|"This one is definitely old enough to drive. Put her to work."|
My grandpa's 91st birthday is coming up on Tuesday, and although he is dead and cannot personally enjoy it by eating all the cake and ice cream, I still like to celebrate it by looking back fondly on my grandpa, who was the best. And eating candy. Because my grandpa was really into candy. As all grandpas should be, if they know what's good for them. (No, my dietary restrictions do not allow for candy, but I can still look at it and remember.)
My grandpa was my first real coworker and remains, to this day, my favorite coworker ever. No offense to the coworkers I've had since then. You are all [mostly] awesome. But have you ever called me in the middle of the workday to tell me I need to stop everything and meet up with you so you can give me a half-frozen Milky Way? No. Case closed.
When I was 12, it was decided that I would get to start driving the tractor to help out with the field work.
"How much did that tractor cost?" I asked my dad when he announced this to me.
"Ohhhh, a hundred thousand dollars or so," he responded.
"And the piece of equipment I would be hauling behind it?"
"Another hundred thousand dollars, give or take a couple thousand," he replied.
"I'm 12," I reminded him.
"Yep. We'd better get started teaching you. Planting season is coming soon."
So, my dad taught me how to drive a tractor. Here is a transcript of our first lesson:
My dad: Now, the pedal on the left is the clutch. Step on that to stop when you're in the field. If you're on the road, you'll want to step on the brakes, which are on the right. But whatever you do, don't step on the clutch when you're on the road, especially on a hill, or the tractor will just go faster. Now, see these gears over here? This one lifts the equipment out of the ground. Don't touch this second one whatever you do. And the third one is for folding up the implement. But remember that on the tractor you'll actually be driving, these are all reversed. Got it?
My dad: Okay, now this is really important so listen. Whatever you do, don't run into any power lines or you'll probably be electrocuted. If you do happen to run into any power lines, reach over and lift the implement out of the ground, using the first lever. TOUCH ONLY THE RUBBER PART OF THE HANDLE. You'll be grounded by the rubber tires that way. But remember that it will be the third lever on the tractor you'll be driving. Then, you can call me and tell me that you ran into power lines. But don't run into any power lines whatever you do.
A week or so later, my dad decided I was ready for a solo run.
"You'll be fine," he said, "But if you get into any trouble, just flag down your grandpa. He'll be in the field with you all day."
My grandpa, because he was old, got to drive the newest tractor with the best air conditioning system. My dad got the second-best tractor, and I got to drive the oldest tractor. If you turned on the air conditioning in that one, it shot dust directly into your nostrils and eyeballs for five minutes.
"It has a tape deck!" my dad said. "It doesn't work, but it has one!"
My dad always thought that was a really funny thing to say.
Now, I'm sure you want to hear all about the excitement that is driving a tractor back and forth in a field for 8 hours, carefully working to the edge so you don't miss any patches. Just know that on my first day, I was really apprehensive. In fact, I was so apprehensive, I screamed myself hoarse saying things like, "JESUS SHIT," and "AAAAAAAAA!!! AAAAAAA! AAAAAAAA!"
Needless to say, I ran into trouble no fewer than 3,421 times and stopped my grandpa every thirty seconds to ask him something. But the best coworker in the whole world was also the most chill person ever about handing the wheel of a $200,000 piece of farm equipment over to a 12-year-old. He thought the whole situation was hilarious.
"You're doing all right," my grandpa would say, but because his mouth was always full of chewing tobacco, it sounded like, "Youredoonallraht."
Finally, at around 4 PM, Grandpa stopped his tractor and got out and waved at me until I stopped. I thought I had done something terrible and wrong. I shamefully trudged over to see him, expecting him to tell me I had broken the tractor beyond repair and he and my dad were definitely going to sell me into slavery to make up for it. All he said was, "Yawannacandybar?" and opened his cooler.
My grandpa? For lunch, every day, would pack a sandwich, about six candy bars, and five cans of pop. At noon, he would eat his sandwich and one of the candy bars. The other candy bars were just so I could have a selection to choose from at the end of the day. This happened every day for as long as I worked alongside my grandpa. It was a lot of candy bars.
I'm not going to end this story by telling you about his slow decline due to Alzheimer's and how sad it made me. There are a million stories about that, and I hate sad stories. Here are some other things I could maybe tell you about instead.
1. The time I drove my grandpa's pickup into a ditch because I was trying to catch a glimpse of a boy I had a crush on, and my grandpa just laughed and told me to "Quitlookinatboys."
2. How whenever he called on the phone, he always said, without fail, "Whatareyoudoing?" as if he was trying to catch us making mischief.
3. How my grandpa could not talk without laughing. Even when he told stories about the war.
4. Or I could tell you about the time that, during one of our daily candy bar breaks, Grandpa and I just stood in a field and looked at the wheat and didn't say a thing. And I thought to myself, "I will never forget this moment as long as I live. Just me, a candy bar, this wheat that I helped put here, and my grandpa." And I haven't.