This article was first published in The Star on September 8th 2000.
When I was on a visit to the family farm in South Antrim where I grew up, I decided to take a stroll around the fields.
The big hill, the back field, the upper field, the wee green, the wee hill and the sand fields -- we retraced the footsteps of my childhood.
The scene depressed me. A mini-forest covers a significant area of land where I sweated tying sheaves, turning swathes, spreading manure manually, and pulling thistles.
Only sheep graze where the various crops were planted, tended and harvested. Not a living soul to be seen, and not a bit of crack (= fun), the whole vista one of monotonous faded green.
I left the sand field to the last, I just did so instinctively, for it is a field of sad memories, memories of harvest time just before the war.
An August (1934) day with fine weather and six acres of corn stooks to be carted in to the haggard, four sheaves to a stook, called 'militia men', arranged in serried rows.
I saw again part of the field cleared, and a tree-pronged pitchfork impaled in the ground at the end of the last row.
I remembered the gusto with which the pitcher had driven it deep into the soil at quitting time, a tired man with a cheer on his lips who was determined to call it a day.
We had been a team of three that day, two older brothers and myself, a teenager --Tom, the eldest, driving the horse in the ruck-shifter and building the loads, and John, the principal pitcher.
It was Saturday evening. Quitting time was six o'clock, and it was that time when we all got back to the farmyard. The date was August 25.
Strange how every detail has remained imprinted in memory, yet not one bit strange.
It was Wednesday 29 before work was resumed, and by Wednesday our team was down to two, and I had become the only pitcher.
I well remember how I lacked the strength, or was it the will, to pull up the three-pronged fork.
Instead, like the fork, I stood rooted to the ground quite overcome. Tom had to get down off the ruck-shifter to console me. John had made big headlines in the week-end papers, for road fatalities were mercifully rare in the 30's.
A passenger in a car driven by an under age driver, a Sunday outing -- a head-on collision on a vertical bend at Loughbrickland, a ruptured spleen, and death within a few hours.
'Young man of 21 killed in road accident' was how the morning papers heralded it.
Often I am asked 'Did you ever get over it?' My answer is 'No'.
The awful fact is that such fatalities are now almost commonplace occurrences, but the heartbreak is just the same, and some drivers will never learn that speed kills -- until it is too late!
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