I was about 13 years old, and had driven the tractor, specifically the Farmall “H” tractor, for about five years. On that spring afternoon I was returning from the field at the south end of the farm where I had finished harrowing in preparation for planting. (We did that sort of thing in those days.) The smooth lane lay ahead of me along the fence line at the edge of the farm, and I was in fourth gear. I had never driven in High gear, and this was my opportunity. I slipped the gear shift into High and released the clutch and took off. The speed was exhilarating as the fence posts whizzed by. I must have been going twenty miles per hour! I pulled the throttle open a little more. Soon I was approaching the bank where the lane broadened and sloped gradually toward the river bridge, where I knew I would have to slow down.
I was already at the ridges when I realized that I should have slowed earlier. The ridges intersected the lane and were the last visible remnants of the lodges of an Indian village. I had often combed those ridges for abandoned grinding stones, celts, knives, and drills, and I should have remembered that they were there, forming a bumpy area even at slower speeds. Before I knew it I was bounced off the seat, holding onto the steering wheel with all my strength, trying to pull my legs back onto the platform to apply the brakes. Meanwhile the tractor headed toward the creek with the old spring at its head.
Somehow the tractor stopped just at the lip of the bank where the creek had eroded the field. I peered down into the creek bed twenty feet below, and I saw my body there in the creek bed underneath where the tractor had come to rest… in an alternative universe where miracles do not happen. I died that day, or I knew I would have died. My parents would have grieved long and hard and blamed themselves for letting me drive that tractor. There would have been no end to sadness, as we used to say.
I backed the tractor away from the bank and drove it slowly, very slowly, back to the farmyard. I do not know whether I was happier for having been reborn from the dead or more ashamed for having nearly wrecked my parents. I do not know whether they noticed my strange thoughtfulness as the next weeks passed. Perhaps I appeared no different than usual.
Certainly I have thought about that second chance at life many times since. One spring just before Easter fifteen years later I could not shake the memory as I headed toward a farmhouse where a couple had just lost their only son in a farm accident. He was thirteen years old, and he had fallen off the tractor under the disk. What could I say to them?
Oh yes, I still have the “H.” It is my favorite tractor of all time. Like me it has been baptized in murky water and raised from a muddy grave