By the first week of July, summer is in full swing. School has been out so long you have forgotten about it. Haying is the undisputed priority. Cut in the morning when the dew is still on, start raking around 11. Listening to the melodic sound the baler makes as it gobbles up huge windrows of aromatic smelling hay. Wiping the sweat off your brow as you wait for the next bale to come up the slide. Stacking the bales as tight and high as you can on a undulating hayrack. Getting a combined feeling of satisfaction, pride and exhaustion as hayrack after hayrack gets filled and dropped on the field. Eating a late supper of sausages, fried potatoes, fresh bread and pie. Dropping off to an exhaustion driven sound nights sleep. Then waking
up to loads of hay bales to be elevated into the hay mow or stacked in the hay shed.
Unless you baled hay on the 3rd of July, the Fourth was truly a holiday you looked forward to. It was a day us kids looked forward to and got really excited about. Family reunions, neighborhood parties and hometown parades.
I have many fond Independence Day memories. A favorite is the Nelson Family reunion at my Aunt Lila and Uncle Al’s farm. Lila was my Dad’s sister. He came from a big family of fun loving Swedes. He and his sisters used to play tricks on each other. More than one pigtail got exchanged at a birthday gathering.
The Stuckmeyer farm was just outside of Lastrup. It was a picturesque place sitting in a lower area, white barn, house and a white fence along the driveway. I remember Lila had beautiful flower beds. All the aunts and uncles and cousins would gather for tons of potluck food, softball and exploring the barn and outbuildings.
Something I’ll never forget was seeing where the pigs lived. Al and his brother Arnie had build a framework of posts and wire. Every fall they would blow oats straw onto it. There were narrow tunnels, dark musty passage ways and pitch black alcoves from where unseen pigs grunted their displeasure at us unwelcome Intruders. My cousin Lavonne had ponies, dogs, goats. There were clucking bantam hens with their broods of baby chicks. My cousin Denny, who was a little older than the kids my age, had firecrackers. We loved watching him light and throw them into the empty cement silo. For us little kids it was simultaneously exciting and scary. We were well programmed not play with matches in a barn or anywhere else. We hoped he wouldn’t blow his fingers off like our parents said would happen if we had fireworks.
Several of our family’s July 4th’s were spent at Mickey Lodermeirs, a neighborhood family bigger than ours. It was a potluck affair, lots of food, all the hot dogs you could eat and Shasta pop. We rarely had pop at home maybe because it was too expensive, maybe because water was better for us. Never more than one can. At Mickey’s’ the pop was in a stock tank filled with ice. You had many flavors to choose from. You had to reach down into the cold icy water to see what was there. And you didn’t have to ask because the adults were too busy visiting. I remember softball games where you got to borrow someone’s glove when you were in the field. I remember they had ponies and riding horses. They even had a team of welch ponies that pulled us around in a wagon. These parties went all afternoon and into the darkness of dusk when Micky shot off some fireworks. It was a magical time for little kids.
In my later years on the farm we had teams of oxen. The first team, John and Thor were big white Holsteins. Dad would find someone to haul the oxen and we would load the wooden wheel wagon we restored onto an old trailer and head to Genola for the parade. After finishing that parade we would go to Pierz or Harding. It was great fun. Dad seemed to know everyone and delighted in the cajoling that happened all along the route. I remember Harding particularly well because of its short Main Street. We did the parade one way then turned around and went back through town the other direction. Another parade I remember was Pierz when we had four oxen on a manure spreader. Made the ox pie scooping very convenient!
July 4th was truly the high water mark for the summer. Yeah, there was still a lot of haying, grain shocking and threshing to do but nothing really to look forward to. (We tried not to think about the inevitable back to school thing).
On the 4th we should pause on this national day of independence to reflect on patriotism, country, freedom from colonial tyranny. We should remember to thank our forefathers for declaring independence, establishing a bill of rights and writing a constitution. We should recognize the countless generations of American veterans have fought to preserve this United States of America. If I see a flag waving, I wave back.
For me it is that special day that only comes once a year. It signals that summer is half over. It’s still a good reason to take a day off from baling hay. It’s a good reason to spend time with the cousins, to watch a parade with friends and neighbors. To feel the WOW of the rockets red glare as the bombs burst in the air.
P.s. Besides If not for Independence Day I might be sipping tea instead of coffee and I’m just not a tea guy.