Last week, my dad taught me how to drive a tractor. The grass and burdock and parsnip had begun growing at an ominous rate. We beat back weeds around the house with our ancient push mower, until it sacrificed itself on a hidden stump. Looking across the fields, we knew we’d soon be in over our heads if we didn’t take action.
Our used tractor search, made possible by my dad, who started driving old tractors as soon as he could just reach the pedals, culminated in Dad driving Eloise home. We bought this early 1960’s era Ford 4000 just up the road. A good deal, with the brush hog mower, our little blue and white tractor came with the name “Eloise” scripted across the front.
I’d never driven a tractor before. The last time I straddled onto this type of machine, I was a kid, and it was my grandma’s riding mower. My legs just reached the pedals. I was a determined, do-it-myself kind of girl, not content to simply pick up sticks while Dad cut the grass. After some instruction, I fired up the engine and started making wide sweeps under the oak trees in my grandma’s front yard. On my second or third round, I found myself heading straight for her lamppost. I panicked.
I don’t remember climbing off the mower, perched on the steeply angled lamppost. I do remember staring at the metal curls around the cursive L in Grandma Ruth’s screen door, working up my courage to creak it open. I remember approaching her, seated at the front kitchen window, and looking at the floor as I told her what I’d done. I remember lifting my face to see the crinkles beside her eyes, her barely-concealed grin as she glanced out the window, where my dad was backing the mower off the lamppost. “Last time I was on that mower,” she chuckled, “I drove it straight up a tree, and it wouldn’t go backwards or forwards from there.”
Last week, I sat on our new old tractor with dad standing beside me, carefully making sure I understood how to stop it. I experimented with my foot on the left brake and the right brake and both at once. I worked the clutch and changed gears and slid the hand throttle up and down.
Finally, I eased Eloise forward, creeping along in first gear, then sliding the hand throttle down to encourage the engine. As I touched the left brake and completed a turn, I lifted one hand from the thin, hard steering wheel. I pumped my fist in the air and yelled, “I’m Driving!”