One thing I never did growing up on the farm was bale hay or straw. It had nothing to do with me not being able to lift bales, as I had to throw bales out of the loft to my horse.
Instead, I think it was more that Dad didn’t want me around the boys he hired during baling season. Dad had a thing about me being around what he considered “bad” language. Little did he know when I went to college to become a journalist what that would do for my vocabulary.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not lamenting that I never baled hay. I knew how hot and scratchy the work was. And I did drive a tractor for a couple days when Great Uncle Joe needed help. He would have been in his seventies, and I was driving the tractor while he was hauling the bales off and stacking.
I’m pretty sure we should have switched places, but he would never have let that happen. Instead, my brother Andy had to help on the wagon and do all the heavy lifting.
While Dad didn’t want me out with the boys baling, that of course made me really want to hang around anyway. I had a crush on one of the boys who baled for us. He lived a few roads over and his family was all boys. So, the entire group would come over and bale.
I would hang out in the hay mow. I feel certain Dad didn’t want me there, but eventually, Dad would be gone and the boys would do the baling and getting the hay to the barn, and I would be up in the loft.
The boys would try to scare me. I don’t know if snakes just always get caught up during baling or if our land just had a lot of snakes, but definitely there would be snakes baled into the hay.
Sometimes they were still alive and would slither off. More often they were dead and generally mangled. So, the boys would take the dead snakes and toss them at me or chase me with them. I think I was supposed to scream and play the damsel in distress. Instead, I grabbed a dead snake and threw it back at the boys.
Then I found a headless snake that was about 5 feet long (okay – maybe it was 2 feet long, but it seems huge in my memory). I wore the snake around my neck just so the boys would know I was tough. (And I used to wonder why I was not the popular girl in school.)
And that wasn’t the worst of it. For reasons I no longer remember, I wore the snake up to the house. I still remember walking in the kitchen door and Mom being on the phone when she turned and saw me, her wild-child daughter with a bloody, headless snake around her neck.
I think on that day she finally gave up the notion that I was going to be the frilly dress-wearing girl she dreamed of. Or maybe she gave up the dream on the day she had her sorority over and I had my pet rat, Cagney, on my shoulder under my long hair. I was sitting on the couch among the ladies, when Cagney got curious and stuck his head out from under my hair.
But, hey, I was a farm kid. I had imagination. No video games, no telephone glued to my eyes – I had the woods and fields and that’s all I needed.