Every summer when I was growing up, my parents would take us out to visit my maternal grandmother on the family farm that has been in our hands since 1881. Our next-door neighbor was a fellow named Mr. Taliferro, which, for reasons I cannot understand, was pronounced, “Tolliver.” He had a son who my brothers and I would play with. I remember being very impressed by Mr. Taliferro. He was very tall and slender, but very strong. In hay hauling season, I was amazed at how easily he could stack the bales for hours on end. About forty years later, it occurs to me that, since he did not own, but rented, the small farm, he was enduring a very hard way to make a living.
One day, we heard that he needed some help in harvesting the hay on a piece of land close by, and the Mitchell brothers volunteered to help. (For people who never had the experience of hauling hay: The hay is cut by a machine and arranged into furrows. After drying for a couple days, the farmer comes along with a baling machine and the bales come out and you need to ready with hay hooks to stack them on a wagon following behind the baler.) I don’t remember the exact years, but I think that even my eldest brother was barely into his teens. Mr. Taliferro very politely mentioned that if we found the going to be too hard, he could just unhook the wagon and let the bales stay on the ground for future collection. Most readers do not appreciate how heavy those hay bales are and exactly how hot it can get in the mid-day sun in eastern Kansas. I honestly don’t think Mr. Taliferro fully appreciated the effect his words had on us. I believe he was expressing concern for the well-being of his neighbor’s young ‘uns. What we heard him saying was more like a taunt: “I’ll bet you city boys can’t hack it!”
“Not hardly,” we thought. “We’ll show him.”
That day, the four Mitchell boys worked like dervishes. We were boys, but we did men’s work that day. At the end of the day, every hay bale was stacked. The Mitchell brothers were completely exhausted and so thoroughly dirty that we all had to take a dip in the farm pond before we could even think about taking a shower. The next day, Mr. Taliferro paid us a visit and offered to pay us a full day’s wages. I’m not sure, but I think he might have been a little choked up. We waved him off and wouldn’t hear of accepting his money.
I hear Mr. Taliferro has long since gone to his reward. Some people get teary-eyed over the demise of the family farm, but it can be a very tough way to make a living. Everything you buy, you buy retail. Everything you sell, you sell wholesale and you pay the shipping both ways. My mind reels at the thought of the amount of backbreaking work Mr. Taliferro did, year after year after year. But one glorious summer day, he really lucked out when four city boys decided to help him out free of charge.