When we decided to take a shot at running the family farm, I didn’t know diddly squat. Luckily, Farmer Mark was going to do the planting and harvesting of the grain crops, so the hardest part was taken care of.
But I swear the hay started growing the day after Dad’s accident (okay, not really), and with it grew my anxieties about what to do about it. I mean, we didn’t even have haying equipment. I had no clue when to cut the hay, how to cut it, or what to do with it after it’s cut…let alone who was going to bale it, where we were going to store it, or even who’s animals were going to eat it.
Fast forward two months, some hay equipment purchases, a recommendation to sell our hay to Farmer Ben (a local hay broker), and we were ready. I had talked to Farmer Ben on the phone numerous times, apologizing for my many questions and concerns, and he very patiently explained the hay-makin’ process in great detail. “You cut the hay after it has budded, but before the flowers open.” “You let the hay dry.” “You rake the hay when the top has dried and is all crispy.” “Make sure you call me before you cut the hay, to make sure we can fit your hay into our schedule.” Got it. Got it. Got it.
The cutting went relatively smoothly, even if we did shave it off a little too close to the ground. And there it sat for 2 days, dryin’ away just as planned. Towards the end of that second day, I knelt down in the field and felt the top of the windrow (that’s a fancy name for a row of cut hay, lying on the ground). Oooh, feels crispy!! It’s rakin’ time!! By now I was feeling like the newest expert on the block. This hay business is a piece of cake.
After about an hour or two of raking hay, I noticed two pick-up trucks parked alongside each other at the corner, farmer-style. I got a little nervous when I realized it was Farmer Ben (the hay guy) chattin’ with Farmer Bill (our #1 support person and #1 critic). What could they be talking about?
Farmer Ben drove onto the field a few minutes later. I got out to talk to him, and noticed he seemed both nervous and perturbed. He wanted to know why I was raking the hay already. Umm, it was crispy on top?? Ben was trying real hard to be nice, and I could tell he was beginning to regret his decision to buy hay from us. He grabbed a tuft of hay here and there, and tried to help me save some face by saying things like “well, it is a bit drier over here” and nice things like that. At about this point I felt that distinctive sinking feeling in my stomach. I had already raked about 1/3 of the field!
Ultimately Ben had to stop being nice and told me to please stop raking the hay and wait a few days longer. Plus, it was supposed to rain the next day, and you never ever, ever rake the hay if it’s going to rain. Sorry Ben. So sorry. Really, I’m really so very sorry.
I parked the tractor, and retreated to the comfort of Mom. She made me a glass of lemonade, and told me that I couldn’t have known any better, and that I was doing a good job, and that if Ben didn’t want the hay anymore, we’d just keep it. I was just beginning to feel a little better about the whole mix up when Farmer Bill walked in and started yelling.
“Jacquelyn!! What in the h*ll are you doing? Who told you to rake the hay?? It not near ready, and it’s supposed to rain tomorrow!!”
I immediately tried to defend myself: “Well, it had been windy and sunny for the past two days, and it was crispy on top, and Ben told me to rake the hay when it was crispy on top...” Not only did I feel like an idiot and a failure, I had to fight real hard to keep the tears at bay. (I am a girl, ya know.)
After a few more tongue lashes, I folded. “Okay. Sorry. I didn’t know.” And with that, Bill huffed off, shakin’ his head and mumblin’ to himself as only a Flynn can.
Now I admit, I may have been overeager about the hay. But I also didn’t like getting yelled at.
That night, with my ego still stingin’ from the terrible mistake I had made, I wondered what to do about Bill. I mean, I truly needed his help, his advice, and his expertise and I also really appreciated everything he had done to help us. But it was our farm, and we had to do things our way. Plus, I was bound to screw up many more times before this farm experiment was all said and done. I had to demand respect, whether I deserved it or not.
The very next morning, Bill showed up at my house. As he walked down the sidewalk and towards the back door, I knew I had to set a new tone. I stuck my head out the door and said, “If you’re going to yell at me, I’m NOT letting you in.”
That took him by surprise. “I didn’t yell at you!” “Yes, Bill, you did. And if you’re going to yell at me again, I don’t want to talk to you.”
“I’m not going to yell at you, Jacquelyn. Do you want to learn how to make hay or not?” When I said I did, he told me to jump into his pick-up. He drove us out to the hay field, got out and very nicely showed me how to know when the hay’s ready, how it should feel, reminded me that I have to keep the humidity levels in mind, etc. etc. When I told him thank you, I really meant it.
You see, Farmer Bill has one of the biggest hearts around. You just gotta coax it out from under all that crust. And when he yells at me, it’s not because he’s angry but because he sincerely wants me to succeed.
I owe a lot to Bill, as he has proven to be our biggest help on the farm. But I’m even more indebted to him for helping me find my backbone.
I’d need it when I had to take on the local grain elevator a few short months later. That conversation, however, will have to wait another day.