It was haying season in late June, and Pa was using a few days of vacation to get the hay in. Walter, Mary Ann, Ma and Pa had cut, raked, and piled the clover and timothy hay in stacks in the nearby eight-acre field. The hay was ready to be taken by horse and wagon to the barn and put into the loft for storage for winter feed for the cows and horses.
When the family got up shortly after daybreak, they noticed a red sky, indicating a possible approaching storm. Pa was uneasy, worrying that it would rain and spoil the hay before they could get it into the barn. So he told Walter to get the horses harnessed while he was finishing up the morning chores. Immediately following the chores, we had a quick breakfast that Ma and Mary Ann had prepared.
Walter went to the barn and got the horses and hooked them up to the wagon on the main floor of the barn. He had opened the large back door of the barn as well as the front doors to aid in ventilation and help eliminate the possibility of spontaneous combustion with any damp hay.
Within a couple of minutes the rest of us were right behind him and we climbed up on the wagon with the hay forks and headed for the hay field. Once in the field, it was a simple matter of moving the wagon forward between the rows, where piles of hay were situated about every twenty-five feet. Pa instructed me to sit in the driver’s seat and hold the reins, but not to do anything else, as Pa would lead the horses down the row as needed. I was to hold the reins as a precaution against their running away if they were spooked, perhaps by a snake.
Ma stayed on the wagon and kept the hay load balanced as the others hoisted the hay with the hayforks up on the wagon bed. In a short time the wagon was loaded and Pa, Mary Ann and Walter climbed up on the wagon with me, and Pa drove the team back to the barn, with Ma sitting on top of the hay.
Everything was going fine except that the weather was seriously threatening. Driving the team home was no big deal, as the horses surely knew their way to the barn. As the weather threatened more, with a loud rumble of thunder followed by a bolt of lightning, the pace of the horses increased to a pretty good clip.
The horses seemed to be getting away from Pa as they headed up the driveway toward the barn, and Pa was pulling back on the reins hollering, “Whoa... whoa... whoa... whoa.” He yelled louder with each whoa, but to no avail. The horses charged into the barn, the back door of which was still open for ventilation. Beyond the back door was a twenty-five foot drop into the barnyard. The horses abruptly stopped when they saw the wide-open space below and reared up, striking the air wildly with their front feet.
As soon as Pa regained his composure, he checked the rig and the harness and found that Walter had not hooked the reins from the harness ring to the bridle ring when he changed the horses’ halters to their bridles. Through the whole process of going to the field, loading the wagon and returning to the barn, there had never been a time when the horses had been under complete control; they just knew the routine.
I still recall Pa shouting at Walter, “Now what do you have to say for yourself? How many times do I have to tell you to check your work over? Somebody could have gotten seriously hurt. How many times, Walter—how many times do I have to tell you? You are not as smart as you think you are.”
The final blow to Pa’s hope of being a gentleman farmer came with his realization in 1949 that his eleven-year-old son (myself) had developed a serious asthmatic condition and could not work in the dust on the farm. My older brother had graduated from high school in 1948 and moved on to Rochester. Without the free labor of the next drudge, me, there was no way Pa could pursue his dream.
I often thought, as I grew considerably taller than Walter, that Pa's frustrations must have grown right along with me. At that time Pa was still trying to operate the farm with a team of work horses and the equipment from the turn of the century. Subsequently, in about 1950, Pa finally accepted the crowning blow and sold the horses and livestock.
I recall vividly that during the wee hours of the morning whenever I had a very bad asthma attack and was gasping for air that my mother sat up with me. She would rub my back upward in a circular motion by the hour as I sat in a kitchen chair with my head resting on pillows on the kitchen table.
Over and over Ma would say, “You’re okay, George... you will be fine, just relax.” As she rubbed my back, her hands had such a calming and soothing effect that often I was able to fall asleep and get some much needed rest. I remember, when these attacks went on for several days, many times waking up with my mother sitting next to me asleep with her head resting on the table.
I was very much aware during these asthma attacks that my father seemed to avoid me. He never came into my room; he never asked me how I was doing. He never once tried to console me. I thought that my father didn’t like me, as it seemed entirely my fault that Pa was not able to continue to operate the farm, and these feelings gnawed at me and troubled me for many years.