We were able to get used to the nice weather. In the last few weeks, even the most conservative men have found themselves in shorts, t-shirts and baseball caps. Reverend fellows whose ankles haven’t seen the light of day since the Egg and Spoon Races of 1966 exposed them to the proverbial world and their proverbial mother.
his are the times that make memories, they give us the stuff to remember sunny summers, ice cream, chip carts and staying out all evening, sometimes playing until midnight. There was a time when red soda would have been part of the drinking regimen, but maybe not anymore.
We tend to idealize “a long time ago” and remember things as if the whole world happened on a sun-drenched John Hinde postcard, but that’s only part of the truth. I certainly remember sunny days in the meadow when men made their handkerchiefs into headgear and tied knots in the four corners to anchor the squares of cloth on their heads and protect their bald spots from the blazing sun.
Looking back on those times from the mechanized perspective of 21st century agriculture, three things stand out; first, the fact that more than one man would work in a meadow, second, that these men would stand beneath the elements, and third, that they all wore handkerchiefs.
Much has changed. Hardly anyone sets foot on a meadow these days, the work is done from the air-conditioned heights of a two-story tractor. It’s safe to say that on the modern farm, all silage and hay saved is left untouched by human hands.
Aside from Jacob Rees-Mogg and Francis Brennan, few handkerchiefs sport this particular accessory.
Continuing in a fashion vein, in the past, any man over the age of 12 who showed up in a meadow in shorts would have been viewed with deep suspicion. It took a very hot day for the older men to strip from jackets to waistcoats to shirt sleeves.
You knew the pressure was real when the suspenders slipped off their shoulders and hung down their thighs. A piece of twine was used as a substitute to ensure the shapeless pants didn’t slide down under gravity and reveal the condition of the long johns. Were we happier then, was life sweeter? If so, we didn’t realize it at the time, and that’s not much good. Looking back is not a cure for existential angst.
I feel like this world is in flux, constantly striving for improvement and eager to move to another level. I cannot say that I felt those days in the meadow as part of a way of life that had its own undeniable and timeless rhythm.
Each year there was something different, a different pulse to the beat – it could be a newer mower that beats the hay more efficiently, or a mechanical tedder that eased the tedious task of turning the damp green sod with a pitchfork.
The arrival of the square baler changed everything. It ended the centuries-old tradition of making “windows,” or haycocks. Related skills and practices also disappeared, such as making ‘súgáns’ – ropes made of twisted hay used to tie the ‘winch’.
Then there was the “butt dragging,” which involved going around the bottom of the wind on your hands and knees and pulling out a foot-deep circle of hay so that the mound wasn’t lying flat on the ground, but seemed to be resting on some sort of pedestal . It helped keep the moisture from rising.
Our farm and that of our neighbors lay on the approach path to Shannon Airport, and planes making their final approach roared overhead as if mocking our field-bound work. Looking up, we longed for the glamor and excitement of the life and lifestyle these machines represented.
Our parents might not have wanted all of that for us, but they certainly wanted us to have the skills and ability to try. Nothing about this life and lifestyle was timeless, there was a constant striving for the not-yet, for something different just around the corner.
The recent hot weather reminded me of those days and opened the photo album I carry around in my head.
Among its grainy content are snaps of yellow meadows, red David Browns, and men in makeshift white skullcaps bending over pitchforks while teens gaze longingly at the underside of a rumbling jumbo jet.
My own three will follow that rumble, into the world of London publishing, into the hallowed halls of our learned friends, and into dreams of a life in the light of musical theatre. You are freed from all the old rhythms.
At her age, I was being trained to be an old man in a seminary.
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/comment/winding-our-way-out-of-the-sugans-of-memory-straining-for-something-beyond-41914588.html Jim O’Brien: We wriggle out of the súgáns of memory and seek something beyond