Making Hay With The Ball Team, 1947

By Serena K. “Miss Violet” Dandridge (1876-1954)


Serena K. Dandridge, also called "Miss Violet" was with her cousin, Nina Mitchell, one of the most beloved people to have ever lived in Shepherdstown. Stories still abound of their generosity and eccentricities. They lived in Rosebrake, on the edge of Shepherdstown, maintained by material wealth from a family with deep, beneficent roots in Flushing, New York.  Ms. Dandridge, the daughter of Caroline "Danske" Dandridge and Adam Stephen Dandridge, painted in water color with one of her paintings once purchased by the Louvre's Jeu de Paume in Paris.  She, with Jake Monroe, milked cows daily for many years, delivering free milk to about fifty families of modest means.  She had her own Sunday school classes for a group of African-American children. She wore jodphers and herded sheep that were each named after a President. She wrote an essay entitled “Sheep I Have Known.” Environmentalists savor the true story from the 1930s of Ms. Dandridge's fight to protect cedars. Leon Washington, alive today, kept the household running amid the busy lives of "Miss Nina" and "Miss Violet."- ED.    


“Making hay is intensely exciting.  I have a reproduction of John Stuart Currey's painting, ‘The Line Storm,’ the original of which hangs in the Corcoran Art Gallery.  It shows the terribly heavy tall hangs of hay, so easy to topple over, coming in across the hills to the far away barn.  All the haymakers are perched on top for dear life.  The puny looking horses, that seem so small compared to that fearful mass and weight, actually trying to gallop, with the great storm and its lightning almost over them, and coming fast.  It hangs on the wall here in my cabin, and thrills me, for I have been through what it expresses so often.


“This year of many spring rains to see that abounding crop of alfalfa that must be dealt with, is one of the exciting adventures of my life.  Where I had tried so long, and often so futilely to keep the sheep from eating it, the growth is more solid and free from weeds than where they did not pasture it so much.


“The horses, beloved wild things, are old nineteen-years at least, still untamed, with glorious working spirit, and beautiful in the proud way they throw their strong legs and arch their necks.


“The Deering mower is of an uncertain age, more than double that of the horses.  It was left here by the tall, young tenant who raised Mack and May, and it had belonged to his father many years before he used it.  I hope Mr. Deering realizes, wherever, he may be, what a wonderful implement the ‘old Deering’ is.  It is much easier on the horse's necks than the new McCormick I have in Shepherdstown, but the beautiful stuff I have to cut is tall and thick, with ‘dog fennel’ in it as high as the horse's backs.


“Thirty-five acres of this first cutting of alfalfa, here and at home, getting taller by the day, can only be called an adventure weighted with excitement.


“The old shepherd is a fine mower, but his eyes are dim, so the job devolves on me.  He hitches up the horses, after we catch them, appealing, often in vain, to their better natures to come in and submit to the harnesses.  He ‘opens the field’ and starts me off.  I oil that Deering as, I venture to say, a mower has seldom been oiled before.  After every round of the great field the horses expect me to stop and oil knife and pitment rod and gears while they rest and sample the crop.  They always stop at the same corner, where I keep my grease can, moving it up as the swathes fall and the hours go by.  Our work is very much enlivened by ground hog holes in which the horses have a reasonable objection to stepping.  Of course the holes are hidden by the growing hay, and they are a never failing subject of conversation between mower and horses.  The intelligent animals understand every word I say.  We avoid the ground hog holes together, leaving strips of unmowed hay at each.


“It is difficult to describe the beauty of the purple blooming alfalfa, with its daisies and tall flowering weeds, as it goes down so irreversibly before the knife.  The orderly rows are behind me and to my left.  At the right and in front, the beauty stretches, ready to fall, drink up the sun's light and heat, and take on its use as food for horses and sheep.


