Christmas comes and goes so fast. The hustle and bustle can be exhausting. It is so difficult to find that perfect gift for those who have everything. Yet, I learned last Christmas in the midst of it all a life lesson I will always cherish.
Last Christmas, I gave my 79-year-old dad a toy - his very own Farmall B tractor. I stumbled upon it by pure luck, at the Tractor Supply store. Quite honestly, it is this farm girl’s’favorite store of all time and the only store my dad ever shopped at when I was his girl on the farm. I get it from him!
I was so excited to finally see exactly what this Farmall B looked like up close. It was my Dad’s most recent childhood story he had shared with me. I loved hearing all the stories he told of days past, and this was the newest.
On several occasions as his story unfolded he would say, “I sure would like to own one of those now. I would if I could find one I could afford.”
Dad always loved farming and farm equipment, and he loved the antique machinery show, a time of reminiscing. So until he could “find one he could afford” I hoped he would enjoy having this shiny red toy tractor as his Christmas present; a reminder of his wonderful childhood memory.
When Dad opened his Christmas gift on Christmas Eve at my house, I will never forget watching him become that boy again in his mind’s eye. He smiled his signature grin ear-to-ear and began telling bits and pieces of the story I had already heard. Others gathered round.
“I will never forget that day,” he said, holding that tractor in his hand and looking it over, “When Dad and I went to buy our first new tractor. I rode right here.” He pointed to the left axle, just wide enough for a young boy to sit on, next to an offset tractor seat.
“We only had a couple miles to go, my legs swinging.” He paused, remembering, his eyes glistening. “We paid cash for it too,” he proudly exclaimed with a slight pucker to his lips that he always did when he was really pleased, touched or choking back tears. In this instance I knew it was all three. From the stories that my dad would tell me through the years, I had an understanding that for a poor Appalachian boy, raised in Black Fork, Ohio, and having experienced growing up during the depression, eventually paying cash when times got better was a great accomplishment.
His father moved the family to Amelia, Ohio, and became a school teacher, which proved to be the right decision indeed. And because of it, they eventually had the wherewithal to save enough cash for this long-awaited tractor, though Dad thoroughly enjoyed driving a team of horses. (One of his horses had been struck by lightning and he never forgot it, but that is another story.)
He eagerly learned to plow, disk, harrow, cultivate and make a truck garden with that new tractor. “And I made good money doing it too,” he boasted. At one time in his boyhood he had worked for ten-cents an hour picking vegetables. But by trucking, he made his own money.
Later, after graduation, marriage, three kids and another on the way, Dad’s big dream came true when he purchased his first 100-acre farm in Buford, Ohio. I was the second of the children he would raise on this and another farm he would own on Route 286 at Five Mile. I loved the great outdoors, my special attachment with farm animals, and learning, and him.
Throughout our journey, Dad taught me how to drive a tractor, how and when to work the ground, the ups and downs of making hay, planting corn and pumpkins, and how to work on farm equipment, as we certainly had our share of breakdowns. I was his sidekick growing up, and later he was mine - and such a wealth of knowledge.
When I would drop by to visit him and mom, now living on the corner of our farm at New Hope, Ohio, we shared past and present “adult talks” about our flower beds, his gorgeous roses, our vegetable gardens, about chickens, cows, hogs, farming mistakes and remedies, our growing up years and, of course, his growing up years, which I will always cherish.
The seeds planted in my heart before, during and after he passed this past spring - when potatoes could be planted and cold crops too - he continues teaching me, “To everything there is a season,” and reminds me that life goes on. My days are both full of joy and sadness as I remember him in so many of my daily chores and memories. I have lots of joyful memories, and only sadness when I realize he is gone.
As Christmas approaches, I am planning on decorating the fireplace mantel with all the greenery and twinkle lights as I usually do. But this year, right in the middle of all that, will be that beautiful red Farmall toy tractor that mom gave back to me. And I’ll remember last year, when he looked deep into my eyes.
“I really like this,” he said, looking back and forth from me to the tractor, his eyes glistening.
As I finish writing his story, I find myself looking up toward the heavens from my upper library window, my eyes glistening. I love you Dad, still.
So, this Christmas, I say to you, joyful memories are for the making each and every day, and those memories will sustain us through our sorrows when our loved ones leave us.
But my life lesson learned is this - life is short, and there is no better gift than the gift of self. Or perhaps a toy tractor.
By Sherry Mitchell