Summer on the farm in my youth involved making hay. Lots and lots of hay. To city folks, that might sound delightful, pleasantly Arcadian, perhaps vaguely erotic, but I am telling you. It was plain hard work.
The whole family pitched in, each with their appointed task; first cutting down the green, maiden grass, then raking and turning it toward the sun, transforming the upright crop into brittle filigree. Then binding it up with twine, forming it into square bales, transferring it to lofty red wagons, driving it steeply up to the mow, unloading the wagon-full onto an ‘elevator’ and stacking it neatly into a fragrant, checkerboard mountain. Eventually during the freezing winter months, it would be thrown down into the barn below, and broken up to nourish dairy cows whose liquid treasure ultimately quenched the thirsty throats of many Ontario citizens.
Haymaking was a great adventure, a noble calling, essential to our survival to store the harvest safely in the barn before the rain, and also extremely dangerous. Once, I got knocked out by a hay bale thrown in the wrong direction, and on another occasion my sister lost her trousers to a haymaking machine. Many a mouse, baby rabbit, frog, snake or other small dweller-of-the-field ended their life preserved and packed up in a bundle of alfalfa.
Moreover, this dramatic, brow-wiping, backbreaking, muscle-pulling, pants-ripping, bale-stacking scene was played out in sweltering humidity, in dusty air thick with particulate and organic fluff. And the work was repetitive. Over and over the same thing you would do. Again and again the throwing of the bales. And there’s where it became religious. Those trance-inducing, brain-numbing actions freed the mind to wander, to wonder – perchance to dream. What certainly kept me going, besides my Mother’s lemonade, was my Father’s promise, that at the end of the day, we could go to Stratford.
Stratford! That magical mantra sustained me through the steam and strain of hard hay labour. At the end of the day we’d wash up, exchange our work clothes for our best-dressed, drive to Stratford and see a play! A play that would transport us from the dairy barn to the battle fields of medieval France, the streets of Verona, the ghettos of Venice, princely courts and prisons, courtrooms and castles, ballrooms, bedchambers, palaces, secret gardens and a poetic paradise; our pitch forks exchanged for kingly scepters, our gum boots for dancing shoes.
You Stratford actors were to us like gods. It seemed as if briefly, your bright lights shone just for us – for us who had just emerged, blinking from the darkened haymow in our overalls, into a shining, perfect world, and for a fleeting moment you transported our weary limbs from hard farm reality to the fairy world of the stage.
Rest in peace, Brian Bedford. You were the genius of Stratford in our hay day. We will remember you forever. Requiescat in pace.