Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River. It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.
I have mentioned my grandfather Smith before, and in passing said that he had bought a tractor since at 88 he was too old to pass a driver's test. In Arkansas there is a specific exemption from having to have a driver's license when one is operating "implements of husbandry" on public roadways, mostly to let underage kids help their families run the farm.
The loophole worked very well for him, because the mile and a half one way walk to town was getting to be too much for him, especially in the heat of the summer and the dead of winter. He always needed to go to town for something or other like Prince Albert or other things, and he liked to hang out with the guys who would sit in front of John Mackey's little store and chew the fat.
I was forbidden to get on the tractor when he was operating it because my parents and my grandmum (on my mum's side) feared for my life. They were probably right.
Granddad did know how to drive, and back when he was younger had a car or a truck. After he essentially retired he really did not have any need for one as long as he could walk to town and back. His needs were simple: some tobacco and rolling papers, the newspaper, a little food, some milk, and that was about it. He was not a big drinker. That would have been a problem, because Hackett was and still is to my knowledge, "dry". Driving a tractor 15 miles one way to go to Fort Smith would have been more difficult.
That is not to say that he did not drink at all, but just that he did not drink a lot. Dad would take him a six pack of beer or a pint of whiskey every couple of weeks and that was plenty for him. Thus, almost all of his needs were met by going to town on the tractor.
In winter he would just bundle up and go to town, and in the hot summer he would wear a wifebeater undershirt and long trousers (most men of his era did not wear short pants, at least in Hackett). I do not remember him ever wearing a hat, but I bet that he did when it was cold. From his sun exposure in hot weather he developed skin cancer on the tops of his ears (he had a full head of hair even at 88, and unfortunately I inherited my hair from my other grandfather). He waited too long for proper removal, so they had to clip both of his ears, making him have a strange resemblance to Mr. Spock (then just a glimmer in Gene Roddenberry's eye).
For the most part he did pretty well with the tractor. As I recall, the most common cause of casualties involving tractors is turning them over by trying to drive them along a grade rather than straight up and down the grade. (This also applies to lawn tractors, so always mow banks up and down, not along them.) The only real grade on his route betwixt town and his place was straight up and down on the highway, so that was not a problem.
He had three real problems, though. The first was that his eyesight was not that sharp (he could read if he used a magnifying glass), mostly due to ultraviolet induced cataracts (for more information read my blog about tanning here).
His second problem was that he was almost deaf. Because of that, he really could not hear other traffic. He probably could hear a horn honk IF it were really close, but with a 60 mph car (the speed limit on open two lane roads in Arkansas at the time was 60) and maybe at best a 25 mph tractor, the car wins.
His third problem was that he was what they called there at the time "bull headed". You could not tell him anything. he was not arrogant about it, but it was more like he was just set in his ways. For example, he would make sudden left turns, regardless of traffic that might be about to pass him, without using a hand signal. (Does anyone remember hand signals?) My father saw him do that once, and told him, "Dad, you've got to signal before you turn like that! Someone might hit you." Granddad replied, "Law, ever'one knows that I always turn here!" You get the idea.
With all of that, he was never injured driving the tractor and to the best of my knowledge never caused anyone else to have an accident. I am sure that he came close, though.
There is one incident that could have been fatal, and just from sheer luck it was not. He was driving up what probably 30 or 40 years ago had been a street in Hackett to come and see my grandmum and me. Mostly me, because I was the only kid that he really liked in his old age. He and my grandmum did not agree on much, and both were very strong willed.
In any event, he was driving up what he thought was a still open street (even though it was grown over with weeds and shrubs and had never been paved, and why he did not just drive up main street escapes me) and misjudged where the bridge over the large drainage ditch was. He went into the, fortunately dry, ditch at about a 45 degree angle. The ditch where he found it was only about four feet deep and fairly gently sloping, and was soft dirt.
He had to get Wayne Lennier to bring his tractor to pull him out, but he was not hurt and never left his seat, at least for very long. What I mean is he was not ejected from the tractor seat and all was well. Hey, he KNEW that that was a street and that there was a bridge!
Now for the rest of the story. He went into the ditch around 15 or 20 feet east of where the bridge was. "Was" is the operative word, because that wooden bridge had rotten away decades ago. In addition, instead of being a 45 degree (give or take) angle in soft dirt, the place where the bridge had been was more like 10 feet deep with 90 degree sandstone supports where it had been, and there WAS water there.
If he had driven off there, he almost certainly would have been seriously injured and most probably killed ("kilt" as he would have said), either by blunt force trauma to his head or by drowning. I believe that in this case his poor eyesight might have saved him.
Granddad always said that he had a Guardian Angel looking out for him, and with such bonehead stunts like that he may have. My mum added, sort of under her breath, "And that angel beating its wings off because it can never rest!"
That is it for now. Please contribute stories about your childhood in the comments! I know that I get a kick out of reading them, and commentors say the same. It is not necessary that you grew up in a little town.
Here is an update on my wrist. I looked up my first mention about it was here, and I let a couple of days expire before I wrote about it, so this has been going on for nine weeks or so. From zero function, I am at about 80% now. I wear my splint only when sleeping or typing now and I believe that the neurological damage has healed. The next phase is to exercise the muscles that have not been used to any great extent for that time to strengthen them. I am typing with 10 fingers again now except for the bad habits that I developed when I could use only the index finger on my right hand to type. I am still taking heavy doses of anti inflammatory drugs and nutritional supplements to accelerate the healing.
Finally, I want to express my sincere thanks to everyone who expressed their good wishes and support for my friend when she had a near fatal experience Saturday. She is very much better now, and obtained an epinephrine self injector today. I am relieved that she has that critical piece of life saving equipment now.
Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith