The orchard store was closed. After a long drive down skinny county roads, inching past a gigantic tractor on an even skinnier gravel lane, we were an hