Rotten Egg Tag and the Burning Hay Stack

I don’t know why I woke up this morning thinking about rotten eggs, but I did.  Maybe it was this week’s card I made for my Uncle Myrwin, who has been in assisted living for three years, that was covered with old tractors and folks putting up hay.  I always try to make him cards about farming for that is what he has always loved and it is haying season.

Or maybe it was the tornadoes that struck so close to my home farm place last evening. Did you know that sometimes when a tornado gets really close you can smell it.  It smells like sulfur…just like a rotten egg.

Rotten eggs are not uncommon on a farm.  Hens who think they want chicks often make a nest in the hay to hide their eggs and sit on them.  If there is not a rooster present to fertilize them…you get rotten eggs, and they have an awful stench that once exposed too is never forgotten.

While there were many different tests of manhood among the lads on our farm, such as the green apple eating contest, how long you can hold on to the electric fence and the ever popular who can remain standing the longest after taking a jolt from a cattle prod,  rotten egg tag was just for funsies.

Both girls and boys could participate willingly or if you were within range unwillingly. The rules were very similar to the age old classic abusive game of dodge ball, only instead of balls the goal was to hit your opponents with rotten eggs. There were extra points for getting egg in someones hair or mouth. Once the eggs were gone, the game was over and everyone had to rinse off at the well before going near adults or a homestead.

However, I think what reminded me of rotten eggs this morning was one of the pictures in my uncle’s card.  You do not see stacked hay bales in mounds this large, high or up to 1/2 mile long anymore, but they were very common in Minnesota when I was young.

hay bales

These monolith’s of forage were so very beautiful.  The golden haystacks stood like large buildings against an otherwise wooded and hilly landscape. They were local monuments built to acknowledge the hard work of farmers and the abundance of our blessings.

The biggest hay stacks in our neighborhood belonged to Mr. Johnson the owner of a large herd of black Angus cattle.  Yes, this is the same cattle herd whose pasture I had to cross as a five-year-old every morning and evening to get to first grade in our one-room country school. They were big black sleek beautiful animals and it took a lot of hay to keep them fat and sassy over a long Minnesota winter.

The time of the last of the big haystacks was also a time when political parties were trying to get farmers to join unions.  Being an independent lot to begin with, this was a hard sell. Soon, political agitators on behalf of unionization had folks so stirred up and divided that neighbor was pit against neighbor. Tempers flared, righteous indignation spread and soon waving at neighbors became a selective activity instead of the universal one it had always been.

This war of words ended one night, when someone set fire to Mr. Johnson’s large haystack.  I can still remember seeing the sinister dance of the large angry flames against the night sky and the firefighters from town and neighbors scurrying around the great inferno trying to save Mr. Johnson’s winter cattle feed.  The hay was lost, but our community was saved.

A strange thing happened as everyone worked together to put out that flaming hay, the neighborhood once again came together and I don’t remember hearing anymore about the “rotten eggs” that had stirred up such a fuss among neighbors and friends.  I just remember that people seemed to like one another again and that made it pretty nice for us kids……just saying.

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