The 'hay days' of my vacation

After the baseball game, the television rascals try to shove a commercial down my throat before I can push the mute button, so the other afternoon I was told that if I'd use e-mail I could have things delivered daily while I was on vacation. I have decided not to worry overmuch about the folks who think up things like e-mail. But I do worry about all the people who think they need their mail while on vacation. It was an earlier scribe, one O.O. McIntyre, who wrote that a woman may live with a writer all her years and never learn that he is working while he's just looking out the window. I doubt if anybody looking out a window ever excused himself to go on a vacation.

My grandfather, an early adviser on affairs in general, told me that when I tired of hoeing in the garden I should take a rest and go over and sit on a rock in the stone wall. But, he said, always pick a sharp rock so you don't sit overlong.

When I was maybe 13 I went in July to visit my grandfather, who then lived alone in the big farmhouse and had cattle and big gardens and devoted that month to putting about a hundred tons of loose hay into his 100-foot barn. I had visited Gramp often, but always on weekends, and this would be my first extended call. I had a wonderful time.

First, my great uncle was home to help his brother hay, and he was a lovable and comical codger it was fun to be with. Then there was Stephen Bondurky, the hired man of the moment who spoke Hungarian and had no teeth, two high school boys who came just in time for dinner and got 50 cents an afternoon and their supper, and Jimmie Norton, who mowed with the machine until the dew dried and raked and bunched when it was time. Jimmie was clever with horses, but that wasn't too important if you took a critical look at my grandfather's elderly Tantrabogus, who was said to be crowding 30 years and didn't have any teeth either. And me, myself.

Hay is made while the sun shines. July does have good weather. A hay day began when Grandfather, coming from the barn with a pail of new milk, kicked on the back door of the house on his way in and shouted, "Time to get up, Johnnie-boy! Time to get up!"

On my smaller visits to Gramp I had baked a cake sometimes, and I had learned to make a good custard pie, which Grampie loved above all else. But that particular summer I did all the haymaker cooking and housekeeping, besides whatever else I could fit in. Haymaking on the old farm had something for everybody. So my day started with making a fire in the wood range, then warming the oatmeal porridge, which had been started the night before. Then the ham and eggs, the corn bread or hot biscuits, and the pie.

July is early for apple pie. So it'd be custard to please Gramp and anything else to please Mr. Bondurky, who was easy to please just so he could eat it with a spoon. In short, I had a full summer day of "right out straight," and after I got the supper dishes washed and a setting-pan of popcorn ready, my time was my own until bedtime. I can't begin to tell you how much good fun I had that haying season!

And then the hay was under cover and the urgency was behind us. I walked two miles to ride home on the steam cars, and my mother greeted me with, "Well, did you have a nice vacation?"

Not long ago the TV show Jeopardy! asked what we folks in Maine call our seasonal visitors. I sat up straight in my comprehensive easy chair at that, because here in Maine we have many words for our summer folks that would be a mite rough for a polite evening game show. Would Alex dare? I think nobody gave the right word, which is all to the good, but it turned out the word was "rusticator," which is incorrect. We use the word, but we know what it means, and it is not a summercater, a "summer complaint," and wash your mouth out.

IN THE old Boston and New England day, the purpose of a college education was rather much the "call" to be a preacher in the Congregational parish and church. And so it was, except that now and then (but not too often) a young man geared along the path of righteousness would prove a bit slow (the usual Maine word is "moderate") and would need some help beyond the academic.

The usual solution was to send him "back into the country," where he would summer on a farm and be an assistant to the settled minister, who coached him in his community and pulpit manners. Such a divinity student was said to be rusticating. Not at all the same as a rich family from away, so to speak, "down for the sum-muh." Vacationists loll about, but a rusticator keeps his nose to the stone.

When his daughter married my son, Bill and I became acquainted by going into the Maine woods together to tent out and fry trout, and get beyond the long arm of the Postal Service. For 30 summers we repeated this lonely sojourn. We found we didn't need our mail every day. That first year I told Bill about Cap'n Potter, who sailed the seas in the old days when it took three months to get to Australia.

Before he up-sailed to start a voyage, he'd go to the junkyard and for 10 cents would get a bundle of old newspapers, which would be his reading matter until he returned. After a couple of days at sea, it didn't matter what day's paper he read. When you're on vacation, what do you want mail for?

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