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?