Monday, August 31, 2009

My Farm Girl

Turns out, I have a real farm girl on my hands. Kelly has been itching to drive the tractor. We just started letting her drive the riding lawnmower this past year and that was out of desperation because the grass grows like it’s on steroids around here and the weed-whacker, a weapon of mass destruction even with goggles on and long pants, was out of the question. But the tractor? The tractor is big. It’s a vehicle on steroids. I don’t even drive the tractor! And I probably would have kept saying no but it happened while I was taking a nap and the father was in charge. I heard it running when I woke up and looked out the window. Kurt was raking the riding arena. Maybe he’d do the trails next. He’s so sweet. I sat down at this computer to do some work and the next thing you know I saw a shadow behind me as someone stepped up to the back door and came inside. I turned around. It was Kurt. Odd, since I could still hear the tractor.

“Is that our tractor?” I asked.

“Yep. Kelly’s driving it.”

“Kelly who?”

“Com’on, com’on, come and see,” he waved at me to get up. “Now don’t get mad,” he warned as we hurried across the yard.

What could I say? She probably wouldn’t be riding a bike either, if it wasn’t for Kurt telling me to stop being a big worry-wart. Or feeding the horses because they’re rude and obnoxious at feeding time so she might get stepped on, or even baking the cake like she’s doing right now in the kitchen because what if she gets her fingers caught in the mixer? I know, the tractor is a little bit different. But farm kids have been helping on the farm by driving tractors for as long as tractors have existed. Plus it’s much better than sitting in front of the TV watching reruns of iCarly or playing Farmville on the computer. This is the real farm.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hay Day

Hay day is the worst day of the year. Actually, it’s two or three days, depending on how much I can get from one hay supplier. I like to get as much as I can so it’s off my mind. That’s one of my big worries—feeding these horses. I always worry about the availability of hay. You’d think I wouldn’t have to give it a second thought in hay land. But I have a harder time finding hay down here where it grows right next door than I did in Jersey where people don’t even know what hay is.

For one thing, I don’t know if they take care of their horses different down here or what but no one seems to care about feeding their horses dusty or moldy hay. Whenever I warn that I won’t feed dusty or moldy hay, the farmers act like I’m one of those pain-in-the-ass Yankees who nitpicks about silly things and doesn’t know his head from a hole in the wall about raising farm critters. They eye me suspiciously and accuse me of putting blankets on my horses and talking baby talk to them, which I don’t do. Well, maybe the baby talk. Like Minnie. She’s just so cute you’ve got to.

I have to come up with reasons I won’t feed crap hay or else they’ll ignore me and sneak it in with the good stuff. Not because they’re necessarily trying to screw me, but because they think I am wrong. I should stop treating them horses like namby-pambies because them jokers are lucky they’re eating at all. Period. So I tell them I have an old guy who colics if he even looks at moldy hay. He’s allergic to it. Or he has heaves and can’t have any dust. And I have show horses, expensive show horses, and no they won’t eat around the mold—I have no grass here—they’ll eat every wisp of hay I put out there they’re so dumb. I’m still paying the vet bills from the last time… Not really but that’s what I say.

That usually stops the good guys but I’ve gotten hay from bad guys who’ve unloaded entire moldy, weedy loads on me that looked perfectly fine from the outside but was rotten and smelled like a grandmother’s basement on the inside and full of trash to boot. Very odd since the one we opened up to inspect was clean and green. I throw this hay over the fence for Eldon’s cows and he throws me back good bales even though I keep telling him don’t do it, I’m just glad to get rid of the stuff.

Forget bringing it back. After you get a bad load of hay, the supplier conveniently stops answering his phone and if you catch the wife, she has no idea what you’re talking about. She didn’t even know her husband was making hay for goodness sake. You might as well have the dog on the phone. You can take a chance and reload the whole thing and hope the supplier is there when you arrive or just drop it off whether he’s there or not, but either way, he’s not going to cough up your dough now or when he comes home because he’s already spent it on four NASCAR tickets, the light bill, not the electric bill, the light bill, and if it was a really big order, new tractor tires. Plus that hay was fine.

