BACK IN ’38, same year as I was born, Pa bought a Farmall tractor, brand new. He got a good price from Jed Wright, who owned the West Torrington Sales Company. He told Pa the company be changing the design and likely going to name them with letters instead of numbers. Pa didn’t care about that. He’d heard from Hezekiah Brown who had a big farm up in Goshen that the F-14 tractor was a tip-top fine machine…good enough for Pa.
We jawed about it days when we worked the fields together after I got my size and some muscle on me. He told me Harvester started selling them in Texas in ’24. They were good, Jed said, so it didn’t take long before they sold ‘em East of the Mississippi and then up in our neck of the woods. The first ones they painted gray, but Pa bought a bright red one. Guess Harvester thought red would catch the eye and I’m thinking it did right enough.
Pa had got real tired of plowing the fields in the south forty with the horse team. Kept breaking the plow on New England rock ‘cause the horses would keep pulling afore Pa could say “Whoa!” Them horses got mired often enough, too, to hold up production and Pa with a mighty yank, his big farming muscles bulging, would have to cuss them out of the mire with a “Gee!’ and a “Haw!”
Then he’d lose half a day heatin’ up the old forge so’s he could fix the blade. Happened time in, time out. Once he got the tractor, it didn’t take long for Pa to see how quick he could stop when he caught a rock and his time spent at the old forge went down a-mighty. He told us mor’n once old Molly and Dolly didn’t mind retiring.
Seems it took Pa thirty years to clear all the rock out of that big field. He’d tell us them rocks would rise up out of the good earth every spring like the Devil’s own children. He knew the frost be heaving, but he’d go on about how Providence must be agin him. Over the supper table Ma and us kids would listen to him cuss the day he started that field.
But Ma knew him and let him rant, “Does him good,” she told us kids quiet like, ‘cause Pa didn’t have much humor to him come end of day.
“Everybody’s got to let off steam,” she said. “Your Pa works hard.”
“How come you’re nice, Ma? How come you don’t get mad like Pa?” we asked.
She’d laugh and say, “I have my moments.”
Sweet lady, steady as they go. She made sure Pa attended church regular with her every Sunday. Said he needed a bit of the Lord’s blessing toward the end of the week. Said all that cussin’ wasn’t good for his soul.
After Pa put the horses to pasture, he’d hook up the small wagon to the back of the Farmall, throw on a couple hay bales for seats and drive us down to the Methodist Church. That church sat pretty as a picture in the hollow at the bottom of our hill, its big old steeple risin’ tall down where the roads crossed.
“Reaching for God,” Ma said.
Ma and Pa made going to church like a summer picnic. That kind of made up for our fire and brimstone preacher, Reverend Teasley. That man went on for three hours every Sunday before it seemed he’d run out of his own steam.
The war came and Pa got deferred as the only breadwinner in the family. He did his war duty by givin’ over a part of his crop.
He’d say, “For the boys overseas,” and he did his duty, but I saw him longing now and then.
Family kept him from fighting for his country in the Army and Ma didn’t say much, but we knew she raised her eyes from time to time and gave thanks that she could keep her man home.
That Farmall tractor kept a’ plugging and every so often Pa would lay a hand up against the red paint and give it a pat, like he used to with Molly and Dolly. Then he’d stare off, remembering how it used to be.
Every Sunday the Farmall pulled us to church. Ma sat on the wagon with us five kids and never complained - even when we were older and knew she suffered from the miseries. She’d just keep a smile and watch Pa up there, sittin’ proud atop that tractor’s metal bucket seat, working that big, flat wheel. She’d just quietly change position to ease herself some when we hit a bump.
Pa loved that woman. He set no store by another and when she got sickly after we’d all finished our schooling, he did his best to ease around the bumps on the rutty dirt road down to the village.
Time came when Pa couldn’t work the fields anymore and with Ma bedridden with the cancer that finally took her to Heaven, Pa’d sit by her bedside one, two hours at a time and just hold her hand.
'Fore I forget, I’m Clay. Me, the girls, Abigail and Maude and my younger brothers Charles and David made up the Malcolm Smith family. As first boy, I stayed to run the farm. It was the way of it then, and since the others had to make their own way, they spread away like oil slick on a pond.
About then the war in Vietnam broke out and both my brothers enlisted in the Army. I recall the president called it a “police action.” Never figured it, except people say things to make them sound like not much. We got a letter from time to time, but the official one came one winter’s day two years after they left home.
Both killed in the TET Offensive; couldn’t get out of Saigon in time. Letter said they were heroes, saved half a platoon, awarded medals. Of course they would. They were Pa’s boys. He never had any truck with cowards.
Ma passed the month before that awful letter came, a blessing that she didn’t have to find out about her boys. Pa had little to say after that. He kind of sunk into himself. Right after Ma had gone to her reward, he seemed to give up. He stopped being hungry and I couldn’t get him to eat and I let Abigail and Maude know, but they couldn’t get him to go on either. We knew he wanted Ma. One night he went to sleep and didn’t wake up. We buried him in the family plot next to his woman. Our family of seven came down to three.
The girls had married local and made it a point to bring their families to celebrate Christmas at the old farm each year. After our parents passed on, they continued the tradition and they were good company, as I never married. I kept the farm going and it did well. Truth is; the farm and me was all the partners I ever wanted. I bought a bigger tractor with more power and thought about retiring the old Farmall, but it meant too much and I couldn’t do it.
Now we’re seventeen years into the new century and me and the Farmall are both of us near eighty. I’ll swear that old red beast is in better shape than I am. I just finished spiffin’ her up and that Farmall red looks like new. Shortly I’ll truck her over to the Goshen Fair. Entered her in the tractor pull. She’ll do fine. She’ll make me proud, just like she did for Pa.