Tag Archives: Sweat

For Hire: One (Experienced) Hay Truck Driver

2 Oct

The summer of my 14th year I was offered a job. As this job did not involve babysitting or vacuuming or pulling weeds in the garden, I was eager to take it on. I do not know why, exactly, I was offered this job. I suppose the people must have been desperate. Either that or extremely optimistic. Either that or they had never met me and just thought that, since they knew and liked my sister, they would know and like me as well.

Boy, were they disappointed.

I was uniquely UNqualified for the job. 1) I could not drive, and the job involved driving large vehicles. 2) I grew up with two sisters and zero brothers and the job involved lots of muscled, sweaty men spitting and hefting things and this intimidated me greatly because I did not understand men, did not know how to talk to them or behave around them, did not have any clue as to how to flirt with them and was far too shy to do so even if I did know how. 3) The job involved patience and focus…and I was easily bored.

But, given the choice of a job – and a paycheck – I said “Yes!” despite the little voice in the back of my head shouting, “RUN AWAY!”

And so my sister picked me up one hot August day – or perhaps it was July – and drove me over to the parking place of Occupational Hazard Number One (hereafter referred to simply as OH NO).

As we parked and got out of her car, I spotted a large, intimidating Hay Truck.

“Um…is that the vehicle I’m going to be driving?” I asked my sister.

“Probably,” she replied. “But it could be that one over there.” She pointed and I saw a mammoth truck looming over the farm yard. It was like The Incredible Hulk…or the Jolly Green Giant, minus the jolly parts.

At OH NO I met Nancy, my optimistic/desperate employer. I don’t think she was overly impressed with me. My sister hung around awhile, and then she drove away, leaving me behind, horribly nervous, and desperately shy of these unknown, sweaty men and the efficient woman who had hired them.

There was one person there whom I knew: my brother-in-law. He was always kind to me, teasing me and telling me to stand up straight. I have never asked him, but I have a feeling that, as he saw me hanging around that day, he had to have known better than to expect big things of his little, wimpy sister-in-law.

We piled into the cab of OH NO. I was smushed between my brother-in-law and a French Canadian guy whom I couldn’t understand and who smoked these appalling-smelling skinny cigarettes. I thought longingly of the babies I could be sitting on to earn my money and wondered how on God’s green earth bodies could smell so badly. And they hadn’t even begun bucking bales yet.

There were more guys riding on the back of the truck. Younger guys. A couple only a year or two older than me. I knew that there were girls who would give their eye teeth to be in my position. I was prepared to give my eye teeth to get out of it.

And then it was my turn at the wheel. My brother-in-law gave me a few pointers and set me free to wreck the havoc that he probably knew I’d be wrecking. They began tossing bales and I began driving V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y. This was in part because I was supposed to drive slowly…but also in part because I had to shift, steer, and otherwise operate a gigantic vehicle when I had never, in my life, operated any kind of vehicle, ever.

It is a funny fact that a field which appears to be flat and level may be, upon closer inspection, very much NOT flat or smooth. If there was a tiny hump in the land, an itsy bitsy depression in the ground, I found it with OH NO. I stalled the truck. I heaved and lurched and abused the truck. And, in my attempts to NOT run over bales along the way, I managed to run over at least three which were lurking in the shadows and then jumped out at me in particularly vulnerable moments.

My view from the truck windshield. Think you could do it? Yes. You probably could.

I couldn’t hear over the sound of the engine, nor could I see in my rear view mirror as it was soon obscured by bales of hay…but I know…I KNOW…that I was being laughed at. Or perhaps cursed.

I was asked to drive two other times that summer. And, being a glutton for punishment, I did so. I think that somehow I thought this was good for me. A learning experience. A chance to broaden my protected and innocent horizons.

What it turned out to be was a chance to realize that I was in no hurry to get my driver’s license if this was what the future held. To accept that babysitting, while NOT my favorite way to spend time, was a way better way to earn a few bucks than this embarrassing gig.

It was also a chance to cultivate my keen sense of smell – to realize that men can be identified by their particular sweat – and to know that, should I ever come across that dreadful-smelling brand of French Canadian cigarettes again, I’ll be immediately transported to a certain hot hay field on Orcas Island where, to my chagrin, I proved my ineptitude as a professional driver.

