As a family, we worked hard, but we also prayed hard. Grace was said at every meal. It was not only expected that we would go to church, but also expected that we would be active participates, Dad was an usher, Mom was in choir, all of us boys served as alter boys; some of us were lectors and Eucharistic ministers. At the very least, we were to sing…or at least make an attempt for those of us that couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Rosaries were said when a family member or neighbor needed a little divine intervention, and we were all expected to say our prayers before drifting off to sleep at night.
But we also understood the economics of our situation – we were a small farm in a big farmer’s world. Our labor was expected to help the family, to feed the cattle, to try and earn a couple more dollars to pay for that new baler, along with that new pair of shoes.
Only once a year did those two pillars of our life, hard work and hard prayer, come into conflict. Independence Day.
If we were lucky, we could get out the first crop of alfalfa the first week of June – right after school let out, and usually right before the big rains that usually accompanied the start of summer in June – usually we could count on a good stretch of warm weather and a lot of rain. Which was perfect for the formation of the second cutting of alfalfa.
It never seemed to fail, that last week of June, the hay bind was being pulled out of the shed, greased up, and the getting ready for use again. The hay rake was pulled off of machinery hill, the old grease box refilled, the rusty old vice grip the held the cable to engage it was checked again – the best, most effective eight dollar switch on the whole farm. The baler was being greased and prepped for the second (or in late years – sometimes the first) cutting of hay.
It always seemed like the first day of July when the call would come in from one of my Dad’s cousins, either Aunt Julie or Uncle Frank, inviting us out to their cabins on the fourth of July.
“Yeah that sounds like a lot of fun!” Dad would say, “Maybe if it rains, we’ll be out there. We are in the middle of haying.”
With a little more conversation and family updates, Dad would sit down. All of us kids disappointed, but knew he was right – it would be fun, but we couldn’t let the hay sit in the field. The rain would wash the nutrients out of the alfalfa; it would take the tender shoots and turn them tough and hard, making it harder for the cows to eat in the winter. Good alfalfa meant a promise of a better milk check in January.
But there was still that tantalizing dream of one day of freedom on the shores of Twin Lake. One day of swimming in the cool lake water. One day of running around with the cousins. One day of playing with the quiet approval of our parents, the illegal fireworks gotten by cousins and smuggled across the border from North Dakota. One day where the hot fields would be replaced with the fun of being a kid.
But we also knew that we were working towards our futures. That it was the milk check that would buy the shoes and braces, and provide the money we would use to go to basketball games, and track meets, and speech tournaments. It was the money that would help to buy the used FFA jacket the next fall, and the new pair of jeans for the start of school.
For 364 days out of the year, we knew, and understood the costs and benefits of living the farm kids life, and we paid it readily and without question…but I will admit…those first few days of July, our bedtime prayers would include the phrase…”Lord, please let it rain the night of July 3rd…but not TOO much…just enough to get us out of making hay…”