By Rheta Grimsley Johnson
FISHTRAP HOLLOW, Miss. – I’ve had tractor envy all my life. Whenever I’d see a glittery one decorating a Christmas card, or a restored vintage tractor in a sad movie about the decline of the small American farm, or some old workhorse reverting to dust in a dead man’s overgrown pasture, I’d turn to whoever I was with at the time and say, “Gosh, I wish I had an old tractor.”
“They are dangerous,” was the stock reply.
And they are dangerous. I’ve had enough relatives who were serious farmers to know that is absolutely true. One cousin who had been farming all his life was killed in a tractor accident not that long ago. Growing up, my father never let me near his.
Still, I wanted one. I had use for one. To have a tractor is to have a certain amount of power. You can cut your own tall grass and not be at the mercy of some weekend farmer who wants the hay. You can pull people out of ditches. You can dig up a plot for a pumpkin patch. You can knock down privet and sumac. You can ride in the Christmas parade.
The list of tractor uses is endless.
A man in the next county named Pete had his tractor for sale on craigslist. Seemed odd shopping for a tractor on the computer, but the price was right. It was red. A Ford. Circa 1957. You know what Willie says: Nothing lasts forever but old Fords and natural stone.
My new husband likes tractors. It’s one of two million things we have in common. He didn’t say, “They are dangerous.” He said, “Let’s go look at it.”
It hadn’t been painted or dolled-up, which is a good sign. Paint can hide things. It came with a mower, though Pete was honest to a fault: “It’s wore out,” he said. He was throwing the mower in for free, if we wanted to haul it away. We did.
Pete has a trailer and agreed to deliver. We didn’t dicker. I hate dickering. It never works for me. We agreed to the asking price and a time to meet.
I can’t tell you how good it felt to sit at the Exxon station on the edge of town and wait to lead Pete and his trailer to this hollow. We sat in the heat in our truck and listened to Jimmie Rodgers’ songs, which somehow seemed appropriate. We caught sight of the tractor just as Iris Dement was yodeling about Hobo Bill’s last ride.
The tractor, once delivered, looked as if it had been parked in my front yard forever.
It’s almost the same vintage as my house. I couldn’t stop taking photographs, which I’ll probably never get developed.
Then I got to drive my new old tractor around the yard. It made me feel on top of the world. It didn’t feel dangerous. It felt right.
Old tractors are beautiful in the same way lighthouses and old faded-paint Coca-Cola signs on the sides of buildings are. They have a graceful if hulking design, unlike those fast and fancy new lawn mowers that can turn on a dime and cut an acre a minute. Old tractors are like circus elephants, plodding but majestic.
The tractor spent the night in the car shed where I’m supposed to keep my car. I never bother to shelter the car.
But the tractor is old and needs special consideration. This morning I went out and sat in the tractor seat under the shed. I felt happy and daring and 12 years old.
Syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson lives near Iuka. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852. To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.