Continued from Married with Horses: All's Well that Ends Well
"Did you call about getting more hay?" Kimberly asked me just after the alarm went off.
"Even better," I responded. "I'm supposed to go look at some hay today. If it's good, I'll go ahead and pick some up. The farm's only a few miles from us."
I actually enjoy hay shopping. I get to visit new, hay-fragrant barns and meet farmers who are usually very passionate about their crops. Also, it's exciting because you don't know if you'll find what you need. By "exciting" I mean "stressful." The last few years haven't given farmers the great harvests that used to ensure plenty of high-quality hay for everyone. Now we horse owners have to exhaust every contact and call in every favor owed us to find enough good hay.
Dale, the farmer from whom we buy our bales of orchard grass didn't have voicemail and hadn't answered his phone in weeks. The horses could probably make it through the winter with what we had, but Kimberly and I hate cutting it close. We didn't want to wait any longer for Dale to answer his phone only to hear him say, "I'm out of hay." When I recently drove past an unfamiliar farmer harvesting hay, I stopped to introduce myself and ask about orchard grass, which he had. The farmer, Jerry, and I exchanged numbers and agreed to meet. Naturally, Jerry was very passionate about his orchard grass. When I left, I felt like I knew each bale personally.
I also felt strange, like Kimberly and I were cheating on Dale. But what had he done for us lately? It was really his fault anyway! Face-to-face, Dale promised future cuttings and assured us our farm was a priority for him, but now he wouldn't take our calls. Who did he think he was? We didn't need to be treated like this!
I was feeling pretty good as I pulled out of the driveway and headed toward Jerry's farm and a new batch of orchard grass. After a few miles and a couple of familiar turns, I arrived. I was a few minutes early, and Jerry's gate was closed. I looked around at the nearby homes and fields. I should have known from looking at the directions that Jerry's farm was directly next door to Dale's. Jerry said he was harvesting nearby and would meet me on the road in front of his barn. A truck pulled up beside me. I was relieved that Jerry was on time.
"Jeremy?" said a familiar voice. "I thought I recognized your truck. What are you doing here?"
It wasn't Jerry, but Dale. This was very awkward, and I wanted to hide.
"Oh, Dale... hey, um... I was just on the phone," I managed, smiling weakly. "You know, it's not safe to drive and talk... so... yep. Here I am."
"Well," said Dale, "since you're here, do you want to come over and see some of the new orchard grass? I saved the best stuff for you. You know you're my favorite customer!"
"Dale," I began, "I mean, well... things have changed. You haven't answered my calls in weeks."
"I was busy," Dale said. "It was nothing personal. Look, we've known each other for years. I'm sure we can work through this. What do you say?"
Just then my phone rang. It was Jerry. His truck wouldn't start, and he needed me to come pick him up where they were harvesting.
"Who was that?" Dale asked.
"Just a friend," I responded. "Um, I've got something in the oven. I should probably go. I'll call you, OK?"
I drove off before Dale had a chance to ask any more questions. I soon pulled up to Jerry's harvest site, and he hopped in the truck.
"Hey," Jerry began. "I sure appreciate you giving my hay a chance. It's the best around. I don't even spray it for weeds. It's just great hay grown with rain, sun and a little T-L-C."
"Great," I said, still stressed by the exchange with Dale. "Let's just do this."
"Oh," Jerry said. "I see how it is. I'll just cut the small talk then."
"That's not what I meant." I said. "Look... some farmers... they say they'll have hay but then won't answer their phones. I've got a farm to run, you know. What I'm trying to say is buying hay isn't easy."
"Why didn't you just say that?" Jerry said. "We can make it easy--how about 40 bales or so at 6 bucks apiece? You can see if your horses like it."
"OK," I said.
We pulled into his driveway, and Jerry hopped out to open the gate. He worked a bit with the lock and the chain before swinging it open.
"Oh, so that's how it is," said Dale, now standing beside the truck. I don't even know where he came from.
Jerry climbed back into the truck and looked at Dale.
"Dale," he said.
"Jerry," replied Dale. "Well, I guess that's how it is then."
"So it was you," Jerry said, pointing a finger at him. "You ought to have learned your lesson, Dale. You can't just treat a customer any which way and expect him to stick around. You can't just play with them like that."
"Is that how you feel?" Dale asked, looking at me.
"You never answered your phone, and I needed hay," I replied. "What was I supposed to do?"
"I'm sorry," Dale offered. "I didn't have any hay, and I didn't know how to tell you. I thought you'd hate me for it."
"I thought you said you had some orchard grass?" I asked.
"I lied," Dale replied.
I put the truck into gear. "Come on, Jerry," I said. "Let's go get that hay."
"WAIT!" Dale shouted. I put my foot on the brake. "It was wrong," he said. "But I knew why you were at Jerry's, and I just couldn't stand it. I was angry with myself for not being honest with you. Let me fix it--I'll even help you load up Jerry's hay on your truck."
"No," I said. "You don't need to do that. I mean, it's... not, well... you know... it's OK. Everything's OK. We're cool."
"Look, guys," said Jerry. "I don't want to get in the middle. I don't usually have orchard grass and when I do, I don't have that much. You two still need each other."
"What do you say, buddy?" Dale asked me.
I sat for a moment. "I guess," I responded. "But only if you help us load the hay."
"You bet!" Dale exclaimed, jumping in back. He slapped the side of the truck. "Let's go load some hay, boys!"
Loading the hay took no time at all. When we finished Dale hopped over the fence to his farm, and Jerry's wife came to pick him up.
"Jerry, we got to go!" she shouted. "I know you don't care, but we've got to be at Margaret's for dinner in 20 minutes." She shot me an angry glance. "I'll bet your wife is waitin' on you, too! I swear you men ain't got no feelings at all!"
Jerry sat quietly in the passenger seat as his wife gunned the truck back to the road.
I drove more carefully back to our house. After all, we had stacked 45 bales in the truck, and I didn't want to lose a one of them. After stacking the bales in our hay barn, I headed inside to wash up. I was covered in hay and dust and, frankly, the day so far had about worn me out. I stood at the kitchen sink, washing my hands, arms and face with cold water. I was thinking what a relief it was that things had worked out and we had some more hay.
"Jeremy," Kimberly said. "I was talking to you. Did you hear what I said?"
"No," I responded. "Sorry."
"I asked how the hay pick-up went."
"Good," I said. "Good."
"Oh," Kimberly said. "If you ever see Dale, you need to tell him if he doesn't start answering his phone he's going to lose his best customers."
"I'll go beat him up right now."
"That's not what I meant," Kimberly said. "Maybe you could not be such a guy and try just talking to him."
"Great idea," I said. "What would I do without you?"
"You'd probably just go around grunting and beating people up."
"You're probably right," I responded. "I guess you women have us men figured out."
"Yes, we do," Kimberly said.
I grunted. She laughed. I grunted again and put my arms around her.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.
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