Avoiding the hay mow powwow


(Part One)

Am I the only farm kid who tried to avoid the hay mow?

The hay loft always seemed so much darker, spookier, more mysterious in the dead of winter.

I tried everything to get someone else to do it when it came time to climb that mountain of a ladder in to the highest mow.

“Ah, you need to quit reading so many scary books,” my dad would say to me. “It’s the same big old barn as it was before you started reading In Cold Blood, you know.”

Just like us. OK, technically I knew he was right. I just couldn’t get that murdered Kansas family out of my mind who seemed so very much like us that it made my own blood run cold.

A farm family, two older girls grown up and gone, the hired hand returned from the pokey with the plan to kill them all and make off with the money stored in the house.

Dad reminded me that we didn’t have any scary former hired hands, and we sure didn’t have any money just lying around for the taking. Our money was in land, barns, equipment, cows … Something no bad guy could abscond with even if he wanted to.

OK, I knew he was right. But it still didn’t make my ebbing panic go away.

In the darkness. That old ladder seemed to go up and up in to the dark shadows of that barn where anyone, absolutely anyone, could be hiding.

OK, take a deep breath. You just need to hurry up and get up there and throw down 16 bales of hay. Just 16, and then you are done.

Until tomorrow, when you’ll have to put yourself through all of this all over again.

Up the ladder. The panic seemed to mount as I climbed that ladder. I reached the jumping off point, the hay stacked up there good and tight from the productive summer’s great alfalfa crop.

I made my way over the tightly packed bales to where we were to pull today’s bales from, and yanked hard on the first one.

Yikes! A cat let out a scream that was similar to the scariest horror movie sound ever emitted and I nearly fell over in a dead faint.

My heart was pounding hard enough to beat right through my layers and layers of coveralls, long johns, sweatshirts and a barn coat.

Trusty weapon. I reached for the flashlight I carried as a weapon, just in case I needed to beat someone over the head in my attempt to escape sure death.

After I caught my breath, I realized the wild mama cat was warning me to stay away from her nest of babies.

Shining my fading flashlight on to the hollowed-out spot in the mow, the critters looked like little mice, small and ugly, but content and sleeping.

My blood-curdling screams had not awakened them. How dare they be so peaceful when I was in such heightened agony?

Horrors of it all. I threw those 16 bales down, lickety-split, somehow managed to practically slide down that ladder as if it were a firehouse pole, finished the chores in spite of my pending heart attack and went to dad to tell him the horrors of it all.

He filled his pipe with tobacco as he listened to my dramatic plea to never, ever have to do that job again.

He packed the tobacco down, lit the pipe, thought long and hard before saying to me, “That’s great that you found the nest of kittens. Now, each day, you can check on them for me and see how much they’ve grown since the day before.”

Deaf ears. Turns out, my plea for clemency from that chore fell completely on deaf ears. Did he not hear the part about my heart attack?

Did he not hear the part about the wobbly ladder and my knocking knees giving out on me? Did he not hear the part about the possible ax murderer lurking in the dark shadows at the very back of the mow where no one would think to look for him?

All he heard was ‘kittens.’ All he could do was add to my list of chores.

It put a whole new spin on the chore of climbing in to the dark mow.

Perhaps I would survive it. After all, what ax murderer would have the guts to climb up there with that screaming mama cat?


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.