Snakes for Grandma

While looking out my back window, my mind drifts back to childhood summers on the farm. Summer meant hay season. Hot days spent watching Grandpa drive the tractor around each field to mow, rake, dry, and bale the grass. Then we joined in the fun. We got to collect, stack, move, and store all those bales into the barn loft.

We used a large wooden wagon and Grandpa’s pickup truck to haul the bales. One person rode in the back to stack the bales. Two or more people walked alongside to pick up and toss the bales up to the stacker. One person drove.

The driver had a monotonous but important job. They navigated around the field at a walking pace that allowed the loaders time to grab and toss the bales easily. The stacker had to carefully interlock the bales for stability and maximize the load capacity. Stops and starts had to remain smooth in order to minimize the shifts in the load. Jerky starts could cause the load to cascade down over the stacker and cause a delay as the stacker reconstructed things.

We boys were always on the lookout for anything that would add entertainment to the work. Loaders would time their bale toss to hit the stacker just as they were hoisting a bale up high. Hit the stacker in the legs just right and at the right time, you could make him fall and have their bale land on top of him. It was hilarious fun!

One of the best diversions were snakes. In all the years of haying, we never found a poisonous one. In fact, most we found were dead. We often found them embedded in the bales themselves where they had been scooped up by the mechanical baler and killed in the process. If we found one, we knew exactly where to take it, to Grandma.

Grandma hated snakes. Alive or dead did not matter. She often drove the pickup truck. She applied years of experience deftly using the clutch and lowest gears to keep the truck crawling smoothly through the field. If Grandma drove, the stacker had a stable platform for their work.

Brother found a dead snake in a bale. It was mostly intact with its head hanging by a shred of skin where the baler blade had almost cleanly severed it. He suppressed his excitement with difficulty. He carefully removed the small body from the bale and cupped it in his hands as he ran towards the truck. He approached from a blind spot avoiding direct line of sight and the truck’s mirrors. He matched the vehicle’s walking speed and crouched below the open driver’s window. A quick jump up and a casual toss and the carcass floated inside and landed on Grandma’s leg right where her shorts stopped above the knee.

The truck lurched in tandem with Grandma’s screaming. It sputtered, lurched again, and stalled. The stacker fell in the back and the load shifted ominously. Grandma was still screaming as the door whipped open and she jumped out of the now stalled truck. She ran several steps away and stopped with a shudder and dramatic stomping of her feet just to be sure the snake was off her skin.

She looked around at the laughing grandsons and launched into an angry series of sentences nobody heard. Their message was clear, she was frightened and angry. Don’t do it again!

After a few moments, the scene subsided and we resumed our work. We remained ever alert for another opportunity to inject fun in our days.

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