As I sat in a chair at the Sun Advocate booth during Relay for Life on Friday night at the USU Eastern track, I listened to the crowd, people as they went by on the track, or stood around and talked nearby.
It was an evening of hope and lights, and one big almost full moon. The clouds drifted through the sky and some people next to our booth were spending time looking at those clouds saying "Look I see a dog" or "Hey there's a guy's face."
Memories are made on summer nights like this. It took me back to my favorite summer memories as a kid. You know, back in the stone age when a Beatle was still a bug and not a rock and roll icon, and we hadn't yet put a man on the moon.
It is funny what I remember. I remember building all kinds of huts, including a half dozen tree houses. I remember spending hours in my best friends basement (which was very cool, temperature wise) reading the latest Marvel Comics that had just introduced super heros like Spiderman, the Fantastic Four and Iron Man. I remember long Monopoly games that went for days on end with my friend next door. One particular summer we played almost every day, and he beat every time but twice.
And I remember hauling hay on my dad's farm.
It was something I dreaded. For two weeks in June, two in July and two in August, I spent those precious days off of school either driving the tractor or hauling bales of hay up to the wagon only to have to cart them off to the barn where I had to take them off again.
The cool thing was driving the tractor. At 10 years old all my friends couldn't believe I got to drive something that wasn't powered by our legs. The bad part about hauling hay was that it was hot, sticky and the alfalfa dust stuck to every part of your body. I was also sore at the end of each day.
My father and my two uncles operated that dairy farm for 35 years (52 years if you count the time they ran it under the tutelage of my grandfather) and hay hauling was a ritual. My first memory was not of baling or hauling hay bales, but standing on top of a wagon full of loose hay tromping it down so they could get more on with their pitchforks before it headed to the barnyard. My older sisters were driving the tractor then and a few times I remember the wagon jerking because their feet slipped off the clutch or they started out too fast. I almost fell off those times. Then I would hear my uncles or my dad cussing them out. I thought it was funny until I was the one driving, later on when we were loading bales by hand.
Sometimes when we did bales and everyone was available, so I would be the designated driver and that only. I guess watching a 70 lb. kid trying to lug 80 lb. bales to the wagon and put them on it was a little much for my dad, so I got the spot on the tractor. Often I would look off into the distance, wondering how much fun my friends were having or I would look at the Wasatch Mountains and day dream about how neat it would be to be standing in the creek in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
One day I was looking at the identity tag on one of our Case tractor's gauge panel. I saw it was built in Racine. Wis. and started to day dream about what that place must look like, being right on Lake Michigan where I had seen the name on maps. As I did this my mind wandered off what I was doing and my foot slipped off the clutch. The tractor jumped forward and died. Then I heard some yelling and then some laughing as one of my uncles walked up to the tractor.
"You damn near broke your dad's neck," said my uncle Tom, chuckling. "He was up on a bale and you knocked him right off the wagon onto some bales that were sitting behind it."
It must have been funny to see because he never laughed much.
My dad was okay though and he never said a thing to me about it. I often wondered why they laughed about that I did that, but always cussed my sisters when they had done it.
I remember when we came up to the barnyard my mother would come over from the house on hot afternoons with a couple of large pitchers of Kool Aid and ice and we would all stand in the shade at the side of the barn gulping it down. No one seemed to know much about dehydration in those days, although on my uncles truck there always hung a "water bag" in front of the radiator, which we would all drink from periodically while out in the field. I don't know it if was everyone elses saliva or just that I was so thirsty, but never in my life have I ever had water that tasted as good as that. Bottled water, safe and sanitary, didn't exist as far as I knew.
And I also remember we filled that bag from a hose by the barn. It was a common garden hose, not drinking water certified.
I remember standing on top of the wagon tossing bales into the escalator that took them up into the barn where my uncles stacked them. It was really a dangerous job when you think about it. Fourteen feet off the ground, handling bales bigger than me and below a chain driven escalator with a drive line leading to the back of one of the tractors that powered it, all open, no guards. I remember my one of my uncles telling me to be careful around that drive because they had read about a guy who got his untucked shirt caught on it and he was wrapped up by it and was beat around again and again until there was not much left of him. He was working alone and his wife found him in pieces on the ground long after the tractor had run out of gasoline.
I imagined that had happened, but maybe it was just a tale to make me be careful.
What I find funny is that the thing I hated the most about summer as a kid, is the thing I remember the best. And you know what, I think I never did hate it, and over the years I find it was one of the great learning experiences of my life. Farm chores were always there, but the hauling of the hay was special; it taught me sacrifice (not being able to do all the things my friends were doing), how to work hard, and a sense of accomplishing something that was useful.
I have to wonder what so many kids today will cherish as their best memories of summer. Will it be the endless hours of playing video games in the basement rec room on hot summer days or watching endless reruns of NCIS on Netflix all summer. Or instead will it be the times that dad made them cut the lawn, paint the house, weed the garden or maybe, if some agricultural land is involved, haul the hay on July afternoons?
When it is all said and done, in my estimation, the value of hard work and instilling a work ethic in children, may be a pain in the present, but in the future it can be invaluable.
And along the way, in retrospect, fun too.