Vagneur: A field of dreams
Twelve-hour days in a tractor harrowing hay fields can sometimes blur the difference between reality and imagined events, if there is such a distinction.
About a month ago, I’d stopped for a late-afternoon snack, turning the engine off and leaning back in the seat, feet up, chasing down some cheese and crackers with a cold soda when off in the distance, about a half-mile away, coming up from the other side of the crest was a straw, light-colored cowboy hat, brim turned down flat for maximum sun protection. “Let’s just wait and see,” I thought, the shape of the hat striking a chord somewhere deep inside.
Getting closer, there was an irrigation shovel over the man’s right shoulder and the closer he came, steadily up the gently sloping hillside, more and more of the man became visible, including a lively brown horse dancing under him. There was a relaxed naturalness to it all that kept me transfixed to the vision, as though the man and his horse came that way every day.
There was no mistake — it was my dad, as I’ve seen him ride up that way so many times, master of his kingdom, so comfortable in the saddle — my God, he was always one with his horse — and my heart began to pound unmercifully. Things like that you can’t question for fear of breaking the spell, but how could it be possible, I wondered.
I waited, not moving, as I watched horse and rider step directly up to the green beast I drove, the man’s face one of wonder.
“That’s a beaut of a tractor,” he said. “Never have seen one like that.”
“I’m a bit confused,” he continued. “My family used to own this ranch, but I know I’ve been gone a long time and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to even be here, but it feels so good. You been here a long time?”
My father, sitting before me, was somewhere in his mid 30s, in the prime of his life, and there was little I could say or do except give him a lopsided smile like he used to give me when he was amused.
“Is that your good horse, Snicker?” I asked, trying to make conversation. With that, he pushed his hat back a bit, and his young, honest face studied me with intense curiosity and a look of consternation.
“Do I know you?” he wondered out loud. “You sure look familiar.” His intense blue eyes looked deeply at me, as though he knew the answer but was afraid to even think it.
How does a 68-year-old man tell his father, looking back at him with 30-something eyes, that “Yes, Dad, I am your son.” It just can’t happen, not in a scenario of coexisting realities, so I mumble something about yeah, I’d been around a long time and worked a few of the neighboring ranches. Neither one of us could bring ourselves to acknowledge the unusual situation, it didn’t seem.
The loud crack of thunder signaled the coming storm and large raindrops began to splatter down.
“Here, take my coat,” I offered. “I’m sitting in a warm cab and you’re out there. I’ll get it later.” And appreciatively, he pulled it around his shoulders and said that maybe he should be on his way.
“I’m looking for my family and need to get down to the ranch house and see what I can find out,” he said.
“I’ll be right behind you,” I blurted. “The tack room’s gone, but put your saddle in the granary and your horse in the pasture across from the house. You know where.”
The lightning crackled across the blackened sky, the thunder rolled and bombarded my ears gloriously, and as I dismounted the tractor to unhook the harrow, I watched my father and his horse gallop across the top of the expansive mesa, headed for home.
The house was cold and empty when I got there, and I’d like to say I found my coat draped across a kitchen chair, rather than behind the tractor seat where I’d left it. But that’s not how it went.
It’s been 34 years, Dad, since last we talked. Your importance to my life becomes more apparent with each passing year. This column is a token of my appreciation, another chance to say I love you. Happy Father’s Day!
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.