FARM LIFE FROM A FARM WIFE: Have to hand it to unspoken language on the farm

Kay Reminger

For years, I’ve been following my husband’s direction. When I say that, I literally physically mean it. He uses hand signals. Quite often, we correspond without words. That doesn’t mean we don’t correspond with words. Oh, many times words are used, especially when hand signals don’t necessarily cut the mustard.

Back in the day, I spent much of my time outdoors during harvest season in the tractor cab handling the chopping and baling duties. He’d be running full loads back up to our farm, unload and come back again. One day, he gave me spoken orders letting me know which field to chop. This was during the late summer when we were not only chopping moist hay for the silo but also had a field laying for dry-hay baling.

“Chop the field next to the house.” Important side note: fields were on either side of the house.

Down the road I went, tractor pulling the chopper pulling the wagon. Making a wide turn into the field I thought I was supposed to chop, I set my chopper head down, shifted to low three and began following the row.

The thought crossed my mind, “Gee, this hay seems to be kinda dry to chop.” Talking myself right out of that notion, I kept going. I wish I’d have listened to myself.

Presently, my husband came down with a tractor hauling an empty wagon to switch out with my full one. As I saw him come down, a corner of my eye caught a wild hand motion in a fashion which created a very pronounced “oh oh” moment deep in my gut.

I was on the wrong field. The wrong field. Merrily chopping the field not intended for moist silage hay but for dry baled hay. No wonder it seemed dry. His hand signal was quite loudly telling me without uttering a single word: “You’re on the wrong field.”

Years later, my tractor days have since been retired and I find myself sitting in our skidder, again dependent on hand signals. These days we are making wood, finding ourselves behind the eight ball, so to speak, with not a surplus of ready wood on hand, a travesty to this man of mine who on all accounts, is a provider. This is what he does. He provides. This year, he had a notion to enhance our early spring sap production by stringing sap lines in our woods this winter, detracting him from our main wintertime focus, which is adding to our pile of wood.

We have a good buddy in the tree-felling business who brings us huge chunks of wood, which my husband sawed into smaller huge chunks of wood — still too big to manhandle up to the wood splitter, even if it was in the upright position.

So my job was to scoop the hunks onto the bucket of the skidder and bringing them up to him, he’d roll them onto the arm of the splitter. Splitting them into bite-sized pieces, he threw them back into my waiting upraised bucket. After filling the bucket, I’d haul them to our wood stove.

During the process of driving up, splitting, filling and driving back, numerous hand signals were used: Come forward. Go sideways. Curl bucket down. Stop. The skid steer has an uncanny ability to crawl forward as it idles so as soon as he motions stop, I put the brake on (sometimes not as quickly as he’d like which initiates yet another more adamant hand signal). Waiting until he fills the bucket with split wood hunks, I drive it over to our wood stove, dumping it as closely as I can without disturbing the already stacked wood.

I can’t help him split as the bucket is raised so high the door won’t open. I’m stuck. Rather boring. So I bring my phone, and of course, then I’m not watching intently which constitutes an impatient, “Hey!” I considered sticking my current read in my jacket but that would be a worse distraction than my phone.

My thoughts wander a bit and perhaps ponder what to have for supper. Watching the cows watch us takes up some time. Pretty soon I hear “Hey!” my daydream jarred and off I go carting our bounty. It’s an exciting life.

Once in a while, I misread his hand signal, and then, to get his attention I lay on the horn. Very annoyingly successful. From his end this produces a loud, exasperatingly spoken “What?” It’s a party out there.

Much later, relaxing after supper in our toasty wood-warmed farmhouse I unexpectedly hear, “You’re a good little skid steer driver.”

Lovely words and not one hand signal needed.

(“Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken at the proper time.” Proverbs 25:11)

Kay Reminger was born and raised on a dairy farm, and she married her high school sweetheart, who happened to farm for a living in Leopolis. Writing for quite a few years, she remains focused on the blessings of living the ups and downs of rural life from a farm wife’s perspective.