Turning What Remained
By Paul Schweer
I saw my first fireworks at Meadow Lake Park. At least I think it was Meadow Lake. All I remember for sure is sitting on the grass in a big, crowded park waiting, eager for it to get dark. That, and how loud it was, how bright the flashes of light. It had to be Meadow Lake. There was goofy golf and a little train you could ride. It must have been a big deal for us to be there. It would have meant at least a half-day away from work at a time when there was a lot to get done. Or it might have meant we'd had a little rain.
School was out in the summer, as I understood it, so all the kids could help with harvest. Harvest I knew before I knew school. It was a dirty, exciting time, and anxious. Not that I understood why, at that age. That was something I learned after waiting up, seeing Dad come home late, his skin painted black with dust; after riding with him on the combine, strapped to the frame by his old army belt, watching the wheat fall and then flow, funneled to be ground down below my feet; after being taught to sit with the truck, to watch and wait. Dad would wave his cap signaling the bin was full, and I would drive the wheat truck to where he was. I'd jump and grab, climb the rough metal ladder that hung over the combine's big front tire, up to the platform where he'd be standing. And, while the grain poured out into the truck, I’d talk a little with him.
Driving the combine was a big deal: The sound of it saying how fast to go, feeling it in the seat of your pants, looking for missed grain in the cut straw. My brother learned before I did, and had a feel for it.
I took to the tractor. It was less touch and feel, more straight-line and tenacity. The tractor came behind the efficient rush of harvest, turning what remained underground, cleaning up after, making preparations. It was the kind of work at which one can excel if willing to plod, to sit tight, a hand on the wheel, letting the machine pull, for hours on end. And I was willing, even when wishing I could play more baseball. Or play guitar like the guys on the radio. Or meet a pretty girl who liked me.
And, sometimes, I would wish for rain, just enough rain to keep us off the fields. Not too long, a day or two, especially around the 4th.
Once I got older we didn't go to town to see fireworks. But we would still try to do something at home, if work was caught up, or if it rained. No picnic, but there was watermelon. Ice cream, maybe.
Just family. Just folding lawn chairs on the shale driveway and a few fireworks: Bottle rockets, black cats.
The home place was close to town. It wasn’t much of a town, but I didn't live there. I could see it from home, or at least the water tower, the tall stadium lights at the school. It looked better from far away. It looked best the summer night I saw, from a field, looking out from inside a tractor cab--I shut it down and sat and watched--fireworks. Framing the water tower. Fading with the daylight.
Paul is a frequent contributor to VerbSap, which most recently published his story The Road In The Distance.
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