Alan Mather

Chief, Office of College and Career Success, Chicago Public Schools

Growing up in rural southern Indiana, I did not have a rich diversity of job opportunities; there were, however, quite a few farms. Even though my father was a small-town Methodist minister, I did not grow up on a farm, but had the opportunity to work on many.

My first real job was throwing hay the summer after seventh grade.

Generally, hay was cut and baled in late July or August. After the hay baler went through the fields, people had to pick the bales up, take them to a barn, and stack them in the hayloft.

We would usually show up to the farm at about 5 pm. It was too hot to do the work during the day, so we would work well into the evening. The farmer's family would have dinner waiting for us. We always ate well, generally eating food that was raised on the farm. Afterwards, we would head out to a tractor that was pulling two empty flatbeds.

We would hop on the flatbeds, and the tractor would pull us out into the fields. From there, one person would be on the flatbed to stack the hay bales that the rest of us would throw on. The first three rows would hold three bales across, the next two rows would take two bales, and the final row would take one to help ensure that the bales would not fall off on the ride back.

We always had to watch for snakes that were caught in the hay. Balers often caught them up, and if they weren't dead they were angry.

Then all the workers would climb up on the top of the bales for the ride back to the barn. When we got back, two people were responsible to be in the hayloft, two would throw the bales down to the elevator (it looked more like a people-mover) going down to the hayloft, and one person would stay down at the bottom to ensure that the hay bales hit their mark.

No one wanted to be in the loft because it was always so hot and dusty. As soon as the bales dropped off, we would have to stack them to the rafters to ensure that the farmers had enough hay for feed for the winter.

Generally, this would repeat itself until two or three in the morning, when we would head back to the farmhouse, take off our clothes, and jump in the pond to wash off the dust and scum. Then we would eat a little bit more and head for home.