I’m watching a boy drive a John Deere, in the distance. At least, I think it’s a boy, he’s too far away to tell.
I know this kid. I can’t see him, but I know what kind of clothes he’s wearing, I know how he talks—he uses words like, “ain’t,” too often. And he gets up early.
I once overheard some folks speculate on why the rural-minded start work so early. One person thought it was to avoid the heat. Another suggested that the Bible commands it.
But if you ask anyone I grew up with, they’d tell you it’s because their fathers made them. And these early risers are the kind who say the word, “ain’t,” too often.
It might go like this:
Before the stars have disappeared, you’re still half-asleep, wearing work boots, and you are not a happy customer. It’s dark. And since you’re too young for coffee, you get lukewarm Coca-Cola.
The barn stinks. The tractor is louder than the Second Coming. And even though you’re not old enough to have a learner’s permit, you steer this Ford Model 2N, built during World War Two, until your hindparts go numb.
You watch the morning sky change from purple, to gray, to rose-colored. Then: full sunlight.
The engine makes you deaf. You couldn’t hear your own ideas if you had any. You pay attention to the rows you’re cutting. Whenever you veer off-line, you cuss yourself.
You look backward at your house. It never occurs to you that one day they’ll sell this place. Or that the new owners will let the surrounding fields go to weed.
Then, you grow up, move away. You spend a lot of energy convincing people you aren’t a dumb hick—cleaning up the way you talk. You quit saying, “ain’t,” and stop slicing the cuffs of your jeans with pocketknives.
It works for a while. You convince yourself you’ve forgotten that life. But then, maybe, on your way through the country, you’ll see a kid on a tractor.
Maybe you’ll pull over, just to watch. He doesn’t see you. He doesn’t know you’ve tried to forget an ugly childhood, full of terrible things that embarrassed you.
And in that moment, watching him, you feel something. A strong feeling. It hits you like a cinder block.
You feel lucky to have ridden that stupid, god-forsaken, miserable, gas-guzzling, misfiring, ugly, rusted, old, leaky, loud, tractor. Lucky.
You realize that each of life’s, good, bad, and humiliating things have made you, you. And no matter what anyone thinks,
You ain’t embarrassed about it.
And I’m not talking about tractors anymore.