Well water made hauling hay bearable

Published 6:37 pm Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I don’t remember his name, but I do remember that he paid well whenever others and myself hauled hay for him.
His farm was in north-central Chatham County near Sapling Ridge United Methodist Church. He and his wife lived in a brick house, not far from the wooden house he grew up in. One summer, I got to know that farm and hay close up and personal.
Hauling hay is a dirty, sweaty and tiring job — much more so when the temperatures reach triple digits. We’d start as early in the morning as possible. That meant waiting for the hay to dry to the point where it could be baled. The uniform of the day for us teenagers was sneakers, socks, blue jeans and a T-shirt, with the T-shirt usually coming off after about 30 minutes on the job.
The job is simple: walk behind baler being pulled by a tractor, grab a bale by the twine wrapped around it, properly stack it on a trailer being pulled by another tractor, take that trailer to the barn’s hayloft, unload the trailer and properly stack the bales in the hayloft. Notice I said “properly stack” twice. One can’t just put hay bales on a trailer or stack them in the hayloft in a willy-nilly method. Those bales of hay won’t stay where you put them if you are willy-nilly with them. And you do not want to lift a bale of hay more than twice — once to get it on the trailer and the second time to get it off the trailer.
In the middle of the summer, there is more than just the heat to worry about, and the heat is worrisome enough. More than once, I’ve picked up a bale of hay to see part of a snake dangling from it. If it’s the tail end of a snake, there ain’t much to worry about, other than where the front half may be located. If it’s the front end of the snake that’s hanging from the bale of hay, things get a bit more worrisome.
Dead, alive or somewhere between, that front end of a snake poses danger. Knock on wood, I’ve never had either half of a hay-bale snake bite me. Finding a hay bale with half a snake in it did cause me to move my feet rather quickly from time to time.
The farmer was gracious with midmorning and midafternoon snacks, usually nothing more than nabs, salted peanuts and soda. After a hot few hours hauling hay, an ice-cold bottle of Dr Pepper with some salted peanuts poured into it served as our poor man’s Gatorade. Every now and then, we would be invited into the farmer’s house for lunch, usually after his wife convinced him we would not eat him out of house and home. As much as I loved it when she served pot roast, I preferred when she would serve ’mater sandwiches, cucumbers and tomato slices that were marinated in chilled white vinegar and sweet-potato pie.
The best-tasting thing I ever had from that farm was that cold water that came from the old well at the old house. About 3 p.m., feeling powerful thirsty with the heat beating down, a dipper of cold water from that well was better than a glass of Dom Perignon champagne.
The farmer always warned us not to let the “monkey get on your back” when we drank dipper after dipper of the cold, well water. Getting the monkey on your back is akin the brain freeze one gets by eating too much ice cream or other frozen concoction too fast.
I have given some piggyback rides to monkeys over the years.
Later this summer, I know I will be wishing for a dipper of water from the old well. It may be worth a visit to Chatham County to see if that well is still there and producing water. I think my back can handle one more monkey taking a ride.
Mike Voss covers the city of Washington for the Washington Daily News. The Sapling Ridge area of Chatham County is where he first ate fried squash blossoms.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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