Saturday, July 16, 2011

Daddy's Girl

What do you think about when you hear the phrase ‘Daddy’s Girl’?

Do you visualize a princess in pink taffeta twirling before her beaming father? Or a little girl, hands encased in pristine white gloves, serving pretend tea in a tiny plastic teacup while her daddy balances on a chair so small he’s in serious danger of tipping over?

I was my daddy’s little girl, but instead of pretend tea, my greasy hands were more likely to hand him a crescent wrench, a roll of baling twine, or a screwdriver while the two of us worked to repair a tractor or finish baling hay before the rains came.

My daddy was a farmer, and when my two older brothers left home, it was my turn to help Daddy on the farm. Daddy taught me to drive a tractor, to hook up a bushhog, milk cows, and to cut, rake, and bale hay — along with a host of other skills that have come in handy over the years. It never seemed to occur to Daddy that I couldn’t do the same work on the farm that my brothers had done before me.

No one is exempt from work on a farm. Not even a princess.

So if I had to work, I wanted it to be at something I enjoyed. I liked working in the hayfield, driving tractors and daydreaming. So much, in fact, that one day when Mama told me the garden needed hoeing, I asked if we had any hay to bale. Informed there wasn’t any, I wanted to know if I could cut some. I was willing to do anything to get out of working in the garden.

I spent my teen years working side-by-side with Daddy, putting up hay for our own use and for neighboring farmers. At first, I drove an old Allis Chalmers 110 tractor to rake hay. The tractor was small and ancient. It didn’t have a canopy to provide shade, and it didn’t have power steering. For a little thing, it was a monster to drive. Later Daddy bought a used Ford tractor with a cab, air conditioning, and a radio to use for raking hay. Boy, did that air conditioning feel good on a sweltering July afternoon out in the middle of a hay field.

I wore my hair twisted under a cap when working. It was cooler and kept it out of my way as well. One day while cutting hay at a neighbor’s place, a man drove up to their home. When he couldn’t find anyone at the neighbor’s house, he drove out into the hayfield.

I cut the throttle on the Ford tractor and disengaged the PTO, letting the whirling blades on the hay mower grind to a halt. As I opened the tractor door, the stranger looked up at me.

His eyes widened in surprise. “You’re a girl!”

That just tickled me pink. I guess he’d never seen a teenage girl operating a five-ton tractor and a hay mower. I couldn’t wait to tell Daddy what had happened. He got just as big of a kick out of it as I did.

On rainy days and Saturday mornings, Daddy and the other farmers could be found at the local country store, sitting around an old stove shooting the breeze. I spent many days sitting there with them, the only girl in the bunch. And when Mama told me I could skip school on my birthday, I was very excited. My birthday fell on a Thursday that year, and I could spend the day at the stockyard with Daddy.

Daddy taught me the value of hard work through example. But more than that, he taught me that I could do anything, be anything I wanted. He never told me I couldn’t achieve my dreams — dreams mostly formed inside the cab of a tractor.
I dreamed of becoming a pilot and a flight attendant, a linguist and an accountant. I dreamed of touring the world, of taming the old west, of running away with the circus, of becoming a missionary.

Eventually, all those dreams swirled together to form the best dream of all — weaving stories where I could be all of the above and more.

Today my sons help their daddy in the hayfield, and they’re learning lessons that will last a lifetime. Being behind the wheel of a tractor and raking sweet-smelling hay into neat rows with nothing but the blue sky for company is a good place to dream big dreams and do wondrous things.

Daddy was taken from us in the prime of his life several years ago, and I never truly understood what a special man he was until much later. Even now when his name comes up among farmers in the area, it never fails that someone mentions what a good man and a hard worker he was. I’d like to think some of his work ethic rubbed off on me from the many hours we spent in the hay fields together.

Thanks Daddy. I’m proud to be your girl!

Heard about my debut novel, Stealing Jake? Click here to check it out on Amazon!

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