Letter From Langdon: Wheels

[imgbelt img=ryancar.jpg] Ryan turned 16. He passed his driver’s license test and now he’s free to make all the mistakes I made back when I first got some wheels.


Read about it in the Burlington Times News.

On another night they oiled our road while I was gone to town, but the chat truck wouldn’t be through until morning. I got back a little late that night. Just before I turned off the highway to home it started to rain. That’s the only thing that saved me because road oil that hasn’t been blotted with chat-rock collects on rubber tires like fresh cookie dough on an un-floured rolling pin.

Dad said I could have ruined the road, but because rain wet it down, the oil didn’t stick to my tires. There wasn’t even a track. “Don’t ever do that again,” was his final word on the subject. He let me keep my car keys. 

After another rain I drove Dad’s ’61 Chevy pickup over to see Linda, but where I grew up the land was table flat. All I knew up to that point was that wet road oil wouldn’t stick to tires, but that wet bottomland gumbo would. 

I’d never driven on hilly roads after a rain where a different kind of dirt turns to slickum. So when I started down one long hill, the pickup started to slide. The front left fender grazed a dirt bank at the side of the road. I found that Linda wasn’t home, so I went back through town where an old farmer who knew Dad happened to be walking down the street. He noticed the muddy smear and grass stuck in the front bumper of Dad’s truck, mouthed an exclamation, and pointed at me. 

When I got back home I washed the pickup so as not to make it too noticeable even though Dad probably would have heard about it. He never mentioned it, but the week before he dented the door of the same truck when he turned too short out in the feedlot and hit the livestock-watering tank.

That’s when I learned the cardinal rule of mistakes: you don’t mention mine and I won’t mention yours.

Dad didn’t know it, but Mother told me about the time he and his friend Harrison laid Dad’s old 4 door touring sedan over on its side. They climbed out of the car, rolled it back on its wheels and drove off with barely a scratch. 

You can’t do that with today’s paper-thin cars, or even a ’61 Chevy C10.

So when Ryan walked out of the house this evening after passing his driver’s test, and asked if he could go to town, my first impulse was to answer no. 

I suppose I’m getting crotchety in my old age, but it seems like if we could just keep the world from changing we wouldn’t have so many problems. I mean, things aren’t the best right now. 

But problems can always be worse. If I could just freeze time in the here and now, there wouldn’t be any more disease, or world hunger, or wars. I wouldn’t have to worry about my health or friends or family. Corn would always be a good price. The refrigerator would always be stocked with food. I wouldn’t care if the government had disaster funding or an incurable deficit. Or even where I got the money to pay my own debts, because none of it would ever come due.

I could just sit here on this hill where I am now and watch the windmill turn. 

Most importantly in my mind at this moment is there wouldn’t be any more painful lessons…or dented fenders.

But the Earth revolves around the sun, not me. Mostly I’m back to being a passenger traveling through the dog days of his life. But every dog has his day, and sooner or later, every kid gets his wheels.

“Be home by nine,” I said. 

“And…Be careful.”

Richard Oswald is a fifth generation Missouri farmer, president of the Missouri Farmers Union and author of the Letter From Langdon.