Birds were singing in the avocado tree outside
Dick’s bedroom window when he opened his eyes. Remembering what day
it was, his chest expanded with excitement and joy. He jumped out of bed, slipped into slippers, pulled on his terry clothe
bathrobe and tromped into the kitchen. Rusty, his faithful dog, trotted behind him.
His mother stood at the stove, stirring eggs in a caste iron frying pan. Velda
was pretty and petit. She wore a green cotton dress with full skirt to below her knees. Her dark brown
hair was arranged in a bun at the nap of her neck. Rubbing her hands on her
white bib apron, she turned to Dick and smiled. “Good morning! How did you sleep?”
“Fine, Velda. Good
Dick’s father lowered the morning
paper and grinned. He was tall and handsome with a crew cut and
warm, blue-gray eyes. “Good morning.
What have you got planned for your first day of vacation?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll take the bb gun out into the
orchard and hunt some birds. Do you need any help driving the tractor?”
“That could be arranged,” Henry replied. Velda set a plate of hot scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast in front of Dick.
After breakfast, Dick followed
Henry out back. The yard behind the white wooden house was covered with
gravel. Henry had planted an avocado tree at the center. Already, it was as
tall as the house, the limbs heavy with fruit. To the left and right were rows
of citrus trees, the start of a two-acre farm they called, “The Ranch.”
Behind a row of lemon were oranges. The soft brown, California earth was
nicely plowed into ridges and troughs to direct the irrigation, a circular indentation surrounding the trunk of each tree.
While Henry checked the oil in the black flatbed truck in the side-building,
Dick opened the large, double doors and walked into the cool dark of the barn. High overhead,
baby birds twittered from their nests in the rafters. The yellow tractor
stood to one side, smelling of engine grease and gasoline. Dick climbed the precarious
wooden steps against one wall up to the loft. The aroma of freshly-cut hay greeted
him. Kittens mewed from a corner. Rusty
pushed forward to sniff at them.
“Back, Rusty. Leave
them alone,” Dick scolded. The
dog sat on its haunches, chin raised, contemplating the boy he loved. Dick pushed
open the shutters. Sunlight flooded the hay that covered the wooden floor
boards. In the distance, beyond his father’s orchard and the orchards of
their neighbors, golden hills interspersed with citrus groves stretched for forty miles to the California
Dick knelt beside the kittens and smiled as they kneaded tiny paws against the
soft fur of their mother’s belly. He plucked one from a teat. “Ah,
little one. You are cute today! Are your eyes still closed?”
Down below, the tractor engine kicked on.
“Ready!” Henry called.
Dick kissed the kitten, set it down, and ran for the steps. Downstairs,
he jumped onto the tractor's running board and grabbed the hand-holds. The rubber sole
of Henry’s leather boot pressed against the black accelerator pedal. He
gripped the steering wheel with both hands. The tractor rumbled. Man and boy jiggled up and down as the tractor drove out through the barn doors, across the gravel
and between two lemon trees into the orchard.
“May I drive, Henry?”
cut the engine, scooted off the seat and stood on the running board. Dick
hopped onto the empty seat which was like a giant-size bicylcle seat. He
gave the key a turn. (It always remained in the ignition). The engine sputtered. Dick stretched his right leg as
far forward as he could, pressed the pedal with the ball of his tennis shoe and the tractor lumbered forward.
“This is great, Dad! Thanks for letting me drive.”