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August 19, 2011

From Fly Creek: ‘We done a good job’

Back on the tractor again. After supper, almost twilight, but enough brightness left to mow our little west field. Already enough hint of evening, though, that the rooster and hens, on the lawn beyond the fence’s wire, are doing their bug-catching close to the chicken yard’s open gate.

By the time I’ve done the mowing, the birds will have waddled inside the henhouse, jumped up clumsily, and aligned themselves on the roosting bar. No need to hustle them in, you see. Something in those bird brains links fading light with predators, and so the chickens do come home to roost.

But I’m jouncing along under a sky still brilliantly blue, bright with the setting sun’s last light. As I mow southward down the field, then swing north again, an armada of gold-tinged clouds is sailing across above me, west to east.

A perfect light breeze pushes me down the field, cooling my neck and ears, and then it blesses me full in the face as I turn and rumble north.

It’s a joy to be on the tractor, mowing again. A year ago, my balance was so bad that swinging the machine into a close turn would have risked falling right off and perhaps under my own wheels. But Parkinson’s has been a gentle companion for some months now, perhaps giving its full attention, just now, to someone else. I’m grateful for the reprieve but know from four years’ history that my turn will come again.

I’m thinking that Parkinson’s gave me this break to finish the book. For “Wobbling  Home” is done. It’s at theprinter’s, ready to be released on Aug. 21, this coming Sunday! At 4:30 that afternoon in the Cooperstown Presbyterian  Church’s chapel on Pioneer Street, Anne and I are hostinga sort of launch reception. And you’re all invited!

There will be light refreshments for you and maybe some music. The publisher will say kind words about the guest-of-honor “Wobbling Home,” and he’ll have stacks of the book on hand in case (ahem) anyone should want to buy and have me autograph one. Or two. Or five.

That’s good to think about as I rattle up and down this small field. Of course I never do such a job without a grateful memory of my farming mentor Arrie Hecox, who mowed these fields long before I owned them, when they still belonged to the Stanley and Frances Stucin, and Arrie gathered the dried hay into their small barn, now ours.

As a young man, Arrie did his haying with horse-drawn rigs; tractors came later for him. In those days he plowed behind horses, mowed and winnowed hay behind horses. And when he gathered the hay, he tossed it, a forkful at a time, onto a wagon drawn by a patient team. Arrie was more at ease with those animals than with most humans. And when he switched to tractor power, he brought an endearing habit over from horse-drawn days.

For as he had un-harnessed the horses, he had always patted each one on the shoulder and said, “Good work.” What he meant was, “We done good work together.” And, friends, I never saw him cut off a tractor engine and climb laboriously down without pausing to pat the motor cowling.

Maybe I’m crazy, but I do the same thing, a decade after Arrie’s death. I cut the tractor engine, set the brake, and make my own laborious descent. Then I pat the warm cowling and say, “Good tractor!” And sometimes “We done good work together.” Old men get foolish, but so what?

And I’m thinking, friends, that this book and I “done good work” together, too. It felt like teamwork from the beginning. At first it was like plowing. The horse was hauling me along (from the first, the book had its own will), but I had to jerk and twist the blade around roots and rocks.

With the ground broken, there was seeding − not so hard, since I broadcast the seed by hand, walking up and down the furrows, appraising what was done and what remained to do. I waited, as the seed did its sprouting, somewhere inside my addled head.

Then came the time for horsepower again. The book and I worked together, it pulling me along, I clumsily handling the reins. We mowed and tedded and winnowed and then baled into chapters. Finally, with the load securely tied down, I drove it off to the barn.

So the book’s all done, and I’m already thinking of the next one. But on Aug. 21 (I hope you’re there!), I’m going to open a cardboard carton. Before I take out a copy, I’ll going to pat that book on the cover.

“We done good work,” I’ll say. I hope you’ll think so, too.

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