My parents own a large farm, so during the summers when I was a kid I got to spend a lot of time with my mom and dad. As I’ve mentioned before, my mom and I would oftentimes go to the movies and catch a matinÃ©e, but fieldwork pretty much prevented my dad from going with us. Not only did my parents grow all the hay they used as feed for the cows, but they also raised peanuts. So dad was either in his tractor working on peanuts, or in his tractor working on harvesting the hay crop.
Either way, my dad spent a helluva lot of time in his tractor.
Of course, the tractor my dad used was actually a pretty comfortable piece of machinery, which was good, because fields are bumpy, hot, and sandy as all hell. If you plan on spending eight or nine hours a day harvesting a crop your air conditioner had better be cold and your seat better be comfy. The interior always reminded me of a spaceship, what with all the levers, blinking lights, and compression buttons. And lucky for me, directly behind my dad’s seat was a small ledge, which, it turned out, was a prefect place for a little kid to make a pallet with a blanket.
I spent many hours behind my dad on that ledge. With a Road Runner pillow, and a blanket that had really smooth-feeling squares, that ledge behind my dad’s seat was my own special place.
My mom would pack an Igloo cooler with two bologna sandwiches (I liked mayonnaise and dad liked mustard) and sodas, and I would bring some books and my Frogger handheld game, and dad and I would spend a day bumping around in the tractor together. I would nap and read on my ledge, and dad would listen to talk radio. Occasionally, the piece of equipment dad had attached to the tractor would malfunction, and we would get out of the air-conditioned tractor cab and venture forth on a repair mission. The change in temperature always shocked me, and for some dumb reason the bright sun always made me sneeze. A perpetual cloud of fine, dusty sand hung around the idling tractor, and after working outside I’d taste the sand on my lips, and could see it in the creases of my skin.
If I close my eyes and concentrate I can still smell that hot sand. Almost like metal burning but…sweet, somehow. Sand finer than salt and hotter than asphalt in the summertime. And I can still remember being shocked awake from an especially big bump, scared for just a moment, and then calming down when my eyes cleared and I saw my dad’s back.
I’m not too sure when, but at some point when I got a little older my parents bought a new tractor. By that time Case Tractor had merged with International Tractor to become Case International, and the design of the new tractor was a bit different than the old one. For one thing, it had an FM radio (dad still listened to AM talk). The seat was nicer. It a sported a sweet red paint job instead of a boring old white one. And the air conditioner on the new tractor got really cold, instead of just slightly cool.
Despite all the new features, and despite the fact that at that point in my life I thought I was too “mature” to ride around with my dad all day, you wanna know the first thing I noticed when they brought that spiffy new tractor home?
There was no ledge behind the seat.