“What the hell? That damn tractor of yours is circling around!” He jumped off the rack to rescue the steering, because we were heading almost south again. He ripped the tarp strap off the wheel and half of it went flying as it tore. Stepping up onto the tractor deck, he wrenched the wheel around until we were going north again. “This no-good machine has a mind of its own. Why I oughta take it out behind the barn and strap it to an ant hill.” He had to wade back through the wave of heifers to get back onto the hay rack. I was still rolling my eyes over the derogatory comments about my tractor.
Continuing to pitch hay while he pushed his way back through the heifers, “You girls get back. For Christ’s sake, get back-go eat.” They did not obey his command, but got even more rowdy circling around the rack. He stayed on the ground now, using the pitch fork to make more piles of hay on the ground, hoping they would calm down and go to eating.
Stalking back to the tractor to correct the steering, he jerked the clutch and sent me flying into the cascading round bale. Covered in hay now, I continued to pitch and tried to hide my laugh in the long handle of the pitch fork. Climbing back onto the rack, we got back into the rhythm: he pitched east and I pitched west. Until his east became more south and he glared at my tractor.
“I’ll get it. You just pitch hay.” I jumped off and corrected the tractor. The bale was almost unloaded now and I kept on the deck between Robert and my tractor. The rack was empty and he set down his fork and leaned against the wooden rail on the back. He was smiling now at the antics of the heifers who continued to follow us, leaving the piles of hay behind. I shook my head and pulled my jacket tighter, patting the hood of my tractor.
I heard his whistle at the same time that it registered we’d left the gate down and all the heifers were still with us. I stopped, but they went right on past me at a full run toward the pick-up. Robert had leapt off the rack and was running, cowboy boots churning up dust, for the pick-up. Reaching the driver’s door, he froze looking from the pick-up, to the heifers, to the gate, to me.
I continued the game of tag, turning my tractor back to the west. Sure enough, those heifers came barreling back towards me. I saw Robert’s pick-up spin around and in a cloud of dust, he beat it back to the gate. Pulling the pick-up up onto the road, he got out and picked up the wire gate and waved his arm at me to come on.
I brought the tractor slowly, but the heifers came along with me. They raced me to the gate. Robert stood with the gate post in one hand, frantically waving the other to shoo them back. He jumped back and forth keeping the heifers from following me and barely managed to hook the post and shut the gate after I drove rack through and up onto the road.
For their part, the heifers stood in a bunch at the gate, their baby faces staring at him. He put his hands on his hips, looking back at them for a minute and then got back in the pick-up to follow me back down the road to the barn. My last thought was, “Let’s do that again!”