CHAPTER Five: TRACTOR LESSONS

      Greg was just coming out on his porch with his Saturday morning coffee, as the Anderson sisters were passing by.

   “’Morning, ladies. Out for your morning constitutional?”

   “Hi, Greg,” Victoria – Vic – replied. “We try to do this every morning – well, every dry morning – that we’re home. We walk around a half-hour or so, and by then Mom and Dad have breakfast ready.”

   “How was the school week?”

   Before an answer, Mandy half-whispered to her sister, “I’m gonna go on home, Vic.”

   “Okay, sis,” Vic replied. “I’ll be over in a minute.”

   “See you, Mandy,” Greg called after her. She gave a little wave over her shoulder.

   Vic was still standing at the foot of his stairs. “Can you sit a minute?”

   “Sure.” She sat down beside him on the steps. Neither spoke for a little bit. Finally: “You look and sound a little better than the last time I sat here with you.”

    He turned to look at her. She grinned, and said, “Smell a little better, too, I think.”

   He grinned back. “Maybe. Maybe not. It may just be that the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee is dominating.” He held up his cup. “You may notice that I have made my own, today.”

   “I did notice. I thought that was my job.”

   He tried to read her expression; he couldn’t. “You were my true Florence Nightingale last week, for which I will be eternally grateful.”

   “I didn’t mind.”

   They both sat silently for a few moments. “So, changing the subject: I was surprised when I didn’t hear the school bus Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning. Then your dad told me that you don’t come home every day.”

   “No. That school bus ride is so awful… Well, not awful, really, but it’s just so long. Between the morning ride in, and the evening ride out, we’re on that bus almost three hours a day. It’s pretty rough even on these longer spring days, but in winter it seems like we never experience daytime. We leave in the dark, come home in the dark, eat dinner, sleep, eat breakfast, and leave in the dark, again.”

   “Sounds pretty rough, all right.”

   “It is, or it was when we first got here. After awhile, my folks were able to find some people in town who would let us stay with them through the school week. We pay a little room and board, but it’s also the family of some of our school friends, so it’s not like we’re living with strangers. Sometimes, I miss being home in my own room, but it cuts out that long bus ride. It also means we can take part in some of the after-school activities that we used to miss out on.”

   “Sounds like a pretty good solution. And I saw you come home yesterday, so I know you were able to escape the long ride once again.”

   “For which Mandy and I were very grateful. So, how was your first week on the job?”

   “Okay, I think. A lot of orientation – just trying to figure out what my job is, where things are, etc., etc. I found out that not only am I going to be a biologist and an assistant refuge manager, I’m also a clerk-typist.”

   “Yeah, Mrs. Holstrom used to come in a couple days a week to do that. She just lived a mile down the road, but they moved away.”

   “So I heard. It turns out that one good decision I made in high school – one of apparently not many – was to take two semesters of typing. I can type about 40 words a minute. Well, sixty, if you don’t mind 60 misspellings.”

   “Great. You can take care of my correspondence, too, in payment for my coffee service.”

   “How much correspondence does that entail?”

   “Almost none. But I might get you to type a term paper for me.”

   “Let me know.”

   “I surely will. Now, other than practicing your secretarial skills, what else did you do?”

   “Let’s see. I spent a lot of time driving out on the refuge, sometimes with your dad, and some by myself – just trying to get the lay of the land, find where the roads go, where the water control points are, watching the birds… The refuge is a lot bigger than I imagined, even after last Sunday when your dad and I drove around a little bit. Here at headquarters, we’re in this little bowl surrounded by lava rock, and there doesn’t seem to be any outlet. It’s a real surprise to suddenly come out in wide valley, with a whole lot of marshland.”

   “It is nice out there. Mandy and I often ride out bikes way out there in the summer.”

   “That sounds like fun. So, the other thing I did was work with the Johnsons on some fence maintenance – putting in new posts, stringing barbed wire, and such. Not hard, but pretty hard work. I liked it…” He paused. “Well, I liked most of it. One part was kind of embarrassing.”

   “What part was that?”

   “Well, let me give you some background before I actually circle around to the particular problem. I’m a city kid. I hike, and camp, and climb mountains, and can live by myself like that for days. But I am definitely a city kid when it comes to things mechanical. I never built a fence before this week. It wasn’t hard to learn, but I had to learn from scratch. The boys were pretty surprised, I think, at how inept I was at the start. Also, I never drove a tractor, before, which I had to do this week. Again, it wasn’t hard to learn how to turn the key on the little Fordson, and make it go forward and backward. The problem came when I had to back up the tractor when it had the trailer with the fence building supplies attached. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get the trailer to go the direction it was supposed to go! The guys got a good laugh, and I never got it right.”

   “Want me to help you?” Vic asked, impulsively.

   He just stared at her. “What? You don’t think I can drive a tractor? You’re a city boy; I’m a country girl. I’ve been on every kind of farm equipment imaginable, including some of those giant bulldozers. I couldn’t plow a field with one, but I can turn one on, and move the blade around, and such. Do you want me to give you a lesson on the Fordson?”

   He couldn’t have been more surprised at the information or the offer. “Vic, I don’t know…”

   “What, you don’t think I could help you, or you don’t want some female trampling on your male pride?”

   “Well, it’s just…” He was still stunned by the idea. “Well, you shouldn’t be running government property…”

   “I wouldn’t be running it; you would. I’d just be giving advice.”

   “I don’t know…”

   “Okay, look, city boy. I can meet you tomorrow afternoon, and I guarantee I can have you backing up that trailer in a hour. Are you afraid I can’t, or are you afraid I can?”

   His resistance was wearing away. “Okay, country girl. If you think it’s okay with your dad, I will try to put aside my male pride, and allow you to teach me how to back up a trailer.”

  Just then, Mandy yelled at her to come to breakfast. 

 “Oops! I didn’t think I’d been here that long.” She jumped up, and started to walk away. “All right! See you tomorrow about noon. Be prepared to be impressed.”  

   “Vic!” he called after her. She turned back. “I like to talk to you.”

   “Good!” she called back.

***

   Vic hadn’t shown up by noon. He heard the Anderson family car start up, went to the door, and watched it drive away. He couldn’t see who was in it, just that there was more than one person. He turned back into the room, and sat on the edge of his bed. He tried to tell himself that he hadn’t fully believed she would come, anyway.  Another voice in his head assured him that this particular girl wouldn’t have said it if she didn’t mean it. He didn’t know why he thought that, but he was sure it was true.

   He found himself wondering about Victoria – Vic – Anderson. He had told her father that he had no interest in high school girls, and he didn’t think he did. But this one…

   He’d known a lot of high school girls when he was a high school boy. He hadn’t known many – maybe, any – since. This one – Vic – wasn’t like the ones he remembered. She was so poised – so seemingly confident – that he would have thought her older. He’d known college girls – went with one, for a while – who had seemed a lot less mature. She was certainly interesting.

   Just then, there was a light rap on his door. “Ready?” she asked, as he saw her there. As they walked over to the garages, he commented on the car leaving. “I wondered if something had come up.”

   She stopped, and looked at him. “You know I would have come and told you.” He did know. “I know you would have. I’m sorry.”

  “Accepted,” she said, and started walking. “My folks often go into town on Sunday afternoon. Sometimes, Mandy and I go with them, sometimes not. Mandy went. I pleaded an important test to study for – which, by the way, is true. But, also, I thought it would be nice if we were alone here for your lesson, so you wouldn’t be exposed to public ridicule for having a female teacher.”

   “Very kind and considerate of you. My male vanity thanks you.”

   At the garage, she told him to back out the Fordson, while she pulled the trailer out of its slot. “Take the tractor over on that flattest place, while I grab the attachment.” The trailer was awkward, but not heavy, and she had no trouble bringing it down, and attaching it to the Fordson’s tow bar. “Okay, let me climb up in the seat for a minute.”

   “I thought you weren’t going to.”

   “I lied,” she admitted, “but just a little. I’m not going to drive it anywhere. It’s just easier to show you the basic concepts if I’m sitting where you’ll be sitting.” She sat in the seat. “Okay, a tractor isn’t as easy to control as a car or truck – not as many turning options – but it’s the same principle as if you were backing up a camping trailer, or a horse trailer…” She looked at his face. “But you’ve never done either of those, right?”

   “I don’t think I’ve ever backed anything up attached to  a car, truck, tractor, or anything else.”

   She gave an exaggerated sigh. “Okay. I thought we could start at Square One, but I guess it’s Square One-half.” She giggled. “Am I making you feel like a hopeless, helpless, useless human being?”

   “Just about.”

   “Good. Part One accomplished. Now that I’ve crushed all your usual male defenses, and you are no longer thinking of me as a beautiful, but young and frail bit of female fluff, we can get to the teaching part.”

   He gave her a long, investigative look. “You did destroy my masculine objections. I think some ‘young and beautiful’ thoughts may yet survive,  but I am ready to be taught how to back up a trailer.”

   She returned his long, speculative stare, but made no comment. “Okay, then! To work, to work! Now, the main thing to realize is that you don’t have any real control over the trailer wheels. You can only make the trailer move where you want it to move by doing something with the tractor wheels.” She started the tractor. “Everything has to be done slowly. See, if I just start backing up, the trailer is going to swing around, and jack-knife.” She backed up, and it did. She brought the Fordson ahead, and straightened out the trailer. “Now, if I just ease back a little bit, I’ll feel the trailer start to go one direction or the other. When I feel that pull, I very gently turn the tractor wheels in the opposite direction.” She did. “Now, if I did it right, the trailer has turned a little bit, but it is still straight behind the tractor.” It was. “I start easing back again. The trailer starts to turn a little. I gently move the tractor in the other direction. I do this again and again, and suddenly the trailer is right where I wanted it to be.” It was. “Now, you try it.”

   Greg climbed into the tractor seat as she vacated it. On his first attempt, he jack-knifed the trailer. He did it again on the second try. “Hey, Greg,” she almost whispered to him. “You’re using too much of your he-man power. Think like a girl. Gently, gently.” He stopped for a bit, sat quietly, and thought about the message in her voice. Finally, he tried again, and actually kept the trailer going fairly straight. He accomplished that several more times.”

   “Okay, Greg, turn off the tractor, and come sit by me.” There was a bench over by the garage, and she walked over to it. He followed, and sat down beside her. She leaned over close to him, and spoke quietly in his ear. “Now that I have destroyed all your manly confidence, I am going to give it back to you. I am adding some special humility, and some extra special feelings of love and self-worth direct from me to you. You are doing beautifully. I think if you go out there now and try, you will be close to perfect.”

   Her warm breath on his ear, and a certain all-girl scent about her, didn’t make him want to move too far from the source, but he did. His next tractor attempts certainly weren’t perfect, but they were definitely in the “pretty good” range. She said as much.

   “Do you think you can back the trailer into its stall?”

   “I’m willing to try.” He had to correct his trajectory a couple of times, but he finally had the trailer pretty much where it should be.

   “By George, he’s got it!” exclaimed Vic, in an attempted British accent. Greg got off the tractor, met her at the garage door, and impulsively put his arm around her. “My teacher does a pretty fair Henry Higgins.”

   She swung away from him in surprise. “My god! You know ‘My Fair Lady?’” The ‘surprise’ hadn’t been about the arm, which he quickly – and in relief - realized.

   “Not by heart, but maybe almost.” To illustrate, he opened his arms wide, and did his own  attempt at the British voice. “It’s ow and garn that keep her in her place, not her wretched clothes and dirty face!”

   She clapped her hands in delight. “Ooh, I love that movie! Last winter, we had a chance to see it at one of the big theaters in Boise. I’ll never forget it. It was so amazing.”

   “It is awfully good. I like the movie a lot. A couple years ago, I got to see a stage production of it. Not a big Broadway cast – just local amateurs – but they did a great job.”

   Vic was still ecstatic. “I can’t believe I know somebody who has seen both the play and the movie!”

   “And probably the only wildlife manager you’ll ever meet who likes musical comedy. I am a rare breed, indeed.”

   They had started back toward his house. “You are, indeed. Hah, I still can’t quite believe it. What other musicals do you like?”

   They sat on his porch steps. “I’ve always liked the ones that everybody knows, like ‘Carousel’ and ‘Oklahoma.’ I’m very fond of ‘Kismet.’ One of the lesser known ones – although they made a movie of it awhile back - is ‘The Pajama Game.’”

   “I’ve heard about ‘Kismet,’ but not the other one. What’s it about?”

   “Well, the back story is about a bunch of workers in a pajama factory trying to get a raise in their pay: 7 ½ cents. As they say,” (and he sang a little) “ ‘Seven and half cents doesn’t buy a hell of a lot. Seven and a half cents doesn’t mean a thing. But give it to me every hour, forty hours every week. That’s enough for me to be living like a king.”

   “Cute lyrics.”

   “Well, that’s the back story. Like most plays, the real action is in the side stories.”

   Vic happened to look up, and noticed that the sun was almost down. She stood up. “I want to get home before my parents. I better go.”

   He caught her hand in his. “Vic, thanks. I really appreciate what you did for me – and how you did it. Thinking about your Florence Nightingale role, and now your tractor teacher persona, I think I could get to like you.”

   She smiled, and loosed her hand. “You already like me. Quite a lot. And my crystal ball says – oops, I don’t seem to have it with me – but it says you will get to like me even more.”

   “Under the circumstances, is that a good thing?”

   “Well, I don’t know under what specific circumstances you are considering, but my own circumstances say it’s a very good thing.”

   And then she was gone. He heard her parents come home about a half-hour later.

   That evening, he spent quite a while thinking about the afternoon. Not much of his thinking was about the tractor lesson.



To The Writing It Down Homepage


Leave a Comment: symbios@condortales.com

© Sanford Wilbur 2022