Farm chores interfered with the radio program
Growing up as a boy on the farm can present some difficult and exasperating situations. Troubling and exasperating can take the form of not being able to do something you want to do; at least not when you want.
For farming families with cows and horses, “hay” occupied much of the summer. During those years (late 1940s and early 1950s), I enjoyed listening to my radio shows. It was before people had television, but we had radio, and it was great. I was a big fan of Lone Ranger and Tonto, Superman, The Green Hornet, The Great Gildersleeve, Inner Sanctum and others. The sounds on Inner Sanctum might lift the hair on the back of your neck, leaving you almost too scared to go to bed, scared to hear a creaking door slowly opening somewhere in the dark! Radio was really something back then!
I also really liked the Sky King show. Sky King was a pilot. He often performed heroic rescue flights. Or, he was crossing the sky in his trusty plane, arriving just in time to catch the crooks or solve a desperate crisis. The problem was, unlike my other favorite shows, Sky King was on the radio at 4 p.m., and when we were “in the hay” 4am was roughly when dad thought we should. return to hay for the last hay load of the day.
So one day it was four o’clock, and Sky King was coming in, and it was time to head back to the hayfield for that last load of hay. I was in a not very happy mood at 10, given the situation. Sky King would probably be having his greatest adventure by then, the sun was scorching hot, the inside of my straw hat was sweaty, my eyes were stinging with salty sweat, the stickers on my socks were itching my ankles, my shirt was itching leaves of hay. Obviously, when you miss the Sky King show, all your discomforts are doubly worse.
I was on top of the growing hay load, leading the horses, fixing the load, and “tricking” the hay. We never baled hay back then; we always let go. So the trampling was important so that your hay did not slip off the cart on the way to the barn. Anyway, as I complained about my miseries, I noticed that my father, who was using a pitchfork to lift the hay onto the cart, was whistling. Whistling! Now I wasn’t whistling! But dad was whistling. In fact, in our Ozark language, words like whistlin ‘did not have a “g” at the end. We didn’t say the “t” either, so it was “whiss-lin”. It was only in textbooks that hissing was called whistling.
So I asked daddy, “How can you be a ‘whisslin’ when we’re so hot and so tired!” ? hay for the cows! ”That’s all he said. He went back to pitching hay and whistling. Well, I wasn’t in the mood to think about getting a new perspective on things that afternoon, but somehow my dad whistles in the hay has stayed with me ever since.
I think dad wasn’t just farming to make money. He enjoyed farming, raising cattle and running a dairy farm. That day, as I focused on an hour of missing the Sky King show, he saw a bigger picture.
He saw that last load of quality alfalfa hay stored for the winter, feeling the satisfaction of putting the crop in perfect condition and having a good year with the cattle and all of us well cared for. Dad never spoke much about the philosophies of patient work, the desire to expect lasting satisfactions, to make the most of the opportune moments, etc. And he didn’t scold me that day for my impatience. He just forked that beautiful alfalfa hay onto the cart and hissed as he worked.
Editor’s Note: This column was originally published on February 13, 2008. Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge and award-winning columnist, was vice-president of the Pea Ridge Historical Society.