Dash­ing Through the Corn

A vin­tage trac­tor stands in for a sleigh on a moon­lit ride to re­mem­ber.


My cousin Gil­bert brought back to life a 1957 D17 Al­lis-Chalmers trac­tor. It had been faded by the sun and was di­lap­i­dated af­ter lan­guish­ing for years in the ma­chine shed. But it now boasted a new coat of Per­sian Orange paint and an over­hauled en­gine, and the old iron relic stood ready for a test run around the corn­field on Christ­mas Eve.

I was the last per­son to aban­don the warmth of Gil­bert’s farm­house to join in the fun. Ex­cited voices greeted me as I took a seat on the trailer hitched be­hind the trac­tor.

When I was set­tled in, Gil­bert put the trac­tor into gear. The trailer lurched as we bounced across the field. The tem­per­a­ture dipped to 5 be­low, and wind out of the north chilled us.

Gil­bert coaxed the trac­tor down a slope onto a rut­ted dirt road, then steered it in the di­rec­tion of the woods. A few dried corn leaves made ghostly ap­pari­tions un­der the soft glow of the moon. Light shone from one of the farm­house win­dows like a star.

Some­one whis­pered, “There’s the Big Dip­per.”

We fol­lowed the road to­ward a stand of trees, galumphed on through, and then bounced back out into a large clear­ing. Gil­bert’s son, Todd, be­gan to sing, “Away in a Manger.” Soon every­one was car­ol­ing, our voices swelling to fill the air. We con­tin­ued with joy­ous cho­ruses of “Hark! The Her­ald An­gels Sing” and “The First Noel.”

In the end it was not the trac­tor that failed us, but the trailer. Todd, re­al­iz­ing one of the tires had gone flat, yelled for Gil­bert to halt.

I stared in awe at the stars above me. Sen­ti­men­tal thoughts of a Christ­mas Eve more than 50 years past flick­ered in my mem­ory— when my fa­ther, his voice merry with the trick­i­ness of his claim, sum­moned his chil­dren to wit­ness Santa’s flight across a starry sky.

The ride had ended too quickly. But I’ll al­ways have the mem­ory of that night—the way dried corn leaves rus­tled, how my breath rose in the si­lence of a cold night, and the sound of the trac­tor’s en­gine as it rolled across the farm.

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