Cora restaurants are hiring, be part of the team!
June 23, 2024

My handsome cousin

In Gaspésie, hay was baled at the end of June or early July. The year I was 7, I helped Grandpa Frédéric gather the cut hay. Haying season marked the start of summer vacation for me.

Grandpa directed the operations. The morning of the harvest, the field was split between the different workers, and cousin George was always the first one to start. I’d been posted near the massive barrow to gather up the hay that fell onto the ground and put it back in to be baled. One of the workers would come along, grab the bale and throw it high atop a large wagon. Holding a heavy wooden rake with missing teeth in my small hands, I slowly followed the moving convoy. The repetitive labour was lightened by the sight of cousin George from afar, who made my young heart swirl like a twig carried away by strong winds.

Each year, Grandpa made sure to have enough manpower on hand to get the job done on time. Once the hay was cut and dried, he needed two men to rake, one to load the barrow, a third to bale the hay and a fourth to drive the tractor. Fortunately, the harvest was enough to sustain a single large family.

Cousin George had rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and his pale torso, visible under the thin fabric of his tank top, rippled in the sun. His long arms swung rhythmically, his broad hands holding a scythe, his hair was covered in golden flecks of hay and his eyes were as blue as the ocean. Mesmerized, I kept my eyes fixed on him from where I was standing. The wind conspired to carry his enigmatic scent towards me.

The sun beat down on us that day. Glancing at him for the hundredth time, I noticed that his large shoulders and now bare chest were wet from the sweat falling from his curly blond locks. He was so fetching right then! According to Grandpa Frédéric, cousin George was the best reaper in the township. It helped that he had a good scythe, which he only used when there was no risk of encountering stones.

When the church’s bell sounded in the distance at noon, the men had already put in five or six hours of good work. Aunt Hope arrived with her wide-brimmed straw hat and a big basket filled with food. She’d make her way to the nearest shady spot and laid down two large, checked tablecloths. Then she’d call out my name to come help her butter the homemade bread. Each worker got a generous portion of baked beans topped with a thick slice of ham. Then Aunt Hope would open the coffee thermoses and take out the region’s famous molasses cookies from a tin box. Having quickly consumed the sweets, the workers moved a bit further under the trees to take a short, well-deserved nap. Meanwhile, Aunt Hope and I put away the leftover food, the tablecloths and the empty thermoses.

Laying in the shade under yellow birch trees, cousin George chewed away on a skinny twig. He’d rolled up his tank top into a ball to use as a makeshift pillow. I watched him from a distance. I heard my heart beating as loud as a horse’s hooves on asphalt.

I was distraught; I didn’t know how to act or what to say. His naked chest clinging to the ground, his tanned arms, his half-closed eyes… Was he dreaming? How old was he? Where did he come from? In the village, gossip about whether Aunt Hope was his mother or grandmother travelled on the foam of the waves. I never did find out the answer.

Today, cousin George, you’ve resurfaced in my memory 70 years later. Is it to pay tribute to this first childish love that you lit in me? It was 1954, while we were harvesting hay with Grandpa Frédéric. Your young good looks made my heart race that summer for the very first time. Unversed in love, I felt its power to hurt. It wasn’t your fault, of course. We hadn’t even exchanged a single word! My young imagination created this infatuation out of nothing, just like the Christmas gifts I hoped for that never came. I’ll never forget those first heartbeats of desire.

Do you remember, cousin George, that you couldn’t find your shirt that day after your nap under the yellow birch trees? You were so handsome that my heart strayed. I wanted to have something of yours so I stole your shirt while you slept! It stayed under my pillow for months. I’d smell and hug it. Its scent put me to sleep. Your beauty has stayed engraved in my memory forever, cousin George.