The auctioneer began asking for bids on the tired, red tractor. He rattled off number unintelligibly while people signified their interest with a tip of a hat or a twitch of a nose. I stood far back for fear I might sneeze or scratch an itch and end up bidding on something. Soon all of Grandpa’s machinery and tools had been sold to the highest bidder and the people started filing off the farm.
The person who bought the tractor couldn’t have known how Grandpa slaved away in the fields from dawn to dusk, or how the dust that trailed his red machine brought him so much pleasure. The new owner of the aged truck didn’t care that we used to ride in the back while Grandpa filled it with beans, or know how we’d laugh and squirm when the beans would go down our pants. And those who walked off with the rakes and hoes never saw the salty drops of pride that ran down his face and back as he worked them. These people were not consumers. They were vultures, picking away at Grandpa’s final remains.
The crowd thinned, leaving relatives to rummage through the left-overs. Wanting no part in it, I decided to take one last tour of the farm. Josh, my two year old nephew, came along.
We went to the barn. The red paint was chipped and falling off. Not long ago, Grandpa had said that he wished he could paint it, but probably wouldn’t live to see it dry. He was right. I picked a little piece of that cracked, red paint off with my fingernail. I held it in my hand. I thought about saving it, but just then Josh grabbed my hand and the little chip dropped to the ground.
We went inside the barn. I showed Josh the milking stalls for the cows. We put our heads in the big braces and mooed as loud as we could. We laughed a little and moved up to the hayloft. I could still smell that sweet hay. It made my nostrils flare and my eyes water. My cousins and I used to make box-like forts out of the big bales and sit in them for hours trying to make corncob pipes. We’d often ruin a bale or two and Grandpa would yell. He never yelled without a purpose and he never stayed angry too long. We’d apologize and soon he’d be telling us a story from way back when. Before Josh and I left the hayloft, I saw a few clumps of hay laying in the corner, so I picked them up and threw them at him. He jumped and screamed and threw them back at me and I back at him. I found myself looking out of the corner of my eye for Grandpa. For a split second I was sure I could see him coming to see what all the noise was about. The image faded as I brushed us off and we left the hayloft.
We went out into the field. To get to the field we had to crawl under the electrical fence. I remembered how that jolt would zip through my body when I’d stand up too quickly and hit the wire with the center of my back. Grandpa would always chuckle at this carelessness. I often tried to hide the fact that it hurt by forcing myself to laugh too. Grand was never fooled. He’d come and give my back a little rub with his callused, but gentle, hands. I made sure Josh didn’t make the same mistake I did with the fence.
Josh and I ran back to the house. He tripped on a dried up “cow pie,” as I often had, but recovered quickly. I expected to see Grandpa at the kitchen table, in his overalls, with a pipe perched between his lips and a cup of coffee, paled with cream, at the tips of his fingers. But Grandpa wasn’t there. He wasn’t there to raise his hand next to his face and shake it as he told his bits of wisdom. I felt the tears welling in my eyes so I got Josh and we went back outside.
We sat under one of the big, apple trees. I stared throwing some of the rotten apples into the field. Josh joined in. The I noticed he was picking good ones from the low hanging branches and throwing them. One time Grandpa caught my cousins and me after we had picked a bushel of apples and were feeding them to the cows. He yelled at us for wasting such good apples and told us we had to sit down and finish the rest ourselves. Our stomachs rolled over at just the thought of it. We flopped down to the ground and started eating. Soon Grandpa had a smile on his face and took a bite out of one of our apples. He sat down. We laughed and devoured those juicy, crisp, green apples. I made Josh stop throwing the good ones. We relaxed under the tree and ate a few of those fresh delights.
I watched the last vehicle roll out of the driveway, pulling the grain loader behind it. I no longer had to wipe away any tears, just a little apple juice that ran down my chin. His possessions were gone and he was dead, but Grandpa rested with us in the cool shade of the apple tree.