It was late afternoon towards the end of August. The entire house was out in the fields for most of the day. The sun was hot and the air was thick. Our job was to gather the hay bales after the mowers cut and bundled the grass. I can’t say this was easy because it wasn’t.
I never did anything like this before. I never saw hay in the rough; and what I mean is I never saw freshly cut hay bales nor did I understand how heavy they could be because the grass was still wet and green. When I think of hay, I think of barns and blocks of tan straw. But that’s not what they look like when they’re fresh.
A group of us followed behind a slow moving truck to toss the bales on the back. There were two men on the truck, stacking the hay, and then reaching down for another bale.
We called it, “Haying.”
I heard about this and heard about the haying seasons prior to my arrival. And I can’t say that I would have liked this when I first arrived on The Farm. I can’t say I would have liked anything when I first arrived because I didn’t.
No, it is safer to say I hated the entire program. I didn’t like the rules. I didn’t like the work. I hated the dish crews and the barn crews and the barn bosses and the cleaning bosses.
I hated the rules and the food and the people and the counselors and the owners and the senior people that had lived on The Farm for too long. I remember thinking, “Oh Jesus Christ, Just go home already!” and “Why are yous till here?”
I couldn’t see why anyone would stay by choice and choose to live on The Farm.
I hated the signs they made me wear around my neck. I hated when they sat me in corners like a small child (perhaps this was because I acted like a small child) and above all, I hated the fact that the program outweighed my will to resist and revel.
They took away my image and punished my behavior. This was a therapeutic community and their will and their strength was more than I could handle.
Eventually, I grew tired of being yelled at and punished. Besides, it wasn’t like I could run away.
In fairness, I could have run though. I could have taken it in the wind and gone off on my own. But the truth is I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I hardly knew how to brush my own teeth and dress myself properly. How would I be able to run away, run from the law, get a job, get a place to live, feed myself and be a grown man?
I was placed on The Farm instead of spending time behind bars. Naturally, I resisted at first. And naturally, or should I say, admittedly, I went along to get along. I faked it. I faked it and I lied to act “As if” but something happened.
Maybe something changed because The Old Man died. Maybe something changed because I felt a sense of family and experienced a feeling of belonging.
I had my own status here. There was no more image or need to prove that I was tough. And I wasn’t tough. I was me, which was tough enough.
I remember the first evening of haying. It was a weekend. I say again, the sun was strong. The fields were beautiful though. I suppose this was something like a farm boy’s life. We walked the fields and gathered hay.
We did most of the gathering in the later hours after the sun began to lose its strength. What I remember most was this vision I have, which I have held sacred for close to 30 years.
We all gathered at the pond down the bottom of the hill near the main house. This was afterwards. I remember the fireflies swarming and circling around with their tiny tails, flashing their little green lanterns.
I remember drinking cold lemonade—or maybe it was iced tea. Whatever we drank, it was nice to feel this way—to feel free—to be happy—to be connected to something without any sort of heavy precedence.
Protocol was placed to the side. There was no rank or sense of authority. There was only the sunset and this feeling in my heart.
I was grateful for the time being. I loved the view of the sunset. I loved the view of the heavens and the sight of the fireflies circling around. Perhaps I did not love everyone on the farm but there were those I loved and I loved them dearly. I still do, in fact.
I made a decision to remember this. I wanted to keep this because it was a moment in time during a crazy transition. This was when I was removed from my life. This was when my Father died. This was when Mom began her never-ending mourning, sadly, always regarding the loss of her husband, my Father, and never recovering.
This was when my Brother went off to begin his life and learn more about his own path. This is when my family’s business began its descent into turmoil and then finally, bankruptcy. This is when I began to be me.
I knew in my heart that the entire world was about to change. I knew my time on The Farm was close to an end. I knew I would return home soon.
I knew that I would go back to life and I would never have what I had then, which was people near me and for me and friends I could speak with by simply rolling over in my bunk bed because we lived in a bunk house.
I want to build a place like this. The farm, I mean. Only my pace will be different. I want to teach kids how to enjoy a simple life. I want to remove the need for ego and image. I want to build a place with no tough guys allowed. No bullying. No depression. No mental illness. You can dance and not be afraid. You can sing as loud as you want. In fact, you can be you as loud as you choose to be.
I want to teach simple classes here. Aside from the necessary ones, like say, math and science and all that jazz; I want to teach simple things like how to make a good sandwich and how to make raspberry lemonade.
I want to teach kids how to shop in a supermarket. I want kids to know how to prepare breakfast for themselves. I want them to learn how to laugh and how to be them without feeling afraid or feeling the need to impress other people. This would be a family here. This would be a place where kids could be kids, I could be me, and you could be you. (The invitation is always open.)
I would have my friend Brian teach a writing and reading class. I would have Brian teach the kids how to dream. He would have a place to stay and a family to live with. So would you by the way.
So would all of you.
I want to build a small community. We would need to be self-sufficient. No religious or political bullying.
I want to create the vision I have and share this with the people that need it most. And it won’t be easy. Neither was haying. Neither was anything I did on The Farm. However, the end result was worth it.
I remember a young man named Cody.
Cody was a young boy that sat through one of my classroom presentations. He was bullied. He was big though. Much taller than me. He was bullied in school.
I gave my presentation and created an emotional uproar. In fairness, this was my first one. Kids were running for the door, crying, and counselors were called in.
This was not because I was scary. This happened because I was honest about my thoughts and feelings and the kids felt the same way too.
I decided I was going to rip the walls off of this room and expose everything. It was more than the kids expected. In fact it was more than I expected.
When Cody and I spoke, I had to have one of the detectives in charge of the program remove Cody from the room. He had to allow him to calm down. Then I dared the room to be as brave as Cody.
A few boys in the back were perhaps the biggest kids in the school. I asked if they would do me a favor.
They all loyally agreed, “For you, I would!”
They protected Cody and befriended him.
I went back months later. I saw Cody in the hallways. He was smiling. He was happy. No one bullied him anymore. No one picked on him EVER.
me in from the hallways to show me his artwork in his art class. He was so
So was I
I want to
build something for kids like Cody.
I want to create something for kids like me
No cell phones. No technology. Just a family and what it means to live in the world.
The Second Family
That’s the name
Someday . . .