approached the back porch of the house, Maddy would swing open the creaky screen door and impulsively say, “Did you get any?” Haybaler proudly held up his bulging satchel to reveal the hunter’s spoils. “We got three today,” he said with a wide grin. To this end Maddy was wide eyed and happy as she could possibly be. Displaying the glee of a delighted child, she rushed towards Bill and Haybaler to receive the reward of the wooded hills. Stepping quickly back into the kitchen she quipped, “I’ll have these cleaned and dressed in no time.” And almost in song she would ask, “Would you boys like these squirrel pan fried or stewed for dinner tonight?”
While Maddy worked in the kitchen, Bill and Haybaler set about cleaning their rifles and putting away their gear. After a while, the gamey aroma of the stew, made with seared squirrel meat, onions, potatoes, carrots, two bay leaves and other country spices, filled the air of their simple dwelling. Bill, Haybaler and the rest of the family were famished at the end of the day, and made even hungrier by the savory bouquet of the simmering stew. After an impossible time spent waiting for dinner, the entire clan would sit around the harvest table to enjoy a feast of corn bread, lima beans and squirrel stew. The spread looked like a wealth of goodness that would never end. The passel of children enjoyed either milk or tea with their meal, but Bill and Maddy always wanted a little moonshine to wash down the delicious fare set broadly upon the table before them. To have been in their presence is to have known their certain fulfillment.
The Wheat Harvest
Haybaler was the type of person that might catch your attention for no particular reason. He was a lanky young man of commanding stature, and he was possessed of a long stride. Handsome to a fault, with wavy hair and a winsome smile, he was friendly and unassuming by nature. He smiled upon life and in return received the abundance of life in ample measure. And as he was to learn, this abundance was dressed in a variety of garments, some more appealing than others. Good or bad, Haybaler never stopped learning from these life experiences. He continued to enjoy observing and learning.
One thing was certain, he was not afraid of work. Starting as a spry 15 year old, he travelled north with the wheat harvest every summer. Starting in central Texas, the harvest crew would move from field to field, slaving their way north to the Canadian border. Haybaler worked the wheat harvest because of the alluring pull of money, and because his parents expected him to work. Perhaps it was an error of youth, but he enjoyed traveling and having new experiences as much as he enjoyed being paid for his labors.
For Haybaler, the wheat harvest started with saying goodbye to his family and his trusty Bay Hound, Winston, on the front porch of the family home. And without fail, Winston would be waiting on the front porch when he returned from his many months long journey. A faithful and loving companion until the end, Winston would jump up and down, twisting in circles of excitement when Haybaler strode up the porch steps at the end of the wheat harvest. The reunion of these fast companions was a sight to behold, with perhaps the most endearing moment being when Winston offered his favorite chew bone to Haybaler, as a gift of love and affection that comes from the depths of canine loyalty. In this way, the bond between a man and his dog was enacted at the deepest levels of shared respect. Truly, man and dog have helped each other survive and prosper for thousands of years. No less so the relationship between Haybaler and Winston.
During his early teens, Haybaler’s job was to throw the bales of wheat straw hay onto a flatbed truck, where another worker stacked the bales into neat rows. It was back breaking work. When he turned 17 years of age he was promoted to operate the tractor, which pulled the hay baling machine, as it cut the wheat straw and pressed it into bales. This promotion was a rite of passage, and greatly appreciated by this teenage country boy. He stood proud and tall next to the harvest tractor, as he was now fully endorsed as being a machine operator. In recognition of this new found stature the other men started calling him, “Haybaler.”
