It was a random collision of memories: One of my mother and the other of a song.
My mother told us of a time when she was young and got sick. I think she got the mumps, but I can’t remember; it might’ve been the measles. It was something we are now vaccinated for and are not troubled with. She was a big kid at the time, maybe 10 or 12? She said she ran such a fever that she forgot things. She came out of her sickness and had to relearn things like how to tell time, her multiplication tables, and even how to tie her shoes. The memory of her story coincidentally struck me the same night that I asked Siri for a good song.
Have you ever just said, “Hey, Siri. Play something good?” If you haven’t, I encourage you to. I always get something random from my playlist that I haven’t listened to in a while. Tonight amid my mother’s memory, Siri chose to play “Drive” by Alan Jackson, which I hadn’t listened to in a long time. What’s my blathering point, you ask? Hang on.
The thought of things my mother learned made me think of her learning, or rather relearning, to tell time. I distinctly remember when I learned to tell time. As a dairy farmer, your whole life is fixed around the clock and milking time. Even as a young girl, my earliest memories are of being cognizant of when it was time to milk or feed. Cows are impatient creatures, it turns out, and must be dealt with on a schedule. I can recall forever asking my mother and brothers what time it was. It was my oldest brother Dayton who finally had the patience to sit me down with a clock and show me what the deal was. I don’t remember struggling with it but feeling rather like a boss afterward for knowing the hour myself.
The common thread here is that it was the same brother who taught me how to drive. My mother was adamant that I not be taught to drive on an automatic transmission. It was too easy. She said if we learned the easy way first, we might be tempted to never learn the hard way, on a stick shift. What a great mantra for parenting: Don’t make life easy.
Daddy’s main work truck when I was a kid was a ’78 GMC dually. That was a bad truck if you know what I mean. When I rode with Daddy in that truck, I was convinced he was the strongest man in the world and could show you what for. That truck drove me in over a foot of snow to the doctor in Princeton when I was sick and little. It later rescued me from Hollybrook in a flood when the buses didn’t go through and another time from Bland when the roads were so slick with a heavy wet snow that I stayed with my friend Bobbi.
I want you to imagine for a moment, the 17-year-old girl who called home to tell her Daddy that she was staying with “Bobbi,” after a ball game one night. He thought I was sleeping over with a boy, and many bad words were said. I somehow lived to tell the story, but my brother was sent the next morning in that GMC to rescue my stranded, in-trouble hind end. It still wasn’t pretty when I arrived safely home. Though Bobbi was most certainly a girl, I was still not in the free and clear. What was I doing going out to a ball game anyway? How frivolous! That’s what spoiled kids do. Stay home and work! But I digress…
The next truck I recall Daddy buying was a new F150 from Tommy Dunn. Maybe a 1982 model? It was the only two wheel drive we ever owned, and it was the stick shift my brother taught me to drive on. I had driven my parents’ car once and marveled at how the automatic transmission worked, that is, how it had the car advance slightly on flat ground even when I wasn’t giving it gas. Forget Mom’s mantra of having me drive a stick shift first; this seemed hard enough on its own.
The oldest brother put me in the driver’s seat of the F150. I had some notion of how it worked. You push the clutch in to change gears and let it out to engage. Give it a little gas, don’t kill it. But don’t give it too much, you’ll spin out. I don’t recall struggling with it. Maybe I had watched enough and paid attention that it came fairly naturally. And the rest is history. Next were tractors, old Fords, all of them: 6600, 7600, 7610, TW20, TW30. There was a New Holland in there, too, but it wutnt much count. They don’t build em like they used to. All of those tractors, older than me, were still running when we lost them.
But that is another story.
The Alan Jackson song, while it made me think of the scene, was not entirely accurate for me. The lyrics sing, “Smiling like a hero that just received his medal…I was Mario Andretti when Daddy let me drive.” While I love to entertain that emotion, the truth for me was more laden with stress. I didn’t feel like a hero; I was more worried I was about to do something wrong and would therefore meet with the underside my father’s belt. Yes, at that older age, even. My legs were old and long enough to barely push in a clutch, but not old and long enough to outrun my father. Looking back, it might not’ve been the shortcoming of the legs, but my heart unwilling to betray my father’s will. I had to do good. I didn’t feel like a hero; I was scared to death.
But that is another story.
There seems to be a thing, in the country. We learn to do things earlier. I was driving a truck, then a tractor, by the time I was 12 or 13. It doesn’t seem like a stretch, therefore, to realize I was driving all over the county by the time I was 14. I’m fairly certain there is a statute of limitations on such things or I wouldn’t tell of it. Daddy always said as long as it was farm business it was all right. You don’t have to have a license to drive a tractor, he said.
I don’t tell of such things, or my learning to drive, because I fancy that any of you give a hoot. I write of it only to perhaps spur some memory that you might have of the same. The time long ago, when Daddy let you drive.
A teacher and mother, Meagan Morehead Bradshaw lives on a farm in Bland County; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.