Tom and the Tractor
By Ronnie Bray
Blessed are they who find their place in life and are happy and content with their lot. That is not one of the Beatitudes, but it contains more than a grain of truth so perhaps it ought to be. In comparing the unhappy souls whose lives are spent in search of that which is undefined and unobtainable with those who find their niche and are contented and happy, delighting themselves and those whose lives they touch with their smiles, self-confidence, and talents. These are the purveyors of pleasantries, the dispensers of delectation, the scatterers of sunshine, the bringers of benevolence, the harvesters of happiness, the refectors of righteousness, and lighten lives with light and love.
There we were; Norma, Joanne, Nicholas, Joseph, Tom, baby Luke, and me, holidaying in North Cornwall at the holiday apartments belonging to my step-daughter, Simone, and her husband, Tim, but had driven up the coast a little way into Devon and found better weather than the cool drizzle we had left behind, and The Big Sheep theme park that was a working sheep farm gone decidedly and wonderfully tourist.
Our hearts were made happy by the sense of freedom from the cares of our work-a-day lives and the closeness of children and grandchildren, and the big sun shone down on Devon, us, and the Big Sheep, and we were warmed inside and out by everything and everybody and “every prospect pleases”.
We paid their fees and went into the woolly wonderland whose amusements were aimed at diminutive personages. We enjoyed watching as inventive entertainments expanded before us, into which Joseph and Tom plunged full-blooded, providing our adult constitutions with vicarious enjoyments which, from our adult fear, we did not dare to emulate. We ate more than was good for us, drank fizzy concoctions from gaily-coloured bottles, and languished in the heat of a day filled with the sounds and sights of exhilarated children enjoying themselves as only children can.
Those of us whose needs are too complex to be filled with such simple pleasures will never understand what went through Tom’s mind as he and I stood holding hands near the phenomenon we discovered as we turned a corner of one of the pathways of The Big Sheep in that near-perfect blesséd summer of 1997.
A farmer would not have given it a second look for its best days were patently well behind it. It had been painted a bright glossy blue to make it attractive. Its engine was a mass of rust, its huge rear tires deflated and cracked, its towing brackets seized with the oxidation of too many winters and too little maintenance, but it was still undeniably and arrestingly a TRACTOR!
What can surpass the imagination of a child? For that ungraspable faculty of childhood that shrinks with age, and disappears altogether from the mean and miserable, will turn a cardboard box into a battleship, a haunted house, a castle, a train, an underground tunnel, a space rocket, a pirate ship, or anything else that the tumble-through-game with unlikely but contextual twists and turns that pliable young minds wrapped in their own play-worlds need it to be. But, no imagination needed for this one: it was a tractor and that was that, for a tractor is a tractor is a tractor is a tractor.
To add to its allure the tractor was not uninhabited. In fact, it was loaded with vociferous children. They none too gracefully shared the bouncing metal saddle and many hands clutched at the big steering-wheel, turning it first this way, then that way, as far as its rusted steering box and overgrown front wheels would permit their tiny child arms to move it. Engine noises came from each throat as the long dead tractor worked hard in their fertile imaginations.
At my side, Tom’s body wriggled excitedly as he started towards the object of his desire, yanking me after him. We paused not too far away, just sufficiently close to signal to the other children that Tom was waiting for his turn but was too polite to ask them to vacate their diversion. And yet, in that way human beings have of communicating without words, the tractor-children roared one last time before dutifully clambering off and standing to one side, tacitly indicating that they had withdrawn from the metal monster in courtesy to Tom. Needing no second bidding, and with no thought of thanking them, Tom, smiled his BigTomSmile, scaled the tractor, leaned forward to grip the steering wheel, and set off for the fields of his desire to plough his wavy furrows until the going down of the sun.
The sun was high in the sky that day and the threat of rain had pleasantly swirled around The Big Sheep without spilling a drop on it, allowing the June sun to warm our careless world into a day when sunshine and the laughter seemed to go on forever and we remember that all our childhood summer days felt, smelled, and tasted as this one did. It was a good day to be alive and would have been a good day to die. My world was at peace with easy time spent with Norma, Jo and Nick, and their little boys. I never wished for any more than that, and my heart was content, and my soul felt blessed.
Albeit from a different cause, Tom had feelings similar to mine. His smile-wreathed face said everything, but the true feeling of his heart was made evident when a bundle of small children queued up at the side of the vehicle and tacitly made their puissant demands for a turn on the tractor. (What power is in a properly executed scowl!) It would be inaccurate to say that all hell broke loose, but something closely akin to it broke loose inside Tom and showed itself on his face.
I gently attempted to persuade him to get off his prize, promising that if he waited a little while he would be able to ‘drive’ it again. “No!” I tried reasoning with him, appealling to his better nature to share with the little eagers stood ever closer as time passed. “No!” Reaching into my metaphorical knapsack for WD40 and the long crowbar, I tried to lubricate his two-ton grip and prise him from the machine. “No!” He was, if you will pardon the expression, intractable and undetractorable. Yet, even small boys hardly out of babyhood will wear down eventually if you remain calm and kind, and, in time, Tom reluctantly descended from the lofty grandeur of the ancient Fordson and planted his feet again on the greensward. He was not smiling.
I reflected on the injustice of having to deprive a child of that which he most prized above all else, and wished that I could have bought Tom his very own tractor, for that was all he wanted in the world at that moment and would have made his life complete. I looked at the rest of the group: they seemed almost to have everything they wanted from life at that moment; a sunny day freed from normal burdens in these pleasant, stimulating, and safe surroundings, with happy children, and the pleasing and loving companionship of family members who understood and loved them.
In time, Tom got over his attachment to the tractor as new distractions waylaid and beguiled him, blurring the memory of the old tractor until it was sunk without trace. Often, we find things we think we cannot live without. Yet, when the object of our clamouring is unobtainable or, having been obtained is then removed, we find new things to occupy us and we are content. Getting over the things we want that we cannot have or hold onto is one of the great blessings of life.
So for Tom, the prized tractor faded in the golden afterglow of that flawless day, and his life was not less happy for it. She with whom I shared that day and its perfect presents has gone from me to the bright land of tomorrow. Those who loved me then have turned away from me. And those happy children in whose laughter I bathed, are gone too, living still in my memory where they are locked in a time and a place that will not let them grow above their pigmy size as if lost in a stillness as profound as that of deep space, and just as cold and desolate.
In time, Tom will find another tractor. But what can replace the ardent hearts of little children and their peerless way of loving even the most undeserving? Perhaps I would have fallen in love with the tractor, although I do not believe so. But you can always buy another tractor.
In 2009, Tom's mother let me know that for reasons as yet unclear, she and all her family were withdrawing any affection and connection with me, and they have done so. Because of this I am more sure than ever that nothing can replace "the ardent hearts of little children and their peerless way of loving even the most undeserving?" Nothing ever will, and that is my tragedy.
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