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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Things to say and things better left unsaid

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Published on 31 May 2021

It was a sky-blue bicycle with the then-popular “banana” seat, and it had lots of pink frills, obviously a girl’s bike. It showed up under the Christmas tree one year, and our 6- or 7-year-old daughter was over the moon with delight.

Next came the impatient wait for snow to go away and the mud to dry out so the bike could be tried out. She already knew how to ride. Holding off on the bicycle until better weather (like her birthday)wouldn’t have helped because that was in February.

I got home one day – a day that was still daylight outside – and found the new bike parked by the front steps with mud so thick surrounding both wheels that they couldn’t turn.

I went inside and spied the owner of the bike. “Whose little girl took her brand shiny new bike out and covered it with mud?” I asked. The little blonde, blue-eyed girl burst into tears and ran to her room. My wife took hold of me and removed me to our room, saving me from having the other kids hear her tell me “how the bear went over the mountain.”

She said, “She [our daughter] walked out to the gravel roadway and thought she could ride there. Getting to the uphill end of the road so she could start by riding downhill, she stayed off the road as she’d been taught so a passing car didn’t sneak up on her. Doing so, the bike got in some mud, and it stuck so bad all she could do was drag it home. She was in tears when she got here. I told her that when her daddy got home he’d help her clean the mud off and wait for a better day.”

But the damage was done. A dozen years ago, I mentioned it to the daughter to try again to express how badly I’d felt. She claimed to not remember the incident. I do. And over 40 years later, I still feel the heartache of seeing her running from me in tears.

Life is full of light-hearted bantering among friends, family and co-workers – as it should be. Just be aware: Some things that another seems to join in laughing about are actually painful.

Merrill Warnick of Pleasant Grove, Utah, was kind enough to pull me aside one day after a church meeting and kindly mention to me that I needed to tone down teasing my wife because he could see in her eyes it was painful to her. He spoke softly and kindly, and I didn’t argue with him.

I didn’t say anything to my wife about this conversation until many years later. I must have made an adequate adjustment, since it’s pushing 53 years she’s been by my side.

I see light banter among co-workers as a big plus in the workplace. When there’s an upset, like an obvious mistake and that pregnant silence that follows, to have someone pop off with “Your first day?” said in a joking tone of voice (followed by some chuckles as the whole crew scrambles to help the errant one, who is now smiling), the comment breaks the silence and life now moves on.

There will be times when someone just can’t let a simple novice mistake be a learning experience and move on. That’s when a hand on a shoulder and the words “just ignore that jerk. I was here when he started, and on his first day he couldn’t even operate an eating fork” are appropriate.

A boss of any sort who would jump into such a situation with a public dressing-down of the one making the mistake will usually only make himself/herself seen by all as the north end of a southbound horse. Praise in public, but reprimand in private.

Families, teams and workplace crews all need each member to be an asset to the group. After a smart-aleck quip to break the ice after an upset, it is the actions of the others that determine the outcome more than any words spoken.

It’s kinda helpful to know something about those we work with before we get too loose with the bantering. There are those among us who are just barely able to function around other people.

On occasion, I run my mouth and get something right. Shortly after our marriage, a toothpaste discussion came up. My wife didn’t like the paste style I had been using. I couldn’t stand the gel she favored. The discussion became intense, and I noticed she was nearly at the point of tears. I pulled her into my arms for a long hug and whispered into her ear, “Honey, you can have your very own tube of toothpaste of whatever kind you like.”  end mark

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