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Any Help at All Would Have Been Better Than the Help I Have Got

By Jan Andrews
If you are going to have horses and live on a farm, you are going to be harvesting hay. Putting away hay is a thankless job. It is hot, heavy, repetitive work. The hay scratches and, every now and then, a real treat comes your way when you get a bale containing a chopped-up snake in it.
And that’s just the ground work. When you graduate up to the haymow, multiply your discomfort and degree of difficulty level on the ground by 10 and then add 50 degrees.
The goal of any harvest on a farm, including hay, is to get it in the barn as quickly and with as little cost as possible. And, as is the case with many farm families, this means all hands on deck, no matter your age, gender or generation.
Three generations of a proud farm family, we were busy putting in some second cutting hay in early August a few years ago.   I am 30 years younger than my dad, so at the time of this particular harvest, I was 40. My mom is just three years younger than my dad, so she was 67 and the third pair of helping hands was my daughter, Abigail, who was just nine.  We only had four loads to mow, so we thought there would be no problem putting this away ourselves rather quickly and easily. Those words would come back to haunt us.
We were on the third of four loads when everything came to a grinding halt. My mom yells “Turn it off! Quick, unplug the elevator! The belt slipped!”
Abigail hurries over and pulls the plug on the elevator, which slowly rumbles to a stop. From the mow, we hear my dad yelling out the question inquiring minds, especially his, wants to know:  “Why did you stop? We can’t possibly be done with this load?”
We yelled back that no, we aren’t done, but the elevator seems to be. My dad descends from the hay mow, grumbling all the way.  The conveyor belt can be seen hanging limply from the elevator and by the pained expression on my dad’s face, the prognosis doesn’t look good.
My dad, still quite agile for his 70 years, clambers up the elevator to assess the situation.
“Hand me a wrench,” he growls. We do.
“Hand me those pliers,” he barks. Like three operating room nurses assisting a surgeon, we dutifully comply, but nothing seems to be working.
Suddenly, I see our neighbor pull into his yard, and I yell to my dad that Gary is home. Perhaps he can help.
And with a sense of biting sarcasm and comedic timing that only my dad possesses, he replies, “any help at all would be better than the help I have got.”
His remark was met with dead silence and my mom, Abbie and I just looking at each other in amazement, mouths agape.
Suddenly realizing the unfortunate choice of words that came of his mouth, he stares down sheepishly from the elevator at us, his trio of hard-working farm hands, as a look of dread comes over his face.
My mom and I continue to look at each other, both of us doing a slow boil but not saying a word.  I turn and walk over to ask Gary for help, but saw he was already heading our way after noticing that the elevator was at a standstill while a load of hay still lay on the ground.
This ugly incident fortunately ended well, as Gary and my dad were eventually able to fix the elevator and we finished putting the hay away before the rain.
Showing remarkable constraint under these circumstances, none of us took issue with my dad’s lame attempt at being witty, nor did we walk off the job in protest for the lack of appreciation he showed for the sincere effort we were putting forth on his behalf.
Taking the high road, we just looked at each other and took a deep cleansing breath, secure in the knowledge that this wasn’t over yet.  Not by a long shot.
In the days since, we have never let him forget what he said to us that hot August day, and occasionally  we’ll turn the tables and use those very same words against him.
We’ve learned that instead of reacting to his words in the heat of the moment, it is now a whole lot more fun to wait until he asks if we need help, and then we simply reply, in chorus,  “any help at all would be better than the help I have got.”

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arw225@cornell.edu

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