In time, life's circle completes for all of us
Mychal Wilmes recalls his father's attachment to his Allis Chalmers WD tractor and his last work before his death.
Dad’s straw hat with green visor was ever-present as his bib overalls, red handkerchief, and plug tobacco. A pliers, crescent and other wrenches, and assorted bolts filled the small toolbox attached to the tractor’s fender.
A four-row planter was a blessing, as was the cultivator that might allow him to make it through fields three times before the corn got too tall.
His face — blackened by dirt — made him appear a little like a coal miner emerging from deep beneath the ground. Mother held dinner and supper, and worried that something bad might have happened if the wait was too long. The Allis Chalmers pulled next to the gas barrel just as she was about to send someone to check on him.
It must have been a good year in the early 1950s because Dad had purchased a new WD. The tractor cultivated, pulled the grain binder, and worked beneath the weight of the mounted corn picker.
By that time, the supper — many times beef steak, roast, or pork — had been in the oven far too long. Dad didn’t mind that the meat’s texture resembled shoe leather because he had lost all his teeth to gum disease in his 40s.
Dad had given in to Mother’s urging and purchased a set of false teeth, but they were uncomfortable, and worse, his children said they made him look like a monsters seen on late-night black-and-white horror movies.
It came as quite a shock to him when the WD died while cultivating a distance field on a hot June day. He walked more than a mile back home with the bad news. The crankshaft was broken and because the rear-end was in bad shape the tractor wasn’t worth repairing. By that time, the Oliver 888 had mounted a pull-behind cultivator, which his boys liked but he didn’t.
Dad had no idea how many hours he’d spent in its seat but thought that the tractor deserved better than to be pulled into the junk yard where broken grain elevators, rusted vehicles, and rusting empty barrels resided.
It may have been junk but it meant something so much more to him. It still sat there on a cold Labor Day weekend at silo filling time. Something was bothering Dad while he raked alfalfa windrows to make one last crop before winter.
The straw hat could not hide his nerves.
His chest was hurting some and asked if I minded getting him lemon drop candy from the hall closet next to the bedroom. Lemon drops, he thought, helped with a litany of stomach and other health problems.
When Mom heard he wasn’t feeling well and knew that he wouldn’t admit to it unless something was seriously wrong, he reluctantly agreed to go to the doctor. The doctor gave him pills to relax his muscles and allow him to sleep better.
The massive heart attack took him a few hours later.
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His youngest son — so unwise when it came to matters of life and death — tried to comfort his mother. Telling her that tears weren’t needed at this horrific time went far beyond stupidity, but he could think of nothing else to say.
He was beside me for a little while walking through the St. Henry church cemetery to find the gravesite that I had purchased for myself. It is located right next to the headlands of a row-cropped field and not far from my parents’ monument.
Sooner or later, life’s circle is completed. It is finished despite unexpected detours, disappointments and wishes that things would have turned out differently.
In another place and time, Dad’s WD orange paint shines, the tractor and mounted cultivator moves across the field in no particular hurry but in haste so that the field be cultivated three times before the corn grows too tall.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minnesota, with his wife, Kathy.