Several weeks after haying was over, my sister came up to me and handed me an envelope. I eagerly tore it open and found myself staring at a woefully tiny paycheck. Turns out the owner of OH NO took the cost of the run-over hay bales out of my check.

I stared at my pathetic wages and looked up at my sister. “FOURTEEN DOLLARS?” I asked her.

But she didn’t answer. She was too busy trying not to laugh.

I was mad. I thought of the sweaty men, and the nasty cigarettes and the hot, yellow fields under the summer sun. I thought of OH NO, and the grinding gear shifts and the non-power-steering. And then, surprisingly, a little part of me smiled.

I had survived.

And I came out with a great story to tell.

Canning My Own Tomatoes

13 Sep

This is how I can tomatoes: with words. In past years I have canned them with jars. Lovely, shining, wide-mouth Mason jars, topped with golden rings and flowery caps. I have waited in nervous expectation for them to seal, for them to justify my time and energy and sweat. And, almost always, I have been rewarded with a “ping” of success. Ah, sweet music to a canner’s ears.

But not anymore. Well, maybe someday again, but not for now. Nor, I’m sure, for a long time to come. Canning is a HUGE job. No, it’s not difficult, per say, but it’s messy, hot, and sticky…times a thousand. Every surface of my kitchen would need wiping down after I canned tomatoes. And I needed a shower. Badly. Yes, it’s rewarding. Yes, I loved having MY tomatoes on the shelf all winter long, lending the taste of summer to my spaghetti sauce. I LOVED that. But not enough to do it anymore.

Who knew such beauty could come from a lowly whiskey barrel?

For one thing, I’d have to have a garden. Or at least a whole lot more tomatoes than I have now in my four whiskey-barrels. And to have a garden I’d need a fence. And to have a fence I’d need time and energy and commitment to this lifestyle called gardening in order to justify the expense of the fence and the fertilizer (perhaps Rita could give me some cow-poop for free?). But most of all, the sheer loss of writing time while out weeding, watering and harvesting keeps my fingernails clean and my thumb less than green. Yes, I have a lot of excuses.

But seriously, writing – and figuring out this writing life – is captivating/controlling/fulfilling me right now. I cannot do everything…and so gardening is out. If only we had more TIME. Time to clean, play, parent, garden, write, sleep, eat, work, drive, can, read, volunteer, befriend a lonely orphan…the list goes on. Canning is definitely out.

How is it that some people seem to have time to do all of that and then some? I am not one of those people. There are too many books calling to be read. Too many sentences begging to be edited. Too many blogs to check out. This is my life right now, and I’m okay with that.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked canning. Other than the mess. I liked feeling a communion with my mother, my Scottish grandmother. I liked feeling like I was contributing. Liked feeling like a homemaker, a provider. Like I was Ma Ingalls. After all, Walnut Grove is only a couple of hours from here; maybe there’s something in the air in these parts, some tomato-laden scent that calls a person with the voice of those pioneer women, enticing them jar-wards. Just call me Caroline.

Yeah, dream on, Self. I never was more than a one-hit wonder in the canning world. I never canned anything other than tomatoes – oh, and a few kinds of jam, come to think of it. I did write a poem about canned beans once. It was the only poem I wrote that my college poetry professor ever liked. I got into his class because he thought I was related to someone…only I wasn’t. There aren’t a lot of poets out there with the last name of “Wendt” and it turns out that Ingrid Wendt was a known Eugene-area poet of the time. All these English profs and secretaries in the department kept asking me if she was my mother – it was very confusing at first – but turned out to be to my benefit, so thanks, Ingrid, if you ever read this!

Anyway, I’ll see if I can find that poem just for giggles. I know I still have it somewhere in the depths of my box of college memorabilia. I wrote it during Music Appreciation class one afternoon – shhh – don’t tell my kids I wasn’t paying attention to the teacher.

So, yes, sadly, (but to the joy of anti-botulism fans everywhere) the only beans I ever canned were in my poem. And the only tomatoes these days are in words, too. The jam is long gone, the jars mostly broken. But the words remain. Perhaps that’s the best kind of canning, after all.

At least for me.

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