Hay Fever


Some aromas permeate our childhood memories like vanilla in cookie dough or yeast in cinnamon buns. They come to mind as surely and sweetly as secrets sisters share growing up. For me, one of those fragrances is the scent of freshly mowed hay in the fall—the last cutting of the year. Call me a hayseed if you’d like, but from an early age I’ve had the best kind of hay fever.

I grew up on a non-working farm in East Tennessee, meaning that farming wasn’t how our family earned our living. But we lived in a big white farmhouse with a screened-in porch that was surrounded by pastures. We also had a large red barn and a couple of horses, and throughout the years of my childhood owned an assortment of dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits, pigs and one notorious goat named Billy (of course). Billy had to quickly find another home after he ate 12 blossoms off my mother’s prized geranium one Sunday while we were at church!

Even as a tiny girl I remember “hay-cutting day” as a time of excitement in our home. My two sisters and I would hear the big combine lumbering down the two-lane road toward our house before we saw it, but we already knew it was time for the hay to be mowed because of the aromas emanating from the kitchen.

My grandmother lived with us, and on hay-cutting day she took it upon herself to cook a big pot of pinto beans for the workmen to have for lunch—along with cornbread baked in a cast-iron skillet. Once a whiff of those two dishes cooking at the same time wafted upstairs, even the sleepiest heads woke up early on a Saturday morning so as not to miss Granny’s home cooking.

Even now on road trips I never fail to notice baled hay in pastures we pass. The bales we watched roll out of the hay-baler in my childhood were the traditional, rectangular box shape—easy to store in the barn for feeding the horses over the winter. But my favorites now are the big circular bales like the ones above that I photographed on our family property in Tennessee last month. I even spied some in Tuscany when we were there a few years ago. Much to my husband’s amusement, I often want to photograph hay bales. No other sculpture speaks to me the same way.

My sister-in-law Mary, since deceased, was an excellent horsewoman and the only person I’ve ever known who was a hay connoisseur. If we were stuck behind a truck full of hay on the highway I might be frustrated wondering how to get around it, but Mary would be assessing the quality of the hay on the truck and whether she would feed it to the horses in her care.

So now seeing hay reminds me of a cherished sister-in-law as well as my childhood home in Tennessee. No wonder I have hay fever.

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  1. Sues Hess says:

    Nancy – what a rich heritage we share – beginning our lives on farms. Unfortunately my allergies cause me to run the opposite direction when grass or hay is cut. But I still love the sight of the finished product – the hay bales sitting in the field or barn, waiting to nourish cherished animals. It reminds me of a simpler life, a simpler time. Thanks for taking me briefly down that lane of memories with this post. Blessings, Sues

  2. Betty Van Liere says:

    Enjoyed the ride down memory lane, Nancy, but hay bales never held any attraction for me. Sorry. That’s all they were:, hay bales. I’ll look at them differently now. Smiles.

  3. I share your memories…my grandmother lived on a farm with cattle. i loved it and learned to drive on a stick shift tractor…hauling hay bales. I never got out of “let up on the clutch EASY, EASY EASY” to keep from losing the bales in the trailer!!

  4. You revived so many “haying” memories at my uncles’ farms for me, Nancy! In our large extended family, only one cousin had an allergy–and his “hay fever” really revved up during these times.
    Like you, I loved the smell. My aunt did, too, and even as very young children, my cousins and I would trail after her in the early mornings like a line of ducklings, hiking down to the pond, singing songs and traipsing over the stubble.
    Poor Billy. I hope he went to a good home that had some stray geraniums he could munch on!

    • Ha! Thanks for sharing your memories, Marylin. I can feel that stubble on bare feet now! Yes, not sure where Billy ended up. But that was the last straw for him, so to speak!

  5. Sally Shafer says:

    Wow! Does this bring back memories of the best kind! We didn’t live on a farm but we grew a large garden. We lived in Texas at this time. The fall found us freezing peaches, freezing corn, canning green beans, and making jelly. After all the ears of corn was off the stalks we would cut all the stalks to burn. We would play with them before they were burned. We would make forts & houses – depending on who was around. My brothers always used them as a fort and we girls would use them as a house. So much fun!

    My Dad and Mom both have the farming backgrounds. They both lived in Missouri and we would go back sometimes in the fall. Your writing brought all those wonderful memories back to me. Thanks!!

  6. alice scott-ferguson says:

    For me too, hay holds happy olfactory memories; as ever, you never fail to make the mundane exotic, dear Nancy!

  7. Jan Keller says:

    I too photograph baled hay, but perhaps my increasing appreciation comes from having to buy the multi-ton rolls of golden goodness. This year we’re so grateful feed is available much closer to home than it was during/after the drought of 2012! 🙂 Great column my friend!

  8. Thanks, Jan! You may remember it as an oldie but goodie updated! I forgot I know another hay connoisseur–YOU!

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