking with your playmates. From the pond you can see the farmhouse, and while you can’t make out any words, you can hear the laughter and talking as your parents and their cousins and siblings chat. It is dark when you finally get too cold to remain in the pond, and you all make you way up to the house. Lightning bugs blink around you, and the farm dog runs ahead, its tail a white flag in the darkness. You say goodbye to your cousins, hug your grandparents, jump into the back of the farm truck, and make your way home. The trucks headlights cut through the darkness, and you can see the green eyes of raccoons, the pink eyes of opossums and the yellowish eyes of owls as nature watches you make your way through their home. At one point you can hear crashing through the brush as some spooked deer make their getaway from the sounds of the truck’s motor. The country road takes you past a few neighbors, and you can smell the smoke from several cookouts. Once you get home, you all run to do the chores. The sticky sweet smell of molasses fills the air as you open the feedbox and get a large scoop of sweet feed for the horses. As you bring the horses in from the barn lot your brother drops leaves of hay into the pen that houses the heifers, and your youngest sister waters the heifers, horses, and goats. Your other sister milks the old milk cow, Daisy, and as soon as she is finished you bring in your goats and milk them, as well. The barn cats purr and rub their heads against your legs as you milk, and before you leave the barn you pour some of the milk into a pan for them. In the morning you will make cocoa with the goat milk, and your dad plans to make ice cream with Daisy’s cream. When you get into the house, your father is already sleeping, his snores easily heard as you step onto the front porch. You strain the milk and leave it on the counter to cool slowly, and go sit on the porch swing. Your dog comes and lies beside you, and you listen to the night birds and let the cool breeze lift the hair from your neck. When the milk has cooled you put it in the fridge and head to bed, your dog following you up the stairs. In the morning, you will do it all again.