"How do you like my tractor?" Don Peterson said, as we pulled into his driveway. "I just had it rebuilt and repainted. Doesn't it look nice?"
Through the window of the car I saw the rebuild job he referred to, and the new paint. But my eyes followed the line of the steering wheel, the position of the foot pedals, the gearshift lever in front of the old dished Ford seat, and the little round knob along the side of the seat that raised and lowered the draw bar in back.It was as familiar as a wallet you might have carried in your back pocket for years, as familiar as your mother's silverware.
It was, in fact, my dad's tractor . . . that is, a tractor identical to the one my dad had when I was a kid, which he used to prod along our 40 acres of makeshift orchard, dry-farm wheat, alfalfa and sagebrush hill. It was the tractor I learned to drive on, that I spent long hours discing with and plowing in the big field behind the hill next to Healey's fence.
I was maybe 8 or 9 at the time. I barely knew the difference between the clutch and the brake and often got them mixed, like the time when I pushed on the "brake" to stop so I could open the gate at the bottom of the hill and it just kept going . . . going faster, in fact. It hit the gate with a vengeance, ripping barbed wire every which way and scraping up the radiator real bad before I could get it stopped. Even thinking about it now I get a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach.
It wasn't all our tractor. Dad had gone into partnership with Clyde Anderson to buy it. Clyde was from Idaho, more or less. He had bought Grandpa's old farm, which adjoined our place on one corner. He had several kids. Ann was my age. I think they moved to Alpine when we were in the third or fourth grade. She was in my reading group.
The tractor was a sort of bond between us, a common thread that linked us. I was too young to know much about her dad, except that his work took him away often. He was an agricultural specialist, worked on irrigation projects or grasses, or something like that.
Anyway, I think Clyde was about as much of a real farmer as my dad was. Dad struggled to make a living at Geneva, to support his love of farming. Clyde probably saw farming as an exploration of his love for farming science. Together they bought a tractor to symbolize their love of the land, despite the impracticality that working the land posed for both of them.
And then Ann's dad went away, to the Middle East somewhere. He was unfortunate enough to fly a British Comet, a precursor in the early 1950s to our modern jet airliners. Several of them went down before they discovered that repeated cabin pressurization caused metal stress around the edges of the window ports. Several of them exploded mysteriously in midflight at high altitudes before they figured it out. The Comet tragedies are a major era in the history of commercial aviation.
It was hard for grade school kids in a small town in Utah to comprehend that Ann's father had fallen out of the sky into the Mediterranean Sea. There was something strangely romantic about it, and at the same time helplessly terrifying. I remember for several days Ann's empty seat in class two rows across from mine. And later, it was something you never talked or asked about. It just was. Ann's family took on a tragic tone from that time. It was always there . . . even though they went on with life.
Anyway, Clyde and Dad's tractor partnership became history. Ann's mother eventually sold the farm and bought one of the Patterson homes on the north end of town. Ann and I and the other 12 kids our age went on to junior high school in American Fork, where we merged with 120 other kids. We grew up and went our separate ways.
Ann married a rancher from southern Utah. I can't remember her last name. I see her brothers from time to time. Whenever I think about her, I think about the pain we sensed and which must have been hers in a long gone and unexpressed childhood we never fully understood.
"Well, what do you think?" Don's inquiry came at me like a vague muffled voice out of the fog.
"What? Oh yeah . . . nice. Really nice. Reminds me of the tractor my dad used to have. Really brings back memories."
"Doesn't it though!" he replied, a grin of barely repressed pride of ownership crossing his face, lighting his countenance from ear to ear.
Unconsciously, I glanced at the front of his newly refurbished tractor, searching for thin dents or tell-tale horizontal scratches on the radiator.