Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Weaver Rd.

(This comes from a writing exercise my pal Laura and her pal Suzanne made up, basted on the short story "Nettles" by Alice Munro)

In the summer of 1984 I remember my brother driving a tractor, a loader, a combine. The tractor was white with mighty orange tires taller than a man. It looked exactly like a die-cast toy tractor my brother had in his bedroom. The loader was rusty yellow, driven by shifting black knobs, and it had treads like a tank. The combine was a monster, giant and red with a black MF logo on the side, for Massey-Ferguson, and vicious, whirling blades in the front. The small cab was up top, fifteen feet above the ground, with a radio inside but no air conditioning. Just an old fan, round and rusty.

Years later my grandfather, who owned and worked the farm, had a stroke. He leased the fields to another farmer to plant and plow and my job, as a teenager, was to sit with him at night and watch TV until he fell asleep. He was scared to be alone after his stroke, he couldn't walk very well and he couldn't swallow his saliva. He sat with a crescent moon-shaped plastic cup on his chest to collect the spit that dribbled from his chin. The barn was empty of his equipment, the tractor, the loader and the combine.

In Ohio where I lived as a kid I wanted to learn how to drive those machines. They were terrifying, loud, rusty and dirty, but they were what men worked with. At thirteen, fourteen or fifteen, you learned to drive them and worked the farm, wore your blue jeans tight with a fat, square wallet in your back pocket, wore a mesh cap with tractor logos and pins on it, washed your hands before supper with frothy, industrial soap because they were black from oil and grime in the shop. There was always something to fix or build. The pick-up, the dump truck, the loader or both tractors, the bushhog, the Massey, the air pump. Some animal had died in the silo and someone small and skinny had to crawl in and get it. Pa had a semi truck trailer in his backyard filled with spare parts of cars, machines and motorbikes. It was black in the trailer, and hot. He had been a truck driver once, he had driven a motorcycle. There is a picture of him on his bike in a leather jacket, black hair slicked back, a golden hoop in his ear before that was done by anyone you'd feel comfortable sitting across the table from. This was before he'd met my grandma, when he had a different family. He was not my grandpa by blood. He had tattoos on his forearms of a naked woman and a hula girl in a skirt, and on his bicep a heart that said Mother. In the morning, when he woke up, he never a shirt before breakfast.

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