I learned to drive on a farm and ranch in southern Oklahoma, just south of the Garvin-Carter county line.
Like most kids raised in a rural area, my brothers and I were taught pretty early on about the basics. As you can see from the photo above I was already adept at shifting gears at a very young age.
But Paw Paw let most of us try out driving out in the pasture and that by itself isn’t so difficult. It’s like coloring on a piece of white paper. You can do whatever you want. It’s when you add lines to that paper that you must stay inside of (roads) that the trouble starts.
It was 1995 or ’96 and I was 11-years-old and Paw Paw needed someone to drive the hay truck from the south pasture back up to the house. My brothers were 9 and 7 at the time so there’s no question who it was left up to. Okay, maybe I can’t say that because I know plenty of 9-year-olds and some 7-year-olds who drive a farm truck, but anyway. It was me this time. And I was nervous. As most Type-A, oldest child, mother hen, aim-to-please, overachieving children tend to be when given the responsibility of driving a goodness-knows-how-many-tons-it-weighs truck with a gooseneck trailer attached, hauling 6 or 8 round bales of hay.
You know, typical.
I had my youngest brother, Ryan, with me in the truck. Paw Paw was ahead of us in another vehicle and we were just plugging along, doing fine, when the cell phone rang.
Yup, this is a tale of how cell phones kill.
I think it was a bag phone. It was back in the day, but by this point almost everyone in my immediate family (plus grandparents) had a phone. Except not kids because THE WORLD WASN’T CRAZY BACK THEN. For goodness sake. Sometimes I think it shocks people that we all had them. My family had always lived in a rural area. Paw Paw farmed and ranched and Dad worked out in the oil field. Though the coverage was spotty (and remains so), the phones became a necessity and replaced our CB radios around the time I was in 3rd grade.
Anyway, the phone rang.
“Ryan, get it.”
“Ryan, I’m driving. Pick up the phone.”
He was fun back then, let me tell you.
I threw the truck in park (that much I knew how to do) and picked up the phone. Whoever it was had already hung up. So I put the phone away, but before I could put it back in “drive” and follow Paw Paw, the truck started to move.
The whole thing couldn’t have taken more than a few seconds. When it was over we weren’t quite on our side, but nearly. To this day I get teased for my “crazy driving” that got me into that mess. The truth was that the side of the gravel road where I had stopped had been washed out a little and the bit underneath the right side of the trailer decided to give after I’d stopped.
And turned over, twisting the gooseneck and dumping all the hay.
(If you’ve ever worked on a farm or ranch, you’re wincing. If not, let me just say that was some very expensive damage and a lot of work created for someone.)
I don’t remember if there were tears. I was too traumatized by the whole thing. It was an accident and everyone realized that. Then there was that whole BEING ELEVEN thing and I was forgiven.
But I’ve never been asked to drive the hay truck since. Just sayin’.