I never have the strength to bring it back. I’m lucky I go get it. In Jersey, I had it delivered. Every month I’d get a delivery of forty bales and they were always clean and green. Of course they were also double the price but you have to wonder how my hay man in Jersey could acquire good bales and in small quantities, when I have a hard time here where they make the stuff and when I do find it, I have to take all they’ve got and squeeze it in every nook and cranny, sometimes even filling up stalls to the ceilings, because there won’t be any more till the next cutting which is eight months away in May. They don’t store it for you down here. And they don’t deliver it.

So I take what I can and act real nice to Kurt when we have to go get it because he’s about ready to kill these horses for all the trouble they put us through including producing tons of manure and making us call the vet and then mysteriously getting better right before the vet arrives and stuff like eating the barn walls and breaking the electric fence, that kind of thing.

We got two hundred bales the other day. They were about forty pounds each. The hay guy, his wife, and the old father, all in straw hats and leather gloves, helped us load it into the horse trailer and pickup truck. I kept trying to make small talk so we could take a rest but they were in pretty good shape and kept on going, even the old guy who had white eyebrows and knotty legs. In fact, the old guy wasn’t even breathing heavy. It was kind of embarrassing since we were about ready to die.

They got us loaded up pretty quick. But when we got home, we had to do it by ourselves. Kelly and Motley got in the trailer and pushed the bales down. They came tumbling out onto the grass right in front of the hay shed and Kurt and I picked them up and stacked them inside. After a hundred, we had to go back and get the second load. By number one-hundred and eighty, I didn’t think I could go on. We were exhausted and we were starving. You really work up an appetite moving hay. The horses hung their heads over the fence and watched us like they had nothing better to do.

Now is the time that you would call and order a pizza for lunch but there’s no delivery of any kind out in the country. Now and then you might get lucky and the firehouse is having some kind of a fundraiser and you can go down there and buy a quart of Brunswick stew or barbecue, but in general, the best you can expect when you are exhausted and starving is putting some Pizza Bites in the oven. Times like this, you are too tired to even drive to town to get some Dairy Queen.

But the horses have hay.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cleaning Up

The farm was still standing when I got home. It was even straightened up. But it was dirty. This is how bad it was: It stunk. It took me two days to clean up the clutter that was thrown into the pantry. When I finally got inside, I found a plastic gallon with sour milk inside and the shelf was stained where the potatoes rotted and melted through the bag. The hot dogs in the refrigerator were green-molded. Hot dogs are full of preservatives—they last forever. I don’t think I can get the stains out of the toilet. Kurt said that’s okay; we need a new one anyway. It was dark. I replaced two light bulbs in the chandelier in the kitchen. I soaked the kitchen sink and the coffee pot in bleach. I Windexed, polished or scrubbed every horizontal surface in the house causing my sponge to disintegrate and my mop to fall apart leaving wet yarns all over the floor. The weeds were growing up through the deck and the deck is high. I’m sorry, it’s a cliché, but it was a jungle out there. The barn smelled like a cellar. Saddle pads were speckled with mold. Mud daubers built nests on the pommels of saddles and there was cat poop or puke, I couldn’t tell which, on the floor. No one picked up manure in weeks.

I’ve been cleaning non-stop. I’m glad to be home and get my place back in order. Even more glad to be with my husband and daughter again. (Even though those two were the culprits in this mess.) But I feel guilty about going on with my life, sweeping the porch, riding a horse, while my mother is suffering up there. I haven’t been able to talk to her since I got home. She’s been too incoherent. They have her on a heavy-duty pain drug that is knocking her out. I couldn’t help thinking, this is what it will be like if I lose her. I won’t be able to tell her about the stains in the sink or the weeds in the yard. I won’t be able to say, “Do you believe this Ma?”

And yet…I am distracted by the dust.