Growing up, family time often meant work. Hard, sweaty, nasty work. Whether it was mowing the fields and yards in the summer or chopping wood in the winter, we always had something to do on our small ranch.
The most laborious work of all was hay hauling. A day of hay hauling would actually come after two to four days of cutting and rolling the hay on our open-cab tractors. Basically, that means you are sunburned, dehydrated, and sore before you get to the real work.
The hay hauling itself required every member of the family and anyone else crazy enough to join us. Mom would drive the truck and trailer, Dad and Grandpa would toss the square bales up to me and one brother to stack tightly for transportation, and the other brother would drag stray bales to where they could be picked up.
After the trailer was loaded, we would pull it home, back it into the hay barn, and unload the trailer to stack it on the final hay stack. It was nice at this point to not be under the beating sun, but the barn had almost no airflow so the dust just hung in the air.
It was hot and gross. I always finished the day thinking I had inhaled more hay than I had stacked. Oh, and this process happened about three to four times every summer depending on the weather.
So why? Why on earth would a family put themselves through this torture? The easy answer is that we had a ranch. Lots of horses, rabbits, chickens, pigs, and cows needed that hay for food and bedding in the winter months. But, there is a deeper answer: life lessons.
My parents wanted my brothers and me to grow up on a farm doing grueling work together as a family. They wanted us to practice collaboration so that we knew we could rely on each other no matter how sucky the job was. Over the years on that farm, we saw how our hard work paid off by how efficiently things worked, how fat the animals were through the winter, and how warm our house felt each night. Even when a tornado blew so much away my junior year of high school, we knew everything would be just fine because we would get to have more family time.