Of all the farms I worked on as a boy, the most memorable was the old Borden Farm on the east side of Canadarago Lake outside of Richfield Springs. By the time I came along, it had been sold to Bill and Shirley Weingates. Back then, they were milking about 200 cows on one of the biggest operations in the area. I enjoyed all kinds of jobs, even cleaning calf pens, because at the time, I was kind of standing outside of myself, watching this kid from Brooklyn doing these country boy things. I had recently read Thomas Hardy and at times I was seeing all that I was doing through the great writer’s eyes. I never appreciated the country more than at that time of very hard work.
Mostly I pitched hay, and of all the days over the several summers I worked there, one particular day stands out above the rest. We were hauling bales in high-racked trucks from a large field several miles east of the farm. A lot of hay had been cut. The baler dropped the 60-pound squares on the ground and we’d walk along, loading them onto a truck. A large crew had been hired for the big day to save time and make up for the long haul to the barn. There was chesty Andy Hugick, hefty Eddie Morgan, smilin’ Rod Sullivan, muscular Jerry Smith, big Bob Bernhardt, me and this little mustachioed guy Winnie, who chewed tobacco and used a pitchfork to lift the bales up when the load was high. Bill Weingates drove the tractor with his young red-headed son Gary seated on the fender next to him. It was a long time ago, back in the late ‘50s.
Most of the crew was working in the hay mow. I was out in the field with Bob, who could pitch a bale as though it were a basketball. Sometimes he’d spin around like a shot putter and let the bale fly over the high side-rack of the truck. I was the youngest of the crew and in awe of Bob, but I made sure I held my own, lifting my share of the bales onto the truck – without any of the fancy moves.
At noon we rode back to the farm to join the rest of the crew around a bountiful dinner table. I washed up at the kitchen sink and when it was time to dry my hands, I was careful not to grab the towel before Bill Weingates was finished with it. That was one of his pet peeves. Another was leaving a bale on the ground so that the truck would have to waste time making another pass. If you complained, Bill would close one eye, cock his head and quietly say, “The road goes both ways.” For lunch, there was a mountain of mashed potatoes, platters of pork chops, fresh string beans, delicious hot apple pie and whole milk from the barn. Because of the hard work and Shirley’s good cooking, I don’t think I ever enjoyed food more.
Bob and I worked late, chaff stuck to the sweat on our arms and dog tired. We triumphantly cleaned every bale off of that seemingly endless field before the evening dew set in. It may have been one of the hardest work days of my life but it was also one of the best. This all happened more than six decades ago. Since then, I’ve been to many places and done different kinds of work, but I never felt a larger sense of accomplishment than being the youngest of the hard-working crew on that 1,600-bale day.
Last week I took my roadster for a drive around the lake. As I passed the farm I tooted to old, bearded Bill, who was crossing the road to the barn for about the 60,000th time. Standing on the other side was Gary, all grown up, a middle-aged man and himself a father. Hard workers. I admire their ability to keep on keeping on – living monuments to the pastoral writings of Thomas Hardy.
In my mind, I grip my calloused hands around the twine of a square bale, walk it to the truck, lift and kick with my knee. The bale falls onto the truck and silently slides across the bed – like the leaf of paper this finished story is written on whispers across my writing table.
by Terry Berkson