What Do You Expect?

I have been waiting for a hay delivery for ten days. Since my old hay supplier, Joe, retired, I’ve bought hay from a man my own age. Rick has proved to be less than dependable. Over and over he has not shown up when promised. The stormy weather recently has not helped (you can’t move hay tied in an open truck when it’s snowing or raining, as it will be ruined).

Finally the weather cleared. Rick emailed me that he would come with my hay Monday. No show. I borrowed bales of hay from the school to tide me over. Tuesday — no show. Sorry, Rick emailed apologetically, he’d be here Wednesday. On Wednesday I’d already made plans to be on the road. When I got home exhausted from a hard day of travel, long after nightfall, I climbed up into the dark hayloft (no lights), and groped around for hay. Nothing. I felt the top of my head ready to lift off with rage. That night at bedtime I was clambering around the school’s hayloft to borrow more bales to feed my animals. I wanted to fire Rick, but I didn’t have the luxury of giving into fury. I needed that hay. I’ll be there Thursday at 3 PM, Rick emailed. Sorry.

I fumed. I wanted to call up Joe, Allen, and Leon, the great three in their seventies who — alone out of all the people I’ve hired in ten years — never once let me down and failed to show up (Joe and Allen usually arrived early). I’d throw them a dinner party!

I controlled myself with an effort. I had a conflicting appointment yesterday for 3 o’clock but changed it. I am volunteering as a student mentor and was supposed to meet with a boy from school to discuss his behavior. I decided we’d hold our discussion while stacking hay bales.

You know where this is going, don’t you? The boy and I waited for an hour and a half. No hay.

By this time I was stunned. This level of unreliability was so over the top, I couldn’t even begin to think what to do. As darkness fell I went home and cooked Lucy’s supper. I was just loading the dishwasher after dinner when my cell phone rang. It was Rick.

“I’m a mile away. Ready to unload?”

I was flabbergasted. It was pitch dark. I have no lights in my hayloft. But of course I needed that hay. I left Lucy doing her homework and drove down to the farm.

Rick was full of bluster and excuses, which I ignored politely. I was silent as I set to work prying staples out of my ceiling to free a lead cord and a drop light. I carried the light up the ladder into the hayloft and set a nail to hang it in the rafters. The light from a single bulb was dim and threw strange shadows. But at least we could see.

Rick climbed up after me. In the dark he hadn’t been able to pull his trailer very close to the door of the hayloft. The gap to the top of the loaded hay was about five feet. Rick glanced down at the driveway far below. He is my height but burly and weighed down in coveralls.

“Take the time, pull the trailer closer,” I said. “That’s too far to jump.”

Rick dove headfirst into the darkness.

“Holy smokes!” I cried.

He scrabbled in the hay and sat up. “I knew you was dependin’ on me.”

It took us an hour and a half to unload the hay in the dark. In general I find it impossible to stay angry with anyone and this was no exception. I always draw the men out about their lives and families. Rick brought me up to date on his former wife, his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s mother and daughter, his grandchildren, his co-workers… filling in the details on a large and extremely colorful cast of characters.

At one point, heaving bales up to me, Rick mentioned his former wife going after him with a knife. The blade had missed him and sunk into the trim around a door.

“My goodness!” I said weakly. “My life seems very unexciting next to yours.”

“Well, what do you expect?” Rick said cheerfully. “We’re from Altona.”

As I drove home under the stars I reflected that so much that I’ve learned in this farming venture has been … unexpected.

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