“Such a variety of colored alfalfa I never saw before.  The flowers range from pale lavender, almost white, through all shades of purple, to rich dark crimson.  The swallows, three kinds this year, skim around my head and the horse's heads and the mower, and are a part of haymaking.  They seem to take an interest in it, and add to the pleasure.  Also it is too cool as yet for pine files and hardheads from the woods, in fact, it is quite cool and breezy in the sun.



“This year my helpers were part of the Shepherdstown colored baseball team, only once defeated so far, they told me, and then it took the Washington War Hawks to beat them.


“While driving up in the morning, all seven of us packed in the car, we commented on what a fine-sounding team of haymakers we were.


“Shortstop and second base were represented by the Holmes brothers, Cunnie and Bunnie.  Probably Oliver Wendall, and not the Chief Justice, or more likely, one of their grandfathers has the honor of having them named for him.


“Third base and center field were well covered by two Washingtons, home-run hitters, both.  Jake Monroe, one of their best pitchers, was responsible for bringing his friends.


“And I congratulated William Strother and myself - I suppose we are the managers - on our F.F.V. (First Families of Virginia – ED) - sounding names.


“The team spirit was strong, and the fragrant hay, unspoiled by a drop of rain, is piling up and filling the great mow in the hay barracks beside the sheep house.


“One day, when the sun was too much for the old gentleman, and I made him rest in the cool cabin. The younger set were ambitious, and put on too heavy a load.  It is painfully exciting watching a load go in, but I was getting accustomed to it.  Three were on top.  I had just complimented second base and center field on what good loading they had been doing before I noticed that the hay was too heavy in front at the right.  The rest of us followed behind in the car, watching it ride.


“The whole wooden rim of the old front wheel must have broken out and come off before they made the turn to cross the little bridge over the fish-pond spillway.  That is where the great load crashed, burying the riders.



Jake tells me that he went down between the horses under their hind hooves.  The car was too far away for us to speak the assuring word that makes the wild horses stand like a rock in an emergency.  The wagon was suddenly free, the terrible strain gone.  No hand was on the reins.  Terror settled down on Mack and May.  They began to trot, and then to run at a wild gallop with the great twenty-foot wagon and ladders bounding after them.  Over the hills, where we had so often chased them, obeying the impulse to be free from this fear, this uncertainty.  Never in all their long lives had the dear things run off before.  Now they were going, and nothing could stop them.  Soon the wagon was on the tongue and the front wheels, but around and around, over the hills they raced.  I walked up in the center of their great orbit, calling to them and trying to quiet them.  Soon, to my comfort, Jake showed up, shouldering the burden, like the man he is.


"’They'll stop pretty soon,’ he said, ‘when they get tired,’ and he cut across to the far fence, and headed them off.


“Sure enough, when they saw him, their driver and friend, they stopped and let him lead them back to the mountain of hay that covered the bridge.  It was to have been the last load that night.  William came out, and we comforted the trembling, soaking horses.  We took the harness off them, and went home, per force, by the south road to the farm that crosses the Opequon at Sulphur Springs Bridge, as the hay blocked the bridge over the marshy run.


“On the way home our kind neighbor, who is ‘putting out corn’ in my Saw Mill bottoms, suggested that we use his truck to get in the rest of the hay.  And the next day we made six loads with the ancient sturdy vehicles snorting, dripping, smoking, steaming, but hauling hay with all its might.


“Now blessed I felt to have my players, snowed under, as you might say, and covered up with hay, and almost defeated, but rallying magnificently in the ninth inning, and going on to victory. A plucky team. 


“But what shall I say of the horses!  The well beloved, trebly dear.  Hurt and grieved at their failure after such effort after trying so more than hard to do the work of the farm.  Unsatisfactorily!  Breaking up the wagon!  Now May pulls the hayfork alone, while I horse-rake the field with Mack, and they do not pull in the load, but that snorting thing we have does.  How they stared at it!  And as I left yesterday Mack hung his head and drooped in a way that hurt my heart.  Today he ate corn from my hand, a thing he has seldom done before.


“Do our failures draw us nearer to those we love?”