When was the last time you went on a hayride?
For me, it had to be sometime during high school – a VERY long time ago! But on Thanksgiving Day, after the turkey and dressing, after the turnips and cranberry sauce, and after the family photos on the porch, instead of going inside for a little nap in front of the TV, we all climbed on a wagon and set off on a two-county hayride.
I’ve always been a “city” girl – meaning I spent my childhood in the little Georgia town of Sylvester – population maybe 5,000 at that time. My four first cousins lived in the little community of Anderson City – about 10 miles away. When I visited them as a child, I thought they had to live the greatest life imaginable. I mean they lived on a FARM! They had ANIMALS! They had BARNS! They had TRACTORS! You could walk out their backdoor and right into a field of peanuts, or cotton, or tobacco or corn. They actually let me sucker tobacco one day, and Ronald got a great laugh out of me thinking that was the most fun thing I had ever done!
Clay had hitched a flat wagon to a tractor, and filled it with bales of hay – placing the bales around the outer edge to form a border of hay for us to sit on. We immediately noticed that we had to sit on the inside edge of the bales. Sitting on the outside could result in getting overbalanced and falling on the ground! That little tidbit was very important later when we crossed a ditch full of water! Brett climbed aboard with a loaf of bread. “Oh yeah!” I thought. We’re going to feed ducks!
Off we went. We were going to be passing through several pastures on the ride. Each pasture had its own gate – that had to be opened and closed. Clay handled most of that, hopping easily on and off the wagon as we passed from one field into another.
We had just entered the first pasture, and suddenly everyone is yelling and pointing over toward a fence. Would you believe that we were riding by just as a cow was giving birth! She was too far away for my camera to chronicle it, but it was something I had never seen – except on Animal Planet!
We traveled out into the pasture and were soon being followed by a herd of cattle – a typical reaction when you get within close proximity of a cow with a wagon full of hay!
Right in the middle of this pasture full of cattle was a four-legged creature not of the bovine variety – Joe, the donkey.
Clay told us last January he lost two calves to coyotes. It’s a known fact that coyotes are afraid of donkeys, and Clay had a neighbor who had a donkey he said he could have – Joe. It seems the donkey, being alone with a bunch of cows, bonds with the herd and becomes their protector. Clay said that Joe can always be found on the outside edge of the herd, always on the lookout for predators. If the herd was threatened by coyotes, Joe would chase them off. And that bread? Not for ducks – for Joe!
While we were being pulled around these pastures, and through all the gates, we learned that all the land we were crossing belonged to the Walker family – and had for many years. The tractor pulled us down into ditches where water was pooled and up into the hilly woods, where leaves were blowing off the trees as a front moved through that afternoon.
Going through another gate, we were into a huge pasture, where more cattle grazed. At the top of a slight rise sat the remains of an old homestead. All that was left was a well and a bit of wall.
Clay told us that the pastures we were passing through were mostly cotton fields back in the early 1900’s. In the 1920’s, with the Great Depression and with the massive infestation of the cotton by boll weevils, the families who owned small acreages mostly gave up on farming and moved to Atlanta or even further north, seeking employment. The land they left was bought by families (like the Walkers) who now use it for cattle and timber land – growing their own hay to offset some of the cost of having to purchase feed. They also keep their own bulls – so there are always new calves being added to the herd.
The Walkers also raise chickens, and I don’t mean a few chickens running around in the yard. They have chicken houses, and we stopped to go in one. I have never seen so many baby chicks in my life, and I learned that they will all be ready for market at the ripe old age of 5 1/2 weeks.
It was really getting colder, so we started home, traveling this time on the highway back to Clay and Midge’s house.
When we got back to the house, everyone raided the leftovers and settled in to watch TV. The kids worked off some of the energy they had built up on that 2-hour hayride, and then we all called it a night.
The next morning, as we got ready to leave, Brett headed out for a run. Clay, her dad, told us that before she went off to the University of Georgia, she would run every morning. She’d start off all bundled up and then start shedding layers. Clay said he would wait about 30 minutes after she left, then get in the truck and go behind her on her running route to pick up the layers she had left on neighbors’ mailboxes.
When Ted and I left a little later and had traveled several hundred yards, we spotted Brett’s jacket, the first layer she had gotten rid of, hanging on a mailbox.
Life in the country on a farm. It’s not an easy life. My four first cousins were raised as children of a farmer. Ronald, the only son, became a farmer in his own right, and Midge, the youngest girl, married a farmer. Sharon and Wanda both became educators. When I remember the time I spent with them on my Uncle Hubert and Aunt Myrtice’s farm, the memories are full of the joy of a large family, the gathering around the big table in the kitchen for a huge lunch and a smaller supper, and the endless litters of puppies and kittens. I didn’t see all the hard work. I didn’t see or understand that a year’s success could be determined by the weather, and too much rain could be just as bad as too little.
All I saw was the love and the bond of this big, happy, joyous family.
Thank you Ronald and Julie, Wanda, Sharon and Al, and Midge and Clay – for drawing me back into the loop. I love you all.