Can you remember the first time you ever “drove” a vehicle? Maybe it was your parent’s pickup or car. Maybe it was your granddad’s old tractor. Either way, I’ll bet it was as unforgettable a time as mine was.
I had turned six years old in November, and with sleet and snow on the ground the following January, my dad sat me in the seat of our old Farmall tractor. The clutch and brake were 12 to 18 inches from my feet, but that was of no concern for my job was to hold the steering wheel steady and not fool with anything else.
Putting the tractor’s transmission in its lowest gear, it would pull itself along at a snail’s pace. While Dad rode the trailer tossing blocks of hay off every so many feet for the cows, I sat in the driver’s seat, both hands on the steering wheel, and imagined it was 70 degrees and I was plowing the lower forty. To say I was in kid’s heaven would have been a huge understatement.
My joy was soon interrupted, though, as I noticed the pond seemed to be growing larger as we drove in its direction. Even at the age of six, I knew getting wet in such cold weather wasn’t a good idea. I knew for too many times I had walked on an ice-covered mud puddle, only to have it give way beneath me. Low top shoes didn’t shed water the way boots did, and I wasn’t quick enough to get my feet out of the puddle before the water closed in around them.
I also didn’t believe it would be a good idea to get any closer to the water for I’d never seen my dad drive the tractor into the pond, so I naturally figured he didn’t want me doing it either.
Although we were still a good hundred yards away, I began to panic and yelled at him about what to do. He calmly told me to turn the steering wheel to the right. A couple of seconds later he told me, “Your other right!” Hey! I didn’t say I knew my right from my left! I do remember it being a great relief to realize the tractor began a slow turn away from the pond. Two seconds later I was back to plowing the lower forty!
It wasn’t but a couple of years later that Dad bought a Ford Select-O-Speed tractor. Now, this tractor had what is basically an automatic transmission, as well as a clutch (or “inching pedal” as it was called) and brake that were within my reach. I had to stand up to reach them, but that wasn’t difficult.
It was about this time that my mother, who never drove anything…., other than drove me crazy when she wouldn’t allow me to go visitin’ up at Mickey’s or go swimmin’ when I wanted. Anyway, she dared me to drive my brother’s old blue Ford station wagon down to Uncle Lonnie’s old house and back. I took the dare.
Of course, I don’t believe we ever told Jerry about it. You know how older brothers are; he just wouldn’t have understood. That tree was in the way and the ditch needed cleaning out anyway; besides, he never noticed the scratches and dent. (Just jokin’, Jerry. I made it without wrecking your car. You know, that thing was pretty peppy for an old heap!)
I remember the summer when, at age eight or nine, my dad called to me and said, “Come go with me.” I climbed on the tractor, upon which he had mounted the hay rake, and rode with him down to the field where he had mowed hay earlier in the week. As he raked the hay, he pointed out to me where to keep the right front tire. Upon reaching the other side of the field, he showed me how to turn and rake the hay back upon itself, thus making a “windrow”.
Then he stopped the tractor, dismounted, and told me to “get after it”. You know, I don’t remember him standing there and watching me at all. In fact, I believe he headed straight to the house and left me on my own.
It wasn’t many years after that event that I realized just how big a responsibility I had been given. Perhaps what loomed larger in my mind was the trust he placed in me. I well remember how I didn’t want to let him down.
My dad was not one to really compliment me on a job well done; but he didn’t have to. It wasn’t difficult to see it in his face and demeanor. He was, however, very capable of telling me when I had NOT done such a good job. One of my proudest moments came when I overheard him talking to Mr. Will Ross Henry.
Mr. Henry owned the country store at Crossroads (Marsalis), and I was sitting on the concrete steps outside enjoying the Nehi belly-washer and Moon Pie Dad had bought me after we had finished baling hay that day. I could hear him as he bragged to Mr. Henry about the job I had accomplished. Sure, you can say I was cheap labor, but there isn’t enough money in the world to purchase the memory of that conversation.
The years passed by, and I actually loved what I was doing. Of course, as I got old enough to take notice of the female human species, driving the tractor became work for it interfered with what I wanted to do.
Dad passed away in 1983, but I still look back at those days with great joy and amazement. Yes, it was work, but I’d gladly do it all over again if I could once again hear the pride in my dad’s voice as he talked of my accomplishment.
We just celebrated Father’s Day, so I hope you told him how much you love and appreciate him. When he’s gone, it’ll be too late. If you are like me, there won’t be a day that goes by where you don’t remember something he said or did. Lord knows I could use his wisdom and advice today.
Galen White is a columnist for the Bossier Press-Tribune. Visit bossierpress.com to see more from Galen.