The only pollution my small town ever experienced was during the Labor Day Tractor Pull.
That was the day my sleepy, little town woke up. It was a big deal. Really, it was the only deal that brought out the locals. Farmers would drive their tractors into town all morning. Cars would be parked all along the side streets and everyone gathered at the park in the northeast corner of West Point. The park wasn’t really used for any other thing. It didn’t even have a good playground. You might occasionally see a picnic or a big family get together. It WAS used by a few high school kids in the back of the park late at night for activities that kids do late at night in the back of parks. Otherwise, that was it.
Before the main event there were events for the kids. Bicycle races and foot races. I did well in those. There were pie eating contests followed by watermelon eating contests. One year my brother, Bill, won each of those back to back. And there were raffles to raise money for simple things like new bleachers and keeping the lights on. My Dad joined the older men for the horse shoe tournaments. Church ladies sold baked goods. For lunch there would be steam burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, corn-on-the-cob, cole slaw and whatever else Mom and the local ladies cooked up. Most proceeds went to fund the hometown softball team. My team.
I’m guessing you’ve probably never been to an old time tractor pull so let me tell you how it worked when I was a kid. The tractor was hooked to a big, flat metal sled about the size of 3 ping pong tables. There was a dirt track straight ahead of the driver about a block long. Men would be stationed along both sides of the track next to wooden stakes driven in equal lengths measured down the lane. As the tractor went by you would step from your stake onto the MOVING sled. The more people got on the heavier the sled became until it reached the maximum weight the tractor could pull. Hence the name tractor pull. The farthest pull won.
When the driver got the signal he punched it. Often, he would pop a wheelie and the black, diesel smoke would chug out of the stacks blowing back the low hanging branches as each farmer tore through the short, dirt track. These were the days before professional drivers with dragster tractors that had motors the size of RVs pulling sophisticated, weighted sleds. It was just local farmers going up against each other in their weight class. (The tractor’s weight, not the farmers). When his wheels started spinning and digging into the dirt he was done.
I have a couple of fond memories. One year in high school I told Carolyn Clampitt who was selling raffle tickets that I was going to win the jigsaw. I don’t know why. I just had a complete and thorough confidence that I was going to win that tool. During the drawing the Homan brothers wanted to go away and play and I even told them they had to wait because I was going to win that jigsaw. Guess what? They called my number. And when I walked up to collect my prize Carolyn just looked at me and laughed. She couldn’t believe it. I still have the saw 35 years later.
The other memory is a little embarrassing. Even though I consider myself a classic rock lover, for some reason in 1976 I really liked Captain and Tennile. You might remember Love Will Keep us Together or maybe Muskrat Love? I had their album, Song of Joy which featured my favorite tune at the time, Shop Around. I was home taking a break from the festivities and to watch a little of the Jerry Lewis Telethon, also a Labor Day tradition. I looked out my window and noticed my Jr. High crush, Lisa Neil, walking up the block. She was going right by my house. I opened the front door, dropped the needle on the peppy LP hit and cranked the volume. She would get within range then be very impressed with my taste of music and walk up on the porch obviously wanting me to be her boyfriend. This was my fail proof plan. My plan failed, proof I didn’t know I was doing.
The day finally came when I was old enough to stand by the stake and get on the sled. It was very exciting and a little dangerous because, again, this was a MOVING metal sled with no safety measures in place. Unless you count the single steel bar that ran across the front of the sled. The first few on grabbed that or fell against it. The rest just had to try to hold on to each other and surf down the lane. And, by the way, farmers don’t surf.
It was a wonderful time.
But things change.
Boys grow up. The train stopped running. Tennille divorced the Captain. West Point stopped having tractor pulls and what few stores that were there closed. My parents died and my small, home town followed. I haven’t been back since my mother left because I always want to remember the way it was.
A time when communities came together because that’s what communities do. It was a time to gather for gathering’s sake. I would say it was it was a time to meet up with old friends but that’s not true. The friends we met were not old. They were the same friends from school. We played softball together or went to church together. I didn’t realize at the time what we had.
Now I do.
Be thankful for the past but don’t live there. Maybe you’re waiting for your number to be called or for love to come your way. In the meantime, find a community and be a part of it. Sure, your life is crazier today and people move in and out so fast. Community may be harder to find but it’s there. It’s always been there.
Those people who were friends then are truly now old friends and you have a history with them. Maybe it’s time for a Facebook message or a phone call. The point is connection. We only get this one life so don’t let the sled pass you by. Stand by your stake and be ready to get on. Then hold on for dear life to whoever’s close to you.