Ralph is not your typical run of the mill granddad. This man is over six feet tall with hands the size of my face. He’s weathered from the long days spent on the farm and has a “this is how it is” kind of attitude. He wears overalls seven days a week and is usually sporting a trucker hat from either a feed store or some other bizarre place he’s been. He doesn’t blame anyone for anything and takes things at face value. He is just as strict and coarse as he is forgiving and gentle. Ralph is the kind of man who, when he towers over you and tells you to do something, you ask if there is anything else you can do. Don’t disagree with Ralph; that was the unspoken rule.
Now on a farm in Oklahoma you can pretty much do whatever you damn well please. I started riding horses as a child and found that the farm was a place of safe haven for me. I could go to granddads for the weekend pretend to be Wyatt Earp and ride across the plains searching for outlaws. I continued going to the farm to ride horses, dehorn and castrate bulls, brand cattle and play cowboy. As time progresses little boys grow to be teenagers and so on. Soon I was taught how to drive the old farm truck. Now this is just a small two door, standard transmission Toyota pick up that’s already beat to hell. But to me, this was a brand new cherry red Ferrari. I drove that thing like a mad man. I would tear across the fields, rip through any water I could find, and “herd the cattle”. Well it wasn’t too long before I found out that an old 90 something Toyota is no Ferrari.
I was screaming across the field one day and decided to try my hand at a few drifts. Now with Oklahoma being the way it is dry and dusty, drifting was very feasible. The first couple attempts weren’t too bad — I would gun it and then slam on the brakes and turn to the right. Yea I slid a little…but I think I need just a little more speed. Yea that will do it. OK. Here we go… Slam it in to first peddle to the metal. There we go 3000 rpm’s time for second gear. Done. Now were gaining some speed ok shift to third… Keep on pushing, fourth gear there it is.
Now I’m flying down the old gravel road way faster than any 14 year old who can barely see over the steering wheel should be. I crank the wheel to the right and pop it into neutral then slam on the brakes. Ohhhh yea were sliding baby! Wait a minute uh ohh, ohhh no this isn’t good. The world starts to go vertical on me. Next thing I know the truck has flipped onto the drivers side. I’m trapped inside the cab. My door is flush with the ground. The windshield is cracked from one side to the other. The passenger door is jammed and I can’t get out.
Now keep in mind this is a farm truck. So as I look around I notice that the old coffee can that was in the passenger seat is now no longer filled with the nails it once held. There are nails everywhere! And I’m not talking your little house hold nails that you use to hang that “artsy” photo you picked up at hobby lobby. I’m talking big ass farm nails. Nails used to hold fences together. Nails you drive through steel when your fixing the feed trough. I was scared out of my wits! So finally I am able to squeeze through the window out the back of the cab into the truck bed and out onto the dirt. Keep in mind I am fourteen years old wearing black jeans, a black long-sleeve shirt with pearl snaps and of course my cowboy boots. Now as a fourteen year old I have seen my fair share of car chases in the movies. When a car flips over it explodes. That’s just the way it is. So as far as I’m concerned at the given moment I have just barely escaped with my life!
I’m about a half a mile away from the house, so I’m not worried that Ralph saw. But I’ll tell you what. That was THE longest walk of my life. So the whole way back I’m thinking to myself what am I going to say? What will he do? Maybe he will castrate me like we do the bulls. Oh god this is going to be terrible. “God if you let me live through this I will never ever…”followed by tons of empty promises. So after my own Green Mile Walk I am nearing the house. Oh god he’s already outside. Why, why does he have to be outside!? So I get closer he’s leaning on the fence chatting with one of his buddies about who knows what probably where to move the cattle or what truck he’s gotta fix next. Who knows. So I muster up the courage, walk right up to him, and blurt out “I flipped the truck in the pasture.” He looks at me…Looks out to the pasture… Looks back down on me and says “Well we better get the tractor and flip her back over.” I can’t believe my ears. What has just happened there is no way there are no repercussions from this. I don’t have to go find my own switch for you to spank me with? My mother has told me stories. This can’t be happening. So we saunter over to shed, find ourselves a heavy duty chain, fire up the tractor and head out to the pasture. Me perched on the over sized wheel well of the tractor dreading what’s to come, him driving down the gravel road as comfortable as if he were in a rocking chair on a Sunday morning.
Ralph hooks up the chain to the truck then the other end to the front loader on the tractor. He flips it back over then turns to me, “Welp, get in there and start her back up.” I look at him like he is crazy. “Are you kidding me?! That truck is going to explode.” He was adamant that I must get in the cab and start it. However I think he quickly realized that I to was adamant about not getting anywhere near that truck. I was terrified. He understood. He strolled over to the truck, tried starting it a few times, then showed me the battery cable was disconnected. We reconnected it. He tried again. Nope the engine was flooded (or something to that effect) we waited. Finally the truck started again. He was patient as he told me I would need to drive the truck back to the house. After some careful thought and seeing him (as far as I was concerned) risk his own life starting the engine. I decided I would most likely survive a short drive to the house. We got back to the house. Not much was said about me flipping the truck. We had a few laughs about it but nothing more. He knew it was just a farm truck and I think he was happier that nothing had happened to me.
I’ve thought about this experience quite a few times over my life. There are a few lessons I pull from it. Using compassion allows for healing where as reprimanding tends to cause people to shut down. Had my granddad not had any compassion I quite possibly could have never gone back to the farm on my own. I would have been scared to death of him. However he took pity on me, realized I was a young boy and that I didn’t know any better. He didn’t chastise me for the mistake and then send me inside. He helped me work through it. He taught me that even if you make a mess you still need to clean it up. He welcomed me back with open arms and then showed me how to take care of the problem. Sure I was a little terrified of going fast in the fields after that but with good reason. Ralph taught me too have compassion for others. To listen and help solve the problem instead of telling others what they have done wrong. He showed me how to immediately forgive someone and how to find a solution. Had my grand dad Ralph not helped me that day. I would not have this story to tell. I would not have this fond memory of him. Now as I look back, I am able to recall a time when my granddad loved me and taught me to be a man.