Can tractors have souls? Absurd question, of course, but here - if God should deign to equip any piece of man’s machinery with a hereafter, the recipient would be an International 706. If metal could retain memories, if oil could lube a beating heart, then this little tractor would be the archangel of farmers everywhere.
Here she sits, at the back of my father’s machine shed beneath a lavish coat of winter dust and pigeon poop, and she isn’t cowed at all. No, not humbled even by her massive brethren or the slow air leak in her front tire. Her beautiful red paint gleams even in the chancy light; her engine is ready and waiting and . . . maybe she remembers.
But, if not, then I do. I have a heart and a soul, and I know that to ride on her fender through the chill spring daybreak was to ride straight to heaven. Wind in your hair, white-knuckled over bumps, lungs filled with a sharp crystal air like nothing I have breathed since that time - I knew, irrefutably, how alive I was.
And to be alive was good. It was blessed.
My father wore Levis, short-sleeved blue work shirts, and a battered, olive-green farm cap. His knuckles were scarred and the tip of one finger blunted from a long-ago accident that only my mother remembered, and occasionally spoke of with real horror. My dad - the strongest, the best dad anywhere - could light a cigarette in a full-blown windstorm, on the seat of that tractor. First match, every time. I stood in awe.
Ah, but it was easier to stand in awe, then, wasn’t it? And while the man, like the tractor, is undiminished with age, that’s a story for another day.
I want to stay here today. Here, on the wind-scoured prairie with the man and the child, the whole world spilled out in front of us like milk from a bucket. Tender blues and grays, the sweetest golds, new greens, and holy-shit-so-bright blue. The view, you see, was nine-tenths sky, the sun close enough to pluck between finger and thumb.
And the land . . . the land knew us. Remembered us, as it remembered our fathers and grandfathers, Paul with the horses and Vance with his renowned picker skills, William and Joseph Henry before them. This same dirt had dusted their overalls, this same air had cleansed their lungs and, from the seat of the 706, with the plowed earth lying like silken tresses behind us, there was no denying the perfect continuity of life.
When it becomes hard to reconcile the child with the woman, I come here. If I’ve lost the thread of my being in the snag of internet, bills, the pager that dictates my every waking moment, I come here. And sometimes, I walk out to the shed to see the 706. To remember the smell of real spring, the fingers of wind in my hair, the heat of bold sun on my face.
To remember the awe.
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