What does this dusty golden harvest season mean to you?
Does it mean stocking up on a variety of powerful anti-allergy medications?
Or maybe it means avoiding your responsibilities as much as possible in order to concentrate on personally witnessing the leaves majestically morph into a blaze of autumn colours.
Or perhaps it inspires a Sunday drive into the countryside to secretly wonder what those humongous combine machine things are really doing out there beside manufacturing dust.
For me? Fall always makes me think of my uncle’s farm.
(Cue magical FLASHBACK harp music…)
When I stumbled into the barn that morning all sleepy-eyed and bed-headed, my crazy cousin Rusty couldn’t help but see me. Me standing there yawning. And he got me right in the face.
I’d been staying at my cousins’ farm for a week or so every summer since I started Grade 1, and already in Grade 4, it had become my favourite part of summer holidays. I considered myself a farm veteran.
So I should have known better.
That particular morning, I had “slept in.” If I had’ve been home in town, “slept in” would have meant I would be reading a comic book at the kitchen table, half-way through a bowl of Alpha-Bits at about 10:30 or so.
On Uncle Wilf’s farm “sleeping in” meant missing seeing the sun coming up after breakfast.
The rooster had long since crowed — and yes, roosters really do crow at dawn. Which is one of the many bonuses of being on the farm, especially for a kid who, just a year or two earlier, couldn’t tell the difference between a rooster and a roto-tiller.
My next mistake was going into the barn without first sneaking a look to see if my teenaged cousin Rusty was in there. Because Rusty was known in our family as the craziest of all cousins. And I had more than a few. Crazy cousins that is. Seven in Uncle Wilf’s family alone.
After all, I was eight years old before I found out that Rusty’s real name was Larry. Every second cousin on the farm seemed to have names that weren’t really their names. “Smokey” was David. “Guya” was Terry.
And for some reason, I had several honourary farm names. My oldest cousin, who curiously only went by “Jimmy” when his name actually was Jimmy, always called me “Steamer.”
Danny, the quiet one, made me feel at home without ever saying much at all.
And Rusty had taken to calling me “Hoe-handle.” Every time I would show up, he would say, “Well here comes Hoe-handle Hay from over the straw!”
No wonder I loved it there.
But my worst mistake that morning was not being awake enough to check for Rusty skulking about, and I yawned. And instantly got a mouthful.
Rusty was two cows down from the big open door, quite a distance really, but he had a clear shot.
He was sitting on a small stool on the far side of the back end of the cow, milking a huge black and white Holstein.
You see, way back in those simpler farm days of home-made ice cream and tractors without air conditioning and GPS navigation systems — before milking machines — all the cows were hand-milked. Which involved a tricky technique that required a rare dexterity and skill similar to rubbing your head and patting your stomach at the same time.
Rusty was armed with a cow with a full udder, and with his impeccable left-right-left-right rhythm and powerful hand-squeeze technique, he could hit just about anything within a range of three cow-lengths.
So before you could say “Milk anyone?” Rusty redirected a mighty SQUIRT directly at my yawning chops. He couldn’t have been more deadly with a $30 pump-action water pistol Super Soaker from Toys R Us. Neither of which had yet to be invented.
Like a white laser beam, a jet of thick sticky warm actual real cow’s milk clothes-lined through the air — ker-splat right into my face.
I reeled and spit and sputtered, Rusty roaring with laughter and me stumbling blindly out to the cattle drinking trough that ran along the outside of the barn.
The projectile milk was stinging my eyes and making me sticky and I hated being sticky, and I was completely mortified that I would actually swallow some actual thick sticky warm real cow’s milk. Like it was poison or something.
You learn all kinds of things on the farm. You learn that actual real cow’s milk not only doesn’t kill you, but actually turns out to be good for you, and actually doesn’t taste that bad, all things considered.
But I wasn’t about to stop and think about all that just right then, because I had just plunged my face violently into the ice cold trough water, right beside several cows who had gathered to have a drink.
But of course I couldn’t see them on account of the thick sticky warm actual real cow’s milk in my eyes, and if I had’ve seen them, I probably would have realized that actual cow’s milk in my eyes might possibly be better than trough water that cows were currently spitting in beside me.
Plunging your sticky face into ice cold bovine trough water is a little like sticking your head into a wall plug, if you could stick your head in a wall plug. It was a zapping instant electricity-type shock to the cranium, sort of like a Slurpee brain-freeze only way worse.
I wrenched my head out of the trough with the gasping jolt of a kid peeing on an electric fence, briefly wondering if my entire head was as bright blue as it felt.
But being on the farm, I’d sorta gotten used to stuff like this.
So I spit and sputtered again, wiped my frozen face on my sleeves and ever so carefully poked my icy head back into the barn to sneak a quick look.
Without missing a beat, or wasting a second, Rusty had gone right back to milking — the squirt squirt squirt echoing from the metal pail, filling the old wooden barn with the delicious sounds of farming.
Rusty had a huge grin on his face; and when I looked really really close, I’m absolutely sure that big old Holstein cow did, too.
Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.