I don’t know how it’s done; some machine cuts the grasses, and packs them into large rectangles. Somehow two wires are fastened around. Now you’ve got these large rectangles of bound hay. Heavy rectangles of bound hay.
Stern-faced, my grandfather had the tractor pulling a flat-bed wagon. Our job was to pick up the bales and heave them onto the wagon. Once loaded, some went to the animal’s shed for storage. The rest we stacked in one corner of the west field, because every farm must have a haystack.
In the hot, Texas summer, the straw hat helps, but not much. The fine splinters of hay work up your sleeves and down your collar, stinging like needles.
I thought we were doing a great job. My grandfather, usually taciturn, said little. My cousin and I worked and chattered, sweated, chattered and worked.
A cloud floated lazily across the sky. The patch of shade gliding across the field toward us, and then- Heaven! Oh, that felt good.
But now it’s gone, and the sun like a hammer. Even through the tough leather gloves, the wires dig into the fingers, and even teen muscles ache. A slow, hot afternoon.
Finally it was done.
We boys rode back on the empty wagon, bone-jarring on its metal-bound wooden wheels. Oh, it felt good!
At the feedlot, using the metal dipper that hung from the fence, we took deep drinks from the horse trough. My grandfather went last. I pushed my hat back, an old ranch hand.
“So how did we do?” I asked him.
He finished his drink of water, and thought a while. He said, “One boy is half a man. Two boys is half a boy.” He paused. “And three boys is no boy at all.”
In consternation, we looked at each other.
He went on. “You did pretty good.”
He looked off into the distance, far away. There may have been a faint trace of a smile there.