DH and I had a nice time overnight in the Berkshires, though after two weeks of travel and a red-eye flight DH was so tired he wasn’t sure he could stay awake for the headmasters’ dinner. Still, it was fun to spend a bit of time with him away from the usual routines.
We got home in time for evening barn chores. I was just pulling on my coveralls when my cell phone rang. It was Rick, my hay man. Rick had been supposed to come with a delivery two weeks ago. Once again I had emailed and telephoned in vain, finally running out of hay and having to borrow four bales from the school just to squeak by. I had emailed him that this was the end. Now he was calling to let me know his trailer was loaded and he was on his way. Would I be there to unload in the dusk?
I was speechless. But my options were few. So much for dinner plans. Lucy could cook a simple supper for herself and DH, and I would wait for Rick.
After finishing chores I climbed up the ladder and lay on the bare floor of the empty hayloft. The barn kittens pushed their blunt heads into the neck of my jacket and rolled ecstatically on my chest, purring. I could hear the cows below, pulling at their hay and munching. The occasional lamb bleated. The wind outside blew spitting snow and rattled the doors but we were cozy.
Then Rick was there, his bluff and blustering self. “I was gonna be here at one o’clock,” he said, setting out a lantern. “Guess I’m late, huh?”
One o’clock? I knew nothing of this. What about the last two weeks? But I’ve learned it really does no good to remonstrate with Rick.
Rick threw bales up into the loft while I stacked, and we talked, as usual. I always enjoy drawing the men out about their lives.
Rick, who is a year older than I am, spoke of growing up in a tar-paper shack with a dirt floor and no running water. “My daddy didn’t put in plumbin’ ’til I was seventeen, and by then I was married and gone.”
We talked about his animals and his regular trips to livestock auctions. Rick has a revolving door of cattle, goats, sheep, and pigs. “I loved that steer, just loved to rub his head. Such a friendly bastard. Brought me sixty-five cents a pound.” He is proud of his good care of his animals but doesn’t believe in molly-coddling. “Anything wrong, I try penicillin. If that don’t work, I try prayin’. If that don’t work, they die and I bury ’em.”
We talked about fuel prices. Rick is a fuel delivery man in real life. He is sure prices are going up. He blames the stock market. “Hay’s gonna be more expensive this year,” he warned me.
“I know it. I hope at least we don’t have rain. That was one good thing about last year, after two rotten summers we finally had nice haying weather.”
“Yep. Last summer was a busy time. I was hayin’ all day and drivin’ all night. I drank an 18-pack of beer every day.”
“You drank an 18-pack of beer and you drove all night?”
“Sure. That was nothin’. In the old days, me and Jim Beam was good friends. Back then I drank a half-gallon of Jim Beam a day, easy. Now I just drink a little beer when we’re hayin’.”
“Well, Rick,” I said weakly, “I’m glad you started taking better care of yourself.”
“Sure. Well, in those days I was bad.”
“Bad? How were you bad?”
“Oh, in those days I’d have been hitting on you the minute I met you.”
“Hitting on me? Oh, Rick — nobody hits on me. I’m like everyone’s wacky sister.”
“Yep. But remember, I’m from Altona!” He gave me a wolfish grin in the dusk. “And in Altona, we say, We’re related? Snap off the lights!”
By 7:45 PM the hay was unloaded and Rick was waving goodbye as he drove up the driveway.