Most men talk about their love affair with dogs. My own affair is with a tractor. Dogs are fur balls of joy. Tractors are just machines. Dogs have a heart that comes about as close to anything on earth to pure exhilaration. Tractors have leaks and blow smoke.
I’m not saying that tractors are better than dogs. That would start a fire storm of hate mail. I’ve had two dogs in the last 50 years that remain forever in my memory. But there’s really only been one tractor. At least, one that matters. Both dogs are gone. The tractor remains.
My first driving experience was on a tractor sitting in my Dad’s lap. Skinny little arms on a big wheel. It was the stuff that bomber pilot dreams are made of. My first solo run was herky-jerky, nonetheless, a love affair had begun.
“Hold it steady, now. Go in straight rows. Keep your eye on that tall Pine at the end of the field. And when you get to the end, make a wide turn and come right back here on your second pass.”
There were a lot of lessons I probably ignored, but that one stuck with me. I still look for that tall Pine at the far end.
I got into a nest of ground bees one time mowing a pasture. I threw her in neutral and ran like a bat out of hades. Left the tractor running in the field until Dad got home from work. He reached in his mouth and put a juicy tobacco cud over my eye. It was swollen up the size of a baseball. “That’ll help take the sting out,” he said. He went and got the tractor to the barn and we never talked about it again.
I have become the keeper of the tractor these days, even though I still refer to her as Dad’s tractor. It lives under the shed 65 miles from where I lay my head. But she waits on me to come. Like an old friend. The gaskets and O-rings are old, too. Fluid of some kind or another drips from high and low and east and west. I show up. One tire might be a little low. I do the pre-flight check. Crawl into the seat. One hit on the starter switch, she grunts twice and comes to life. Every time. Without fail. I love the sound of a diesel.
It’s probably stupid to talk about a tractor like this. Some will understand. But for me it’s the memories. They say that certain things trigger memories. Smell. Taste. Places. Voices. And, I would add to that list the feel and sound of a good tractor.
I remember what honeysuckle smells like from the seat of a tractor. The pasture is hot, and the only shade is down in the bottom end of the field next to the wood line. You cover acres in the scorching sun and the only thing that makes it tolerable is the anticipation of making the round down by the edge of the woods where the coolness of the shade lays across your shoulders and the aroma of the honeysuckle makes you think about Mama’s sweet tea and peach cobbler.
I would make narrow passes along that shady side of the field, just so the coolness and the smell would last longer. And to this day, I can drive down the road, catch a whiff of honeysuckle, and immediately I am back on that tractor making another pass down by the bottoms.
One day, not so far away, those fields will no longer belong to me. All the family heirlooms have been long moved away or sold. All except the tractor. Which means that one day, there will be a shed built at my house. I’ll hook up a trailer and go get my tractor. A new home for an old friend. I hope my wife understands. I’m sure she does. Lord knows, she understands me better than anybody else. Even that old tractor.