The last rap of the gavel did not echo. What bidders remained were few and stingy, silently colluding scrappers and junk iron haunts mostly, the occasional local Romeo in search of a suitable demo derby car “for the lady” on the odds they run Powder Puff class at the county fair again this year.
Think Lexus’ “December to Remember” campaign. The camera pulls back and she walks out the front door. Instead of a shiny new RX in the driveway with a massive bow on top, there sits a sullen 1992 Mercury Sable, three flat tires, atop the trailer upon it was roughly winched, cold thirty pack of Busch Light with twenty-three remaining placed at a jaunty angle on the hood. The clear coat, which originally popped the silver underneath like wet concrete, is slowly being shed like a rattlesnake leaving behind old skin. A car with vitiligo.
Best of luck at the derby, lovers.
Two days, I’d told myself. The farm sale was rapidly approaching, and I knew dad wasn’t ready. Two days of labor – we’ll get everything straightened out, lined up, and then I’ll be off, starting my next adventure. I was headed home – “Home-home” – the term I’ve used to describe this place I left two decades prior.
Two days became “til the end of the week”, which turned into three weeks. On the first day back, I understood within the first hour why things were going so slow. I’d forgotten just how exponentially difficult life on the farm can be when two vital conditions are not met.
First, it requires two people or everything takes 10 times longer. Simple things, like opening a gate to pull into a pasture and drop a bale. Dad would clutch the old bale truck and roll gently to the gate, I pop the door and leave it open, summoning my junior high linebacker days and throw a shoulder into the gate post, squeezing it close enough to loosen and remove the wire garrote holding it in place. Walk the barb wire gate around as the truck passes through, and depending on the location of the herd, either quickly put it back in place or leave it lay and jump back in the cab, softly landing on the bench seat and slamming shut the door simultaneously.
Now the bale truck sits forlorn in the yard, dead. Mortally wounded by a blown head gasket, it’s been parked in the same spot for years, and the little 666 International with a loader is out of commission as well. But not the skid steer, which looks comical laden with a cane bale equal in height. Climbing in and out of the skidsteer used to be an afterthought – add some years, some pounds, and a back surgery or two, and no one familiar with the experience would blame a fella for putting in a cattle guard, a mystical contraption whose spaced pipe flooring does away with the need for a gate, allowing a truck to drive straight across unimpeded, while the cattle are kept on the other side like an invisible prison wall.
But cattle rustling is alive and well, and to put in a cattle guard is to lower slightly the already minimal effort it takes to pull in a trailer, open the back gate, spread a few mineral cubes and load up a baker’s dozen of bovine. The barb wire gate remains, harder to open every year, as gate and man both become slightly more rigid.
And that’s the other vital condition beyond the convenience of having your second to open gates, guide backing up to an implement, drop the hitch pin, lower the jack, and at least a thousand more examples: beyond having two people, one must be physically strong and flexible.
Take the tire off a planter, patch it, and replace. Easy enough. Air-over-hydraulic jack, air impact, and bob’s your uncle.
Load the gas-powered air compressor which is too heavy to lift. Contort a body as flexible as pre-cooked pasta under the frame to find the perfect for the heavy ass jack, realizing a block is needed underneath if there’s any hope to get it off the ground. Dread the fiery pain resulting from a violent pull of the starting rope, as the little Briggs and Stratton proves as difficult to motivate as the most melancholy of teens.
It takes two, minimum, one of which, preferably, an amateur contortionist and de facto strong man. Add in a working knowledge of physics, hydraulics, and electricity, all sitting upon a mountain of institutional knowledge, a secret library of tricks and methods known only to one.
Like a magician’s wand “tap taps” and what was there is no longer, so raps the auctioneers gavel. Not a definitive bang, nor a respectful tap. An unconsidered, yet not inconsiderate, rap. And poof – it’s over and gone, and the beautiful farm, like the magician’s assistant, who began this menagerie looking like a million bucks, who knows all his secrets, was sawed in half…and now is gone.
But here, gathered on the north side of the trees, you’d never know. We crowd between the remaining auction items on-site, backs against someone else’s second-hand treasure, shoulders rolled forward and eyes down as the gentle breeze of the morning has finally stretched its legs enough to do sprints, gusting at twenty-five mile per hour and pile-driving unseen particles of diamond-sharp dust into any and all crevices.
The wind, and the damn stickers. Two things I won’t miss. The only two. Its jovial, close friends gathering now with both kinds of beer – Bud and Bud Light. A dozen bottle of Shiner Bock look conspicuously, as though a test. These are men, hard men, and this is a hard place, where ordering a chef’s salad may come with a jibe, like “Salad, huh? Didn’t even know you liked men.” These are men for whom life insurance companies offer non-tobacco rates to, regardless of how many rolls of Skoal they’ve cut open with dirty thumbnails. Farming in a frontier county treats men so hard that not even cancer ranks high enough as a concern to merit a premium.
And like all things in life which are hard, it’s worth it. I grab a Shiner, bum a chew for the first time in eighteen months, and sink to the ground against a truck tire, ass full of stickers and heart full of life.
It’s good to be home.