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Three Generations

© Copyright 1996, 1997, 1998 by Diane Haugen. All rights reserved

I could have learned to use these monster machines, but chose not to, preferring to remember when farming had been a more personal grooming of the soil, a kindred feeling of oneness with the land which rolled by at a snail's pace only a few feet below the soles of your shoes, on equipment open to the bugs, the heat, the dust, the dirt. Somehow riding around at relatively quick speeds ensconced many feet off the ground in a plastic womb separates the tiller from the land, insulating, isolating, breaking the palpable spirit of working the soil.

For my sons, they saw a markedly different tenor of life -- thinner, less varied, less rich in the variety of things it took to survive.

When my sons were little, the truck I carefully drove over the hay windrows when I was 10 now sat behind the machinery shed next to the shelter belt of trees. A 1938 half-ton Chevrolet, it had real celluloid knobs, a windshield that cranked out a few inches to let in air, a single windshield wiper that turned on with a knob near the top edge of the windshield glass. Instead of a hood, the truck had side panels over the engine that lifted up.

I was unable to start this truck because it had one of those floor pegs up under the heater. I was too short to manage sitting on the seat, hanging onto the steering wheel, and reaching the starter at the same time. The truck also had what I'm sure were very little in the line of brakes, and the only thing that kept us from rolling down the hills as we started the thing was a masterful manipulation of the clutch and gears as you stepped on the starter. Once running, however, I could keep it running, straddling the rows of hay, keeping the two-piece train of equipment on course and turning around at the ends of the rows, dragging the hayloader behind. Dale and whoever might be helping rode in the hayrack behind, evenly spreading the hay over the bed of the truck, until the hay hung piled up over and out the top, dripping down over the sides of the rack like frosting does on a cake.

Even when I was little, the roof of the cab had already been dented in from numerous jumpings down from the full hay rack, then onto the hood, down to the truck runner, and into the cab for the slow-motion rolling and swaying ride to the barn.

Now the hayloader rested in the back of the quonset, never quite demoted to the old chicken yard, where the remnants of the binder, the corn planter, and dump rake sat mired in grass, decaying with great slowness. Behind the quanset, the truck had sat unused for 30 years.

My youngest son played in this venerable truck, removing the masonite-like interior panelling to clean out the nest of field mice, dreaming of restoring it to working order some day. To his surprise, he found he had to repeat the process all over again the following summer. The busy mice filled up the crevices with just as many if not more nesting materials than he had cleaned out the previous year.

One summer Dale worked with him to see if they could get the truck running again. We made a trip to a distant junk yard to take a carburator off an old pickup. A marvelous place covering acres and acres out in the middle of nowhere, where numerous goats ran freely amongst the equipment, keeping the grass in check.

Back at the farm, Dale found a battery in the quonset and replaced the moldering one left in the truck. Briefly, with great joy, the truck ran for a few minutes. Three generations came together, creating a web of memories around an artifact rich with history. All different memories, but threaded together, holding us together.

And always, under our feet, the land. Meaning something different to each of us, holding my sons with perhaps less fierceness than me, but holding them nonetheless. Beside us, larger than life, was Dale, for whom the land was life itself.

© Copyright 1996, 1997, 1998 by Diane Haugen. All rights reserved. No portion of this chapter may be copied, retransmitted, reposted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of the author.

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