By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
WRITER’S NOTE: Longtime readers, I hope, will forgive my resurrecting a story first related in this space more than a decade ago. In the wake of a recent stroke that has knocked my dad down a notch, it seems a good time to tell it again.
Daddy counted the costs of fertilizer, fuel, vet bills, repair bills and a hundred other things required to raise cattle, but he didn’t include the cost of labor. He considered work as natural as breathing, and my brother, Dennis, and I knew he expected the same from us, once we were big enough to reach the tractor’s clutch and brake at the same time.
The biggest job of the year was putting up hay. Each year the mowing, conditioning, raking, baling, hauling and stacking lost their novelty after a couple of weeks, and the effort became a battle to endure the drudgery. Sometimes Daddy would try to “motivate” my brother, Dennis, and me by recounting the times he’d twice, with the help of one other person, hauled and stacked 500 bales of hay in a day’s time.
I grew to hate that story. When I was 20, I had come home from a summer job in Colorado out of guilt that Daddy was compelled to make hay alone after he’d already put in a day’s work at his town job.
Soon we were making hay faster than we could haul it in. One day when there was no dew, I finished other chores and started in the farthest-away hayfield before 8 a.m. for a “long haul” day.
My cousins Jesse and David – both 9 – took turns driving the tractor so I could stand on the low-framed wagon, hook bales and stack them. I would drive the load to the barn – my only chance to sit – then back it up the barn ramp and stack all the bales in the loft while the boys played.
Hour after hour we repeated the pattern. Daddy took over the field driving when he got home, but the loading and stacking was all mine.
The dew was scant again, so we hauled a couple more loads even after dark. Around 9 o’clock, I tossed the last bale into place at the top of the barn. The final count was 567.
I’d bested Daddy’s two-man achievement by myself.
Understandably, I was gratified by my performance.
Then, unexpectedly, I felt vulnerable.
My whole life, I’d been able to count on Daddy’s being stronger. If circumstances ever got too hard or too dangerous, I knew he’d be there to protect and provide and straighten things out. Yet now, I’d just proved stronger than he, even in his prime.
The lesson took a while to occur to me, but it’s the same now as three decades ago: Time may take its toll on Daddy – and on me – but for those who love God, there’s always a Father who’s infinitely stronger.
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.