I got to drive the tractor as soon as I was big enough to put the clutch in without standing up. I loved this job, because I could be out in the field tilling up the field, all by myself with just the sound of the tractor and my thoughts to keep me company. The deep smell of minerals and clay, mixed with sand, followed me and sank into my clothes and hair, as around and around the field I went. I still love that smell.
I stayed out there for hours, practicing the lyrics to some song, maybe: “Hang down your head, Tom Doolie. Hang down your head and cry. Hang down your head Tom Doolie. Poor boy, you’re going to die.” or was it, “For boy, you’re going to die?” I heard that song every day on the bus to school.
Lots of times I saw birds out in the field, so I made up stories about what they were thinking about a tractor going round and round. A red-wing blackbird sat on the fence post until I got too close, then she flitted over to the next post. I figured he was like Swamp Fox, and had a bunch of friends in the brush waiting to ambush me and all the his ‘click-click-ta-weeing was his way of telling me to get the heck away and don’t cross over this line or else. I already had some run-ins with red-winged blackbirds; I was sure red-wing blackbirds as a whole had a grudge against me, so I kept a pretty close eye on that bird, and hunched up my shoulders whenever he was behind me.
I could depend on Bonita or Deanna or Vickie delivering a ice-cold jug of water about half way through my disking job. When the field was empty, nothing planted yet, I could see my sister coming way before she got near me, carrying the jug in one hand, and whipping the clover and wild wheat with a stick in the other. I liked to catch the weeds in my open palm, slide a piece of wild wheat out of its stalk and chew on the tender-sweet end. Dad showed me how to do that.
Mom hung a dish-towel on a pole by the back porch when it got to be lunchtime. I finished the trip around the field, turned the key off and jumped down. I never drove the tractor out to the field or back in until I got a lot older; I wasn’t allowed. Besides, the smooth lines in the field from all my ruler-straight disking, going round and round in smaller and smaller circles, would get all ruined if I kept driving in and out of the field.
With the tractor engine still, it seemed like dead silence. Just the sound of the soft tilled soil crunching under my feet. Pretty soon all the other sounds that got drowned out by the tractor started making their way back into my ears: that darned red-wing blackbird ‘click-click-click, ta-weee; click-click-click, ta-weee’, Belle mooing softly to her new calf and throwing her nose up over her back, spraying a stream of saliva over any flies that buzzed around, and in the distance, Tom and Bonita playing cowboys and Indians in our back yard.
After I got that field done, I was gonna get Bonita and our b-b guns and go out there and shoot that red-wing blackbird. This time I would stay out there until I got that mean old bird.
After G-Money and I moved into our new house, we got ourselves a little John Deere lawn tractor.
“Oh my gosh, look at that,” I said to him with a tear in my eye. “We could get a plow and a disk for this tractor.” I looked at him with the catalog spread out on the kitchen table.
G-Money reached over and put his complimentary John Deere hat on my head, “I think this belongs to you, farm girl.”