With one arm uncle Jerry picked me up to put me on the old Massey-Ferguson tractor while pointing down the gentle slope of our alfalfa field to where I was to stop. The field was on the far east side of two thousand acres of farm and ranch land. Setting right next to a little lake dug out twenty or so years earlier, the alfalfa was, most of the time, doing well. Back behind us and on up the hill was our grassland.
Where he’d put me wasn’t in the metal seat but on the right sided runner where the clutch was. He put me down on the peddle to see if I had enough weight to push it down. Back then, I wasn’t close to getting it down. I was probably between kindergarten and first grade, headed back to school in a couple of months. So then, Uncle Jerry urged me to get on up into what now wouldn’t be a big metal seat as he put his right foot down on the clutch. Pushing it onto the slim metal runner he pulled the throttle down just a touch while also turning the key to start the tractor. The old tractor he towered over and whose rear tires had moments ago towered over me coughed a little smoke out of the muffler, itself sticking up well past the engines gray cowling.
Wrapping his hands around mine, he squeezed and stressed that I hold on tight and aim the tractor on down the incline toward where dad was using the Farmhand fitted to an, even older, Case tractor. Dad had spent the late morning dropping the farmhand down on to the ground to run another line of alfalfa my uncle had raked up a little bit before. As the Farmhand filled dad would be watching to decide when to pull the lever forcing the tractor’s hydraulic system to pick the Farmhand back up. He then ran that batch of alfalfa over to the stack-yard where he was building another haystack.
My uncle gently lifted his foot up and as the Massey-Ferguson started moving he jumped back to keep the heavily weighted rear tire of this small tractor from running him over. Alone on that nosy little beast that felt so big, I kind of kept the thing aimed in the direction my uncle already had us aimed. It was only in first gear which even at full throttle wouldn’t have moved me at more than 3 to 4 miles an hour. So, I got to sit on that big but now little old thing so long. Fortunately, I’d listened well and when it was time to turn the key I kept my left hand urgently on the steering wheel and laid against it while reaching down to the key. Turning it the ‘old girl’ lurched to a halt. Bouncing forward and off the seat I hold onto the steering wheel knowing my toes couldn’t reached the runners on either side of the transmission casing.
Looking back on this now I see something I’d not noticed before. I had no faith in my uncle. I had been sat down on the machine scared out of my gourd. All I knew was that I’d been told to do something I’d watched him and my dad do for all of those truly few years of my life. Much of my playtime had been spent mimicking them with toys held in my hands.
I had snuck onto the few tractors dad and uncle Jerry always parked near the house to play at doing their work or anything else. Never before had I fantasied about actually doing this. Pushing me past my brief reticence to finally play out what I had imagined, my uncle urged his hesitant nephew to do what I’d wanted. All of my daydreaming had been preparing me for something I was a little too small to have carried out. Uncle Jerry, by demonstrating trust in me, set in motion a whole new level of exploration.