Vacation time

Farm Forum

Summertime is the traditional season for family vacations, an activity wherein you spend so much time with the ones you love that you can’t stand them anymore.

The term “staycation” has come into vogue lately, a word used to describe staying at home during a vacation. With eight kids and a dairy farm to operate, our parents were masters of the staycation. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Mom and Dad actually invented the art of staycationing.

For example, every summer when the weather was at its hottest, we would bale hay and heft it into the hayloft of our barn. As we shuffled across the haymow, the itchy bales jostling against our legs, the air would become befogged with hay dust. The temperature in the haymow soared to the melting point of lead.

Dad would eventually call for a break and we would clamber down from the haymow and sit in the shade of the barn. A water jug would be passed around, the ice cubes clunking as we each took a long, hard swig. Ironically, the hottest day of the year thus elicited the worst frozen food headaches.

If we were lucky we might be visited by a breeze. This was much appreciated as we had sweat so much that our skin had pruned. Dad would then gaze at the farmstead, take a deep breath and say, “Wow, isn’t this nice?”

A deep whiff would bring to the nose the smell of fragrant hogs, the bouquet of fresh hay and the perfume of cow poop. Looking at the farmyard only reminded us that when we were done stacking hay we next had to carry water and feed to the hogs and the steers. And then milk our cows in that stifling barn.

After a few minutes Dad would announce, “Well, vacation’s over!” and we would resume our Herculean hayloft labors.

I grew up and became a dairy farmer, holding firm to the belief that “vacation” meant simply resting a short spell. I was disabused of that notion shortly after I got married.

My wife, who had grown up in town, believed that vacationing involved traveling. She reinforced her argument by pointing out that the “vaca” part meant “vacating the premises.” She didn’t buy my theory that it was short for “staring vacantly.”

“But if we vacation at home, I’ll be able to keep tabs on the cows,” I reasoned. “And we could help the hired man with chores and maybe throw some bales.”

That logic went over like a skunk at a Ladies’ Aid luncheon. So when our kids became old enough, I was forced to go on an actual Disney World family vacation. Sadly, all of our cows had to stay home.

Disney World, I quickly learned, is chockfull of wondrous family-oriented wonders. It’s also a place where you must pay beaucoup bucks to stand in line to experience said wonders.

“What’s the holdup?” I asked as we waited in a line that stretched to the horizon. “Let’s get things moving! I knew I should have brought my electric stock prod!”

Our boys began to whine that they were hungry. “We should think about getting something to eat,” said my wife.

I glanced at my watch. “Yeah, it’s about feeding time. I hope the hired man remembers that you sometimes have to smack that one doohickey on the feeder wagon to make it go.”

A nearby child began to squall, probably because he realized he had been in line so long that he had missed both Christmas and Easter. His mother tried to shush him, but that only caused him to cry louder.

“That kid is naughty,” observed our oldest son.

“Which reminds me,” I said, “I hope the hired man remembers how ornery that black cow can be. I warned him, but she can be a real widow-maker!”

“I’m hot!” said our youngest boy as the tropical sun roasted us like cookies on a humongous baking sheet.

“I hear you,” I commiserated. “And that makes me wonder if I told the hired guy to keep track of which cows, um, get to feeling lonely for a bull.”

As the line crept forward, we passed an attraction that was closed for repairs. Which was fine, since this meant one less thing to stand in line for.

The malfunctioning ride brought something to mind. “I hope the hired guy remembers what I told him about that balky compressor,” I said. “Sometimes you have to kick it and spit on it to get it started!”

My wife had had enough. “Next vacation you should just stay at home with your stupid cows!”

“Hey!” I replied, stung to the quick. “Some of those bossies are petty darn smart!”

If you’d like to contact Jerry to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can e-mail him at: