It was with melancholy thoughts that I approached the shed that sweltering midsummer morning. Even in the gloomy darkness of the interior, the old Deere gave forth its luster, pleasing to the eyes and momentarily capturing the breath of any tractor enthusiast who ever peered inside at it.
As always, it popped to life with one revolution of the engine and sat there dancing on the rubber tires at idle just as a puppy at the feet of his master. It occurred to me once again that my Deere was indeed a special one, rare in the fact that it seemed to have a personality all its own. I walked around it once, placing my hands on the glistening tin, I suppose, much like scratching it behind the ears. I was trying to say goodbye, without actually mouthing the words.
Isn’t it strange the things men can be convinced to do in life? Even though we set out with the task less than wholeheartedly, we will often follow it through, only to regret it later. The old Deere was taking up room in the shed and there was really no reason to keep it around anymore. Even my wife, who agrees that it is a beautiful tractor, asked me if we really NEED it here. It’s true that the past six years since I restored it there seems to be no reason to keep it around. All I ever use it for is to give our young sons a ride. It’s also true that the tractor is too small to perform the duties of most modern farms. It is, as some say, a relic. Good for nothing but parades. But for those of us who have been convinced to do that which does not sit well with our souls, we also know that it is seldom in which things are as they appear to be. Was there really no purpose in keeping the old Deere?
I had placed the ad and, as my final act of rebellion, I had set the price so high that surely no one would call. Certainly, there were those who pointed out the ad to friends: Look what this guy is asking for his old two-cylinder! He must be nuts! Aye, I can handle such things much easier than regrets. Yet, as time went by, one man did call. He was due to show at any moment.
After answering the questions of the potential buyer, I sat back on the grass to allow him a private time with my tractor. He poked and prodded all around it before ever starting the engine, a very thorough man. As he went about his business of looking over the tractor, my mind drifted back some years to when Junior was just an infant. There was the long night when he couldn’t sleep and the wailing was intense because of it. In desperation, my wife handed the little bundle to me, as if I was withholding the secret cure to make him sleep. With him tucked in one arm, I went outside to discover the Deere had not been backed into the shed for the night. I climbed aboard and whirled the coffee can sized cylinders to life and noticed the wailing of the little boy had stopped immediately. Perhaps, just maybe, I did have the secret cure? Instead of backing it away for the night, I switched on the lights and we went for a ride. He was asleep in under a minute, a sleep which lasted through the night.
Now the strange man had fired it up at last, asking permission to take it for a spin. I nodded my approval and watched as he slowly disappeared down the dirt road. Pop, pop, pop, sounded more like: What’s, going, on!? Why is this stranger taking me away instead of you and those two little boys? Because, you see, after Junior, there came another son three years later. From their infancy, we always ride together. You cannot take one without taking the other. It’s their rule. It’s unwritten. It’s strictly obeyed.
Then there was the day Junior slammed his fingers in the sliding glass door. There was nothing we could do but hold him as the pain intensified and the fingers grew swollen. What can be more disheartening than a sick or hurting child? What parent would not take the pain upon themself to spare the child? Oftentimes it’s better to do something wrong than to do nothing at all, so I told him I was going out to see if the John Deere could climb the BIG, BIG hill. Not exactly a cure for pain, except to remove the mind from fixating on it. The child followed me out the door, and in a few moments, we were hearing the sound of the engine begin to bark as it walked us up the BIG, BIG hill. His injured fingers were held out in plain sight, away from anything touching them, and on his face a smile had appeared to replace the tears.
I’ve never been able to start the John Deere without little hands and noses appearing, pressed hard against the inside of the house windows. They’ve known that sound all their life and come running for the ride. Mamma has learned it also because she has to be quick in making sure there are hats and boots in place before the boys disappear out the door. Now, this day, as a stranger was in the seat of our tractor, they were here beside me once again because they had heard the Deere running.
The man was coming back towards us now. As Junior and Taz stood together, I could see the confusion on their faces. Their tractor was indeed running, but there sat Daddy on the ground—who was running their tractor? I explained that the man was deciding if he wanted to buy the tractor.
Taz was the first to speak, “But Daddy, I tot you iked da Yon Dweer!”
Ahhh, from the mouth of babes.
Now I, too, was mad that there was a stranger on our tractor. How dare he? If only, like a faithful old horse, that Deere would start bucking and throw the stranger. If only the engine would die and refuse to restart. Why, how did I get talked into this to begin with?
In looking at the faces of our sons, as they looked in horror at the man on our tractor in the distance, another time in our history came to my memory, from only the summer before.
Barefoot and shirtless, both boys were playing near the shop. Up the sawdust pile they climbed and it wasn’t long before I heard screaming. To my shock, I found them there, covered with ground nesting wasps. They were frozen in place and crying for help. These nasty things are the very ones that can sting over and over again and that’s just what they were doing to my boys. It was all my dad and I could do to retrieve the boys and pick the wasps off one by one, as they stung our fingers. This whole event caused a great amount of noise which would last for quite some time. Stings usually intensify with pain for the next hour or so and they did just that. Even the rare treat of a Coca Cola could not eliminate the tears this day.
A man cannot comfort a wailing child like a woman can. It’s simply not built into the nature of a man to be the comforter, not like a mother can do many times each day. Their mother was out on this day and I was getting desperate for a cure. So I mentioned it would be a nice night to take the John Deere for a ride. Hey, it had worked in the past.
The two boys looked at each other, then up at me and nodded in unison that it was a good idea. The wailing stopped and turned into much quieter sobbing. We rode for a long while, the three of us. As the sun began to set, we watched the painting take place in the western sky. After the turmoil of the evening, it was good to see our Maker was still there in the Heavens, watching over us in our helplessness. The faces of the boys were still swollen and puffy. They were still sobbing at times. As it began to get dark, I didn’t head towards the shed. Instead, I reached down and switched on the lights, then turned the tractor to the north. Now they both looked up at me with genuine smiles because they knew, not only were we now night riding, but we were also heading directly towards the BIG, BIG hill!
The man cut the engine before me and asked permission to take some pictures of the tractor. He thanked me for not misrepresenting the tractor over the phone and said it was everything I told him it was. All of this was meaningless to my boys.
The three of us put the Deere back in the shed that night. It’s still there, glistening in the dimness, even if the only light from above is the moon. Now, nearly three years after the strange man came to drive our tractor, people will still marvel at how nice it looks. They’ll ask me what I use that thing for. Nothing, I tell them. It has absolutely no purpose here at all.
Fall Creek, WI