I snuggled down inside my sleeping bag near the embers of the campfire and listened to the adults talking nearby. At 12, I was the oldest of the grandkids, so I felt it my duty to eavesdrop until I fell asleep.
“If we had gotten the first cutting in the barn before the Fourth of July,” said Gramps, “we could have had a second one in before Labor Day.”
I smiled. Who did Gramps think he was kidding? We never got the first bales of hay tucked away until August, and August was just a couple days away. Either the alfalfa wasn’t quite ready, or equipment broke down, or it rained, or something happened every year to keep us from two balings.
The soft snores of my siblings and cousins along with the crackling of the fire lured me to sleep before I heard Uncle Harry’s reply.
“Rise and shine! Jar the ground! Up and at ‘em!” Uncle Harry bellowed at the first crowing of the rooster. “We got work to do!”
Work?! No fair! Summer was in full swing, and I had plans to spend the day picking wild blackberries and tempting fate by sailing out over the river in the old tire swing. But work? No way!
“Who wants the last maple bar?” called Mom from the trailer door. Now that was something worth getting up for!
Of course, there were always enough donuts and maple bars for everyone, but we kids were never too sure, so it was a good ploy to get us to scramble to our feet a little faster.
“What time is it?” I asked Mom, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
“Daytime,” she replied. “And high time we got a move on. It’s going to take all of us to put up enough hay for the cows to eat this winter.”
The cows. The cows are more trouble than they’re worth, I thought. I wanted to suggest that Gramps sell the cows and not worry about it, but just prior to opening my big mouth I remembered how much I liked barbecuing hamburgers and the taste of a good pot roast.
“You think your legs are long enough to drive the hay truck this year?” asked Gramps as soon as we arrived at the field.
“Me? Drive?” I couldn’t believe my ears. Always before I had to help the other kids roll the bales together to make it easier for Gramps and Uncle Harry to load the old flatbed.
“There’s at least one nest of yellow jackets in the field,” said Mom. “If you think you can reach the pedals, you can stay in the cab and drive the truck.”
At last! Something good to come from my bee sting allergy!
“Sure thing!” I beamed, and clambered up onto the lumpy steel-spring seat of the ancient vehicle. Peering through the cracked windshield I aimed from one hay pile to the next in jerky starts and stops. The temperature inside the truck climbed higher and higher. Sweat rolled down my back. I daydreamed about a cool dip in the river.
I hit the brake; the engine died.
“That’s one less bale we’ll have to load!” shouted a thoroughly disgusted Uncle Harry.
“You squashed it!” shrieked Cousin Louise. She ran around the truck to Gramps. “Can I drive now? Can I? I promise not to run you over.”
My coveted position threatened, I somehow managed to restart the truck. It leaped forward. Louise jumped out of the way. “Dad!” she yelled. “Jan’s trying to hit me! On purpose!”
“Make an H!” hollered Gramps.
I briefly considered hollering back that I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, but bit my tongue just in time to keep from being grounded the rest of the summer while I ground the gears instead.
Mom swung open the passenger door and climbed in beside me. “Shift down,” she said. “Make an H.”
“Make a what?”
“An H.” She licked her finger and wrote a capital H in the dust on the dashboard. “Put it in neutral when you start up, then shift over and up to first.”
“Shift?” I asked, bewildered.
“Didn’t Gramps show you how to use the clutch?”
“Trade me places,” said Mom, “and watch carefully…”
I snuggled down in my sleeping bag later that night and wondered at all the stars in the sky. It was July thirtieth. The first hay cutting was finally in the barn, and nobody had been killed. Life was good.