Who Was Doc?
Doc was a West Texas farmer. He had a visceral connection to the land. I know this because I saw it first-hand many times. One of those times comes vividly to mind and stands out more than most others.
It was a warm, cloudless spring day in 1953 on the Rolling Plains of Texas. “Come on, Johnnie,” Daddy said that day reaching for the straw hat he kept on a ten-penny nail behind the kitchen door. “Come go with me and let’s get on the tractor.” I enjoyed riding on the tractor with Daddy just about as much as anything I could think of. Standing up behind him up on the B-Series John Deere, we headed toward the fallow field of wheat stubble. Daddy sat in the hard, iron tractor seat, the one studded with small holes, the one that gave him the piles. His only physical ailment. Oh, he sometimes had a winter head cold, but he was extraordinarily healthy and fit. The only time Daddy ever complained was when he accidentally injured himself with a piece of farm machinery.
On that dazzling Texas morning, I watched Daddy make the first pass through the center of the field “busting” the ground with a single-bottom plow. He had calibrated the plow-setting to reach as deep as possible without putting too much strain on the tractor. The deeper soil contained more nutrients, which meant that the cotton Daddy was going to plant would get a healthy start. As the two chugging, engine cylinders powered the John Deere through the field, sandy-loam soil damp from the winter rains, turned up and over like butter curling across the shiny, steel plow share.
There was nothing quite like it. Although simple, it was a new beginning each year. Riding up on that green tractor with the energy of Mother Earth waking up from her long winter slumber, I was part of it. The freshly broken soil smelled alive and healthy. I wanted to take a big bite of it. To me, the plowed land was refreshingly pungent like Mama’s just-cut vegetables ready for a salad bowl.
Daddy stopped half way through the first cut across the field. We got down off the tractor and knelt by the open furrow. He picked up a handful of the moist soil rolling it around in his big, calloused hand making small dirt balls with his thumb. He put a ball up to his sun-browned nose and smelled it. I watched his face. His eyes welled with tears as he swallowed hard. Smiling, he looked up at me and said, “It’s going to be a good crop year, Johnnie.”
That was the exact moment I realized how intensely Daddy loved that little piece of ground and his life as a farmer. Climbing back on the tractor in back of my daddy felt great. He was my rock. A good man. A happy man. And a wonderful father. Always. Standing on the tractor behind him, I threw my arms around his neck. He pushed the clutch forward. The green “Poppin’ Johnny” headed toward the end of the field.
“I’m really happy, Johnnie, farming this place and having you ride with me, hugging my neck,” Daddy said. His words fell over me like gentle rain after a drought. I was happy, too.