The other day as I was walking my dog on one of our favorite dirt roads that goes through a many-decades-old family farm, I noticed that one of the fields had been recently mowed and now sported about 17 large circular hay bales. Coming down the road was a gentleman on a ubiquitous old Maine tractor pulling a flatbed for loading the hay bales. (Maine farmers are frugal. I have yet to see a working Maine farmer with a shiny new, expensive tractor.) These tractors are about as old or even older than I am. They were made for quality and durability, not profit with deliberate “planned obsolescence.” The saying went, re these tractors: “All you need to keep them running is a bobby pin and piece of baling wire.”

The farmer looked to about 65 or 70 and put me in mind of my Grampa Roy when I was a kid on the farm up north. And like Grampa Roy, he sat straight on the tractor with the square shoulders of a young man.

My dog and I moseyed down the road a short stretch to look down at the stream that runs under it. There’s usually some Canada Geese there that we like to watch but they were all off somewhere else so we turned back only to see the farmer on his way back out of the hay field onto the road with all bales loaded, two tiers deep! Those hay bails each look to be a two-person loader. Yep. Like Grampa Roy.

I loved haying time up on the farm. Grampa would let me ride the hay-rake with him as Mandy, the old horse, pulled us through the fields raking the hay in long rows to dry in the hot sun. Next day would be scheduled for getting the hay into the barn. The hay wouldn’t be baled but loaded sky-high with men and pitchforks on the hay wagon hitched to the neighbors team. Come haying time, the neighbor men would switch from farm to farm to help one another get the hay in.

Of course, whatever Grampa was doing, I wasn’t far from him. I tagged him everywhere. So I went down to the barn with them all when they unloaded the hay up into the loft with a big hay-fork on a pulley through the hayloft door. One day, I went running inside the barn just as a hay-bale was being lifted overhead and a garter snake fell out of it, landing at my feet. I screeched and ran, startling the horses.

But Grampa, as was his way, instead of scolding and sending me up to the house, said: “Come here. I need you to help with the horses.” He then set me to the task of leading the horses up and back as they pulled the ropes on the pulley. Wasn’t I some proud.

And I got to share the men’s Switzel drink to boot.

Haying was heavy work under the blazing sun and even water couldn’t be counted on to keep a person from sun stoke, which can be deadly. Water alone doesn’t replace the crucial electrolytes in the body. So, like the other farm wives, Grammie Mable would make jugs of Switzel, aka “Haymaker Punch.”

She made hers by adding black-strap molasses and cider vinegar with some ginger to water. (There was always black-strap on hand for her baked beans and sopping her buttermilk biscuits in. Then too, she gave us kids that old spring “tonic” every spring of a couple big spoonfuls of “sulfur and molasses.” That used to be a normal tonic for both kids and adults. Maybe they knew what they were doing? Take molasses. It’s jam packed with minerals and nutrients like calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and manganese, selenium and copper.)

And you don’t have to be a farmer to protect yourself from sunstroke.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award winning columnist, is a graduate of Belfast schools now living in Morrill.

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