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Friday, 8 July 2016

The Hay

On a spectacular summer day recently, we had a picnic at a nearby park.

 

We took the long way home to explore some of the many back roads of red soil in Prince County, Prince Edward Island. The terrain in this area is flat, 

 

and the ocean is often within sight. 

 

That day, crops were beginning to appear in the fields, corn, potatoes, canola and soy beans.

 

The first crop of hay was drying on several fields. 

As we turned on to a paved road again, a piece of unfamiliar farm machinery turned into a field in front of us. It turned over the hay, 

 

at an incredible speed.

 

My grandfather, Gus O'Brien, came to mind immediately. 

He was a fisherman but had a farm as well in Maddox Cove, Newfoundland. He kept horses, cows, chickens, and sheep on occasion. He needed hay, so he mowed using a scythe on the tall grass and left the hay spread out to dry. If rain was forecast, everyone hurried to the fields to pile it in a mound, decreasing the surface area so the hay would not get wet and rot. When it stopped raining, we spread out the hay to continue drying. Besides work related to rain, the hay was turned over by hand to ensure it was dry, using a pitch fork and hard labour, often in the blistering heat. Granda had a horse and cart to transport the hay to the barn where he stored it for the winter. Providing food for the animals over the winter was a great deal of work.

I spent summers with my grandparents when I was young and often helped with the hay. The grass seeds and bits of straw flew around, landed in your hair and stuck to your sweaty face. Granda, a fair skinned Irish descendant, was always red faced and covered in sweat. He could out-work any of us at the hay or anything else.

As Granda carted the hay to the barn, I rode among the straw, enjoying the experience, with Granda talking to the horse, guiding it home. Then we had to stow the hay in the barn and care for the horse after its hard work. It felt like an endless job but no one complained. 

On a hot August day, Granda was mowing hay in a friend's yard, a last bit of hay for the winter. He stopped, suffering with abdominal pains. He was misdiagnosed at the hospital and died of a heart attack that night.

Granda lived to be seventy-two, though he suffered from angina for a number of years. In the last few years of his life, doctors told him to watch his diet. Gus said, "I worked me whole life ta get a bite ta eat and now that I have lots ta eat, I can't eat it." Granda died as he would have wanted, not sick and lingering, but doing what he knew and loved. What more could anyone want?

28 comments:

  1. Bailing hay here today but not by hand thank god.

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  2. Love the photos of your island, so pretty and scenic. Your Granda sounded a very hard working man - it's comforting to have such fond memories to cherish.

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    1. It was a wonderful man who often comes to mind. I was lucky!

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  3. Nice post. You mentioned "canola growing" ... I have always known that canola was good for a person but never thought where it came from. Thanks.

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    1. There is a lot of canola grown here!

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  4. I agree, it's much better to drop in harness than fade away in a nursing home.

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    1. He worked until the day he died. He was happy!

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  5. Your post reminded me of Czech writer Karel Capeck's 'The Gardener's Year.' Written before WWII it describes farmers coming to market in prewar 1930s Chechoslovakia.

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    1. This time was the 1960s in a small family farm in Newfoundland. We were behind the times!

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    2. However, the times you describe are precious. I lived in the south in the 1960s and for a time, Dad worked for the Dept. of Agriculture. (Mom grew up on a farm.) Dad subscribed to 'The Farmer's Digest' magazine and I read it cover to cover.

      I also recall farmers bringing their wagons to town on market days. People lived like this for centuries, before the Industrial age. Now we speed along oblivious to this old world. Thanks to you and Capek, and other authors for reminding us.

      (Another one I thought of id Lark Rise to Candleford which the BBC dramatized.)

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    3. I am so glad I had these experiences when I was growing up. It has kept me grounded and I have a strong sense of where I came from. I am very fortunate that way.

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  6. Our ancestors (including some who are remarkably close) worked hard didn't they? I am glad that your grandfather wasn't condemned to a nursing home and years of frailty.

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    1. Hard work was all he knew but I think he was happy. He was good to his family too. A good man in every way.

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  7. Thank you for introducing me to Granda. He worked hard and taught his granddaughter some valuable life lessons, as well. Now you are teaching me. :-)

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    1. I was so lucky to have Granda in my life. Thank you for the comment, Jan.

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  8. My grandparents were into farming, well known for the corn they grew. Definitely hard work and a hot meal was always had at noon.
    When I see the red soil in your photos it reminds me that the most precious things I brought back from PEI holiday years ago are the red rocks throughout my gardens. I love the colour and they are a fond reminder of your beautiful province. The rural area where I live in ON, one could almost be a rock farmer. :-)

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  9. Being from Newfoundland, I know rocks. We were amazed to learn that people buy rock here for their gardens. It was four years before we found a rock in our neighbourhood as well.

    I too have red rocks among my flower bed but they are hardly rock, they are so soft and break from frost or if dropped. Hard red rock is difficult to find.

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  10. So glad that you spent time walking on the beautiful day, and that you remember your grandfather when you see the hay in the field. Your memory is so special. Your post reminded me of a hard-working and heart warming man,Matthew in Anne's World.

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    1. What a great comparison, Tomoko. They were similar though one was fictional.

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  11. How red the soil. It looks like soil in the south.

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  12. Lots of iron in the soil here, Joanne. I guess there is in the south as well.

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  13. Oh, wow, Marie. What a grand tribute to your Granda, who did, indeed, die doing what he loved doing...working hard. I love that you have such fond memories of this yearly ritual.

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  14. I was lucky to have the grandparents I did. They were wonderful. A child who has good grandparents is fortunate indeed!

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  15. You tied past and present together nicely. It's a good memory that you have as well as a good present.

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    1. The past informs my present. I am lucky the memories a good.

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  16. It was lovely reading your memories of hay making. I always remember seeing hay all lined up in stacks like little soliders when we visited Austria in the summer as a child. The sea and sky are so blue too! Sarah x


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    1. The air is so fresh and clean here, Sarah.

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