January 28, 2020

The Tale of a Geezer in the Wrong Century

That would be a non-computerized hand pump. And a cow.

Janine Pineo Photo | That would be a non-computerized hand pump. And a cow.

• By John F. Chisholm •

Isn’t it strange how we never think of ourselves as old.  Oh, we give lip service to the concept, “I’m just an old man” (or an old woman) but we don’t mean it.  Not really.  In our minds we’re still the same age we always are.

That goes for our equipment, too.

This whole disconnect / misconception was brought to the fore as I prepared the Model 40 tractor for summer service yesterday afternoon.  I reserve that tractor for trim-up work.  It’s very good at it.  It’s equipped with a John Deere, Number 5 mower.  That wasn’t made recently either.  No.  But that doesn’t matter, at least not to me.  Together we clean up a lot of ground that I’d never have time to clear if I had to do it all by hand.

I begin by starting the tractor.  Admittedly, that’s not always an easy routine.  It’s been sitting in the barn for a year with its battery disconnected.  That can make it a reluctant riser.  But I clean the sparkplugs, check the points and the distributor contacts.  I hook up the charger and dust off the carburetor and so on.  Eventually it starts.  I let it idle, warming the engine.  Then I run it out to the garage and change the oil, filters and grease it, too.

This year a passing car screeched to a halt.  The driver hopped out, stopping me in front of the barn.  “Hey!  Look at that.”   He pointed.  “Can I take a picture of your tractor?”

“Well, sure.  Of course.  Have at it.”  I climbed down so as not to ruin the image.
He walked all around it holding up his cellphone and exclaiming along the way.  “Wow.  I’ve never seen one of these.  What kind is it?  What year?”  He had to raise his voice over the throaty idle of the tractor.  He pulled a pair of ear buds out to help him hear, tucking the wires in his shirt pocket.

I shouted back.  “It’s a 1951 Cockshutt.”

“Cockshutt?  Never heard of it.  And 1951?”  He laughed.  “I wasn’t even born.”

Whoa.  There’s a perspective.  I may as well admit right now that 1951 just doesn’t seem all that long ago.  Not to me.  I started explaining that modern farm tractors are only computers on wheels.  I added that nobody with a budget can possibly afford hiring the dealer every time something goes wrong.

Midway through one of my pet peeves he stopped me.  He waved his arms as if advertising the green ‘M’ in the middle of tee shirt.  ‘Monster Drinks’.  “You don’t like new tractors?  What year are you?  This is 2013.”

The question sat me back.  I thought a moment.  Then I faced the truth, even spoke it aloud.  “I’m just an old geezer.”  I nodded toward the tractor beside us.  “But that’s one hell of a machine.  It doesn’t matter that it’s 62 years old.  Not a bit.”  Then I cleared my throat, diffidently adding more.  “It’s actually one of my newer models.”

He stared at me as if Roswell, New Mexico, was right next door and I’d been marooned by my fellow spacefarers.  Then he holstered his cellphone in a special case on his belt.  The Velcro flap snarled as he readjusted the cover, making certain that it was secure.  Finally he squinted toward the sun as though searching for my ship before facing me once more.  “Well, thanks for the pictures.”  He hurried back to Tay Road and re-entered his era.  A modern, computer-controlled car sped away with him in it, together with all his electronic devices, too.

I was left looking at myself, unsure of exactly what he saw.  No question, he and I were from different ages, perspectives and times.  I smiled, remembering. But my joy slipped.  Nothing I said gave that man the slightest pause.  I was just some old coot with a tractor he’d never seen before.

The realization made me feel like Cassandra.

Knowing the truth but being denied credibility is the beauty and agony of old age.