Apparently, not many people today can say they have driven a 1959 601/Ford tractor. I can. My neighbor is giving me tractor driving lessons, and a couple of weeks ago we went for a nice, long drive in the pasture. This is the piece of land I can wax poetic about to anyone who will listen. (I have several times in this space. This post most especially.) In the twelve years I have lived here, I have never been to the top of the ridge line. I honestly didn’t think the view could be much better than the one I have from my back porch, but on this clear Saturday in late July, the panoramic mountain vista brought me to tears.
My neighbor is highly indulgent of me, I guess in the way most 77 year old southern farmers can be. Despite the fact that he once told me I was the strangest woman he’s ever met (which at his age is really saying something), it is a mutually indulgent friendship. He stops by my house a couple of times a week bearing gifts: tootsie rolls for the boys and usually a mess of vegetables he’s just picked that morning for me. Recently he’s started bringing me buckets full of old, rusty nails, because I happened to mention that I save any I find. I have a lot of old, rusty nails now.
His grandparents moved into the house where we live in 1903. His dad was 4 years old. They raised 9 (nine!) children in this two bedroom farmhouse. It is still known locally as “The Bridges’ House” and always will be. From the top of the ridge that day, he showed me the boundaries of the original farmland that belonged to the house – all 800 acres of it, all farmed with mules. The thought just boggles my mind. Just over 2 acres remain with the house (that’s what we own), and I blush to think of all the diesel-powered machinery used to tame that relative postage stamp.
We spent about 2 hours on the tractor that day. His driving directions are a litany of requests delivered in a soothing mountain drawl: “Kindly go to the left here.” “Think you could mash the brake before we reach the gate?” “Cross the branch and go up over that gap.” While he is perched on the fender (see photo above), I am trying to drive, keep my eye out for stray cows, watch out for ruts in the field and ultimately not, not, not drop him over the side. It was a resounding success that day, and I learned a lot while I was behind the wheel:
- Farmers don’t wear linen tank tops and shorts when driving a tractor; you get too much sun.
- They also don’t wear rubber boots; the heat of the exhaust almost melts such footwear to the clutch pedal.
- The power and freedom found behind the wheel of a tractor is hypnotic.
- News travels fast that a woman has been seen driving a man around on a tractor.
- You get a whole ‘lotta farm cred just for showing up, staying on and bringing it back.
I can’t wait for my next lesson.