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Jack’s Mid-Missouri Memories: Heat and Hay

Hay Bales
Bobolink/Flickr

When the temperature here climbs into the upper 90s as it has lately, there are a lot of summer memories that come to me about my boyhood days, none more often, however, than the one of my last summer before turning 17 and joining the Navy.

The summer of 1954 was spent in Carbondale and Burlingame, Kan. at the homes of my Uncle Virgil and Aunt Kay. They moved from Carbondale, a town about the size of Smithton, to Burlingame, close to the size of Sedalia, shortly after I arrived. I should mention my future brother-in-law at the time, Sam Sanders, and I had hitchhiked to Kansas, an adventure in itself, that I have written about before. It was one of those idyllic summers usually experienced only once in a boy’s life, and so it was for me.

There were five cousins in the family, two of which were young girls whom bracketed me in age, with one 16, a few months younger, and one 17 years old. Needless to say, there were teenage girls galore in the house that summer, but that is another story I have covered before. The memory that comes to me was when the thermometer is red nearly to the top, and it’s the one that gives me charley horses in both legs just thinking about it.

Heat and hay seem to go together in my mind, and it all stems from that Kansas summer.
Sam and I worked for a man in Carbondale, Kan. that summer. We hauled hay and other odd jobs. Sam actually went to live with the man, who was coincidentally named Sam, and lived with his widowed mother. That move took place when my aunt and uncle realized Sam was attracted to my older cousin, which could have caused problems. As I have said before, at the ripe old age of 16, I weighed about what one of my legs do now, and not much more than a bale of hay might, so unless the bale of hay was light, I drove old Sam’s flatbed truck while he and young Sam bucked the bales.

The heat of a Kansas sun in July is something that is hard to forget. The cab of that old truck was like an oven, and my part of the job was no more fun than the two men throwing the bales. There is one memory that is indelibly etched into my brain when I recall those hay-hauling days. As I sat in the old truck waiting for the two Sams to settle up with the farmer, for whom we had just cleared a field of hay and stacked it neatly in his barn.  I sat with my door open to catch what little breeze there was and was suddenly startled by a horse that came climbing into the cab of the truck with me. Needless to say, I gave the horse the truck, and left by the other door. As I stood there watching the horse lunging at the cab of the truck, the farmer came running up to take hold of its halter and lead it away. The farmer and the two Sams seeing the look on my face began laughing so hard I thought they had lost their minds. It turned out that the old horse was blind and I had parked the truck in front of the door it used to enter the barn.

After the truck was moved another part of the story unfolded, as another horse came up to the blind one and preceded it into the barn. The farmer explained the relationship had evolved through the years to the point that the horse that could see had become the blind horse’s caretaker and they were inseparable. The farmer also said he no longer used the blind horse for anything, but didn’t have the heart to get rid of her.

There were a lot of hay fields and farmers that summer, and I eventually worked up enough muscle to lift a fair sized bale of hay, as long as it didn’t need to be hoisted too high on the truck. I can still remember dirty sweat running down my neck and how good a cold drink of well water tasted when you were soaked with it. I remember the girls of that summer, and would be lying if I said they weren’t the best of those summer memories, but that blind old horse will always be there when the sun is high and I get a whiff of hay lying in the fields waiting to be picked up.

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