Tractor Rides

Originally posted elsewhere on 11/20/08.

Another trip down memory lane today . . .

While I grew up Grandma and Grandpa lived in the country. They lived on the Pennsylvania-New York border, and to reach their house you had to drive along a road titled—fittingly enough—“State Line Road.” Grandma and Grandpa’s old house was at the end of a dead end road, their land butted up against a large tract of village owned woods.

As a young child, I felt a certain air of mystery surrounded their property. Behind the house ran a tiny creek and on the other side was a stand of trees that seemed to me the beginning of a dark and forbidden forest, neatly stacked heaps of dead wood and bramble cleaned up by Grandpa marking the edge of some ominous unknown. In the other direction, across the road, were the two small barns. If you went past them the world opened up to a distant unknown horizon, a curiosity of forests and fields. Where the dead end road stopped beyond the house it became a forest trail that quickly disappeared under overhanging tree branches. To my child’s mind that trail led off to the place where people became lost, never to return. Slightly safer was the pond out behind the house. That was far enough away to hold a sense of adventure, and yet not too far so that after one had looked at the water and frogs one could make a quick return to more familiar surroundings.

Timid and fretful, I saw hidden—or not so hidden—danger on every side, and failed to take advantage of all the interesting places I could have adventured if my sense of exploration had outweighed my sense of paranoia. But if my fears of the unknown kept me from experiencing many of the country pleasures, there was still one I could enjoy: tractor rides.

Grandpa had at least two old tractors which he was constantly fighting to keep repaired and running. The smallest was probably a prehistoric incarnation of a lawn tractor, before anyone thought of inventing a mowing deck. What useful purpose it had served, or could still serve, I didn’t know. To my mind it existed to give tractor rides.

Grandpa wasn’t socially skilled, and entertaining grandchildren was no exception. His repertoire was limited to reading stories, and giving tractor rides. Tractor rides were a rare treat—partly because, I think it usually didn’t strike his fancy, and partly because a functioning tractor was often an uncertain and frustrating proposition. I remember hanging around the barn and inquiring if perhaps the tractor would be fixed soon, and would we be going on a tractor ride today. The answer was “Maybe” in the sort of why that spoke of patience strained by questioning little children, and uncooperative machinery.

But those tractor rides did come, and all the better when they came unexpectedly. Grandpa had constructed his own sled to drag behind the tractor. The sound of the tractor engine—or the announcement that Grandpa was giving rides—would send me running outside. Tractor and sled would pull up, and at the command of, “Hop on,” we would all clamber on. Then it was off across the yard, around and back, and around again. It was excitement—a taste of the country life, and grand adventure. Then, all too soon, it was over and the tractor returned to the barn until next time.

We have a picture of Grandpa giving a tractor ride. A gaggle of cousins are crowded on the sled, grinning like fools. Grandpa rides up on the small tractor, staring intently ahead hands held at the ready, perhaps carefully nursing the fitful machine along.

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