Every year I write each of the children a birthday letter. Usually it follows a simple outline. I profess my delight in them, give some examples from my memory and then go on to give them advice for the new year before I close by expressing my love and life-long commitment to them. Kyle turned twenty-three on Saturday and I departed from tradition and gave him no advice. Instead I listed two or three dozen memories that live in my heart as examples of the delight he had brought to our lives since the blustery late-October day he came into our arms.
After he read the letter he thanked me and said, “There is one memory I can’t believe you didn’t include. I can’t believe you didn’t list the time you wrecked that big red tractor out on Rutledge Road.” It is quite a story.
We lived for three and a half wonderful years on a little farmstead in eastern Knox County in Ohio. It was a farm of about ninety acres sixty of which were tillable. They were rented to a farmer who grew popcorn. The rest of the acres were hills and woods and creeks and rivers, an abandoned roadbed and outbuildings. The house was a two-story white frame house heated with natural gas. There was a gas well on the property. Our bedroom was downstairs, the boys shared a room upstairs as did the girls. That left the third upstairs room for my study. I loved to write in that garret room surrounded by books with it west-facing casement window.
It was my responsibility to keep the place mowed. Alternately there were two tractors available complete with “brush hog” mowers to do that. One was a little Ford 9-N like my grandfather had. The other was a Farmall “H” model with tricycle tires in front.
It took me a while to get that thing figured out. With the mower attached it was a big cumbersome rig. It was difficult to turn around and dangerous on hills. The power take off had no clutch so when it was attached to the mower the force of the big blades made it very difficult to stop. When you factor in all these things and add an inexperienced operator the result is comical when it is not dangerous.
If the ignition didn’t work, and usually it didn’t, you could start it with a hand crank, but you had to have courage or ignorance equal to your brawn to get the thing to work because if you didn’t do it just right it would kick back and snap your arm like a toothpick.
In defense of the machine he had served faithfully and long. I would gladly have sprung for coffee if he had ever been willing to tell me all the places he had been, the people he had served, and the jobs he had done through the years. But as long as I knew him he never talked. The old red and white H made a wonderful tractor sput-sput-sput that was inexplicably satisfying to listen to and smelled beautifully of grease and dust and gasoline.
One afternoon I was mowing a hillside and I got the contraption hopelessly hung up. I could not turn up hill to the right because the tires could not get traction. I could not back up because the mower would jackknife. I could not go forward because there was a dense woods there. I could not turn to the left because of a steep bank. I worked at it for and hour and a half.
Finally I decided to ask Kyle to stand clear while I tried to turn the thing into the bank and ride it down. I foolishly stood on the crossbar so if it looked like the tractor was going to roll I could jump clear. I headed over the embankment hoping to keep it under control but it lurched over the bank like a roller-coaster. I jumped off and watched the rig shoot down the embankment. I hoped the ditch that ran along the lane would stop it but it had a mind of its own. It easily jumped the ditch, shot across the lane, and went thundering down through the woods gaining frightening momentum and snapping off saplings like a tornado. Finally it slammed into the good sized tree with a sickening crash and came to a stop.
I ran down and shut off the tractor and stood there in uncomfortable silence. Kyle just stood there with his mouth opened and then after the dust settled said simply, “WOW.”
I wish I could tell you that is the worst mistake I have every made. Something in all of us longs for Camelot. We have somewhere deep within us a longing for a place where we are insulated from the effects of sin, especially our own. A utopia. A haven. A heaven. An ideal community.
Peter and Jesus were talking one day and Peter, who had a penchant for simply asking the obvious unspoken question that hangs in the air said, “If we follow you what reward will be have. Jesus promised that “In the regeneration…” that is, in the kingdom age we will be compensated one hundred fold for leaving behind houses and lands to follow him.
It’s a short Bible story without much detail or description. If I get a chance in the Kingdom Age I am going to own a little hill farm and it is going to be perfectly tidy all mowed and everything. In the restoration of all things I will know what just what tools and implements to use and just how to fix things. And I will tend my place with a nice little tractor like a perfectly restored gray and red Ford 9-N just like my grandpa had. Farming and gardening without weeds should be interesting.
Maybe grandpa will visit and talk shop and he can introduce me to my great grandfather and my great, great grandfather, Jerome and the rest of the family who knew the Lord. And we will tell stories out on the porch.
I’ve made a lot of foolish mistakes. Some of them were so foolish that I am blessed to be alive. Some of them are worse then foolish. They are sinful. They are shameful, but they are under the blood of Christ. And in the kingdom age there will be a restoration of all things. Everything will be new and we will have a fresh new beginning. We will have whole new life with no wrinkles, no dents, no strained or broken relationships, no curse, no pain, no tears, no sorrow and no dying. And I when I’m not tramping the hills or off to Jerusalem for worship you might find me on my place, napping in my Adirondak, or tinkering with my tractor. It’s going to purr like a kitten.
Riverfront Character Inn
November 1, 2004