When I was a kid we'd do just about anything we could to earn a few bucks. Sell sweet corn by the dozen. Sell apples by the bushel. Trap pocket gophers, bring them over to 'ol Ray Beckering and get a quarter for their hind legs (Oh my goodness how gruesome and politically incorrect is that!0. We'd herd cows in the ditches of southwest Minnesota, walk bean fields for the neighbors. You name it, we'd do it or at least try to, to earn a few extra bucks.

But probably what we did most was bale hay.

That was the big one, the real money maker in those hot, humid summer days in southern Minnesota. Sweaty work it was, lifting those square bales (I know, they were rectangles), stacking them on the hay rack. Or maybe up in the hay loft of the barn, bales plopping off the elevator onto the creaky wooden floor, and hay dust filling the air. There was no breeze up there, my friend, no breeze at all. Nothing like hay dust and chaff sticking to your sweaty skin for an afternoon!

But it was worth it, 'cause we could make a buck an hour, a buck and a half for a couple years.

Life was good. Life was real good.

It was at my Uncle Tony's place that I suppose I first realized how much I loved baseball. I mean really loved baseball. I was helping bale hay. Uncle Tony had a little age on his bones by then and was riddled with arthritis, so he was driving the tractor. Bob and I were back on the rack, talking and stacking bales.

There was a game back in those 'long ago' days called 'Strat-O-Matic Baseball'. Oh I know, there's still Strat-O-Matic, but it's all electronic now, played on computers and mobile devices. No, I'm talking about the original card and dice Strat-O-Matic, when the only mobile devices we had was a pencil and a piece of paper to keep statistics.

The game had cards with the names and statistics of all the major league players on them and you culd sit at a card table and actually play an entire baseball game (or as I did, an entire baseball season!). Real games between real teams. Just roll the dice, check the appropriate cards and off you were, onto a major league stadium with the roaring crowd...and never leaving your upstairs bedroom.

Bob had one of those Strat-O-Matic games...and I didn't.

We stacked those bales on that hay rack, Bob and I. Then Uncle Tony drove them back to the barn. Up the elevator they went, and Bob and I would stack them in the hay loft. Aunt Margaret made us dinner (the noon meal was dinner, the evening meal supper, thank you) and all the time we worked, Bob and I talked. And talked. And then talked some more.

I wanted that Strat-O-Matic Game...no I needed it! And Bob had it.

We worked again the next day out there in Uncle Tony's hay field, finishing up that alfalfa and stacking those bales in the barn loft, two days worth. It was hot, it was sticky, it was sweaty...but then it was done.

And that's when it happened. Bob and I struck a deal.

I would give him my check for those two long hot days. And Bob would give me his year old Strat-O-Matic baseball game. Done.

I look back now nearly a half-century later. I remember my Uncle Tony looking at me like I'd lost every marble that was rolling around in my head. Two days baling hay for a game? For a game?? And I do have a regret about that day, that deal.

I regret to say that I really took my older friend Bob that day. I mean, I really took him to the cleaners, so to speak. You see, he got my two days pay...how much? I don't remember, but maybe 2 days at 8 hours each, that would be 16 hours so maybe...$20 or so I suppose. That's what Bob got.

What I got was hours and hours, days and days, weeks and weeks of spending time with Harmon Killebrew and Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, Henry Aaron and Tony Olivia. Hours at Major League Stadiums hearing the crowds roar when the Twins would win in the bottom of the ninth. And all without ever leaving a 2nd floor bedroom in a ramshckle little farm house.

And the memories, warm and still alive and breathing almost 50 years later. Wow.

And all poor Bob got was a lousy twenty bucks or so.

Hey Bob, I really took you that day buddy.


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