There was a sweltering heat in the dusty wheat fields. The pitiless sun blazed overhead for hours on end. All day long the noisy Cicadas were singing to each other, urged on by the relentless summer heat. Looking towards the scorched fields from a distance, you could see billowing towers of dust slowly rising above the harvest machinery. To say that it was like working in an oven was an understatement. The stifling air and roiling dust made it very difficult to breathe. After each 16 hour day, Haybaler’s skin was sun burned and caked with dirt and sweat. The work left him bone tired and numb. Somehow, the sun and the heat made it difficult to think. At the end of the day he felt dazed, like he could barely raise his arms or take another step forward. He wondered if it was all worthwhile, but he did not dwell long on the futility of meaning. He just kept moving forward. The only respite came at dinner time. Ample food was provided by the Foreman and his wife. Haybaler and the other men would eat heartily and talk about owning land someday. After the evening meal the only thing he could think about was sleep, all the while knowing the next day started before sunrise.
On Saturday night the other men would go into town to spend their money on hard liquor and women. Haybaler stayed behind, preferring the succor of the prairie evening. He loved to gaze upon the summer sunset, painted with broad strokes of brilliant pastel colors, which peaked and faded as the sun breached the horizon. After laboring all week, what sweeter sound could there be than the lullaby of a whippoorwill singing to the cadence of the prairie breeze. Or best of all, to lie in bed and listen to the rolling thunder of a summer storm rumbling across the countryside, while the cooling rain released the most delightful aromas of wet grasses. In this summer evening muse, Haybaler would forget himself, remembering his home on Acorn Ridge, for which he longed to return.
The work crew labored seven days a week for as long as there were fields to cut. Payday came at the end of the week, but the money had little meaning for Haybaler, as there was no time for spending it. He just kept the money hidden away until he returned home at the end of the harvest. He saved the wages of his hard work all summer long and gave it to his mother when he returned home. He had no notion of doing anything else with the earnings. He knew she needed it more than he did, for there were many hungry mouths to feed at Bill and Maddy’s table. The wheat harvest was Haybaler’s only source of income during his young adult life. He did not work for wages during the other seasons of the year. During the rest of the year he was completing high school and taking care of the land. On his family’s homestead there was a milk cow, a vegetable garden, a cranky mule and many daily chores that needed tending.
When Haybaler was in his early twenties it suddenly dawned upon him that he was being paid a pittance for his strenuous work on the wheat harvest. He realized that coming home at the end of summer with a total of a little over $1,000.00 was an insult, rather than a reward. When it was all said and done he was being paid less than one dollar per hour for his back breaking work. He awakened to the fact that his labors were for the purpose of making money for the Foreman and his wife, and all else was secondary. Thereafter, he retired from working the wheat harvest and dedicated himself to caring for Acorn Ridge. Bittersweet was the reward of working the wheat harvest, better to till one’s own soil than to labor on the property of another man.
Jason’s high school sweetheart, Charlene Samuel pined away for his return from the war. She would stare longingly into her engagement ring, stroking the gleaming edges of the small diamond while recalling Jason’s smiling face. She thought of her older brother Luke as well, and wondered how he might be faring in the war.
As a toddler Charlene was raised by her mother, Betsy. It was a blissful time between mother and child filled with walks to the park and joyous laughter. Being pushed in the swing set by her mother was Charlene’s singular delight. The relationship between Charlene and her mother seemed perfect. It was a relationship that fostered mutual love and respect. It seemed like this wonderful union of mother and child could go on forever. Unfortunately, the cruel hand
of fate had other designs. Sadly, Charlene would not long know the presence of warmth and hugs from her loving mother.
It was a winter morning with a bitter cold wind from the northwest when Charlene’s mother unexpectedly passed away. Suddenly overcome by an incapacitating headache, her symptoms quickly evolved into a devastating stroke. By the time Betsy’s family got her to Doc Robert’s office she had slipped into unconsciousness, never to awaken again. Charlene’s mother was only 45 years old at the time of being delivered from this world. Doc Roberts consoled the family by saying that she died from the bursting of an aneurysm in her brain. The old country doctor told the assembled family members that their mother had been born with the aneurysm. He said she had died suddenly and had not suffered. The Samuel family consoled each other by saying their beloved Betsy was in a better place now.
Little could Charlene understand the reasons her mother had gone from this world. She kept asking her family, “When will mommy come back?” Being an innocent child of 5, she could not understand the permanence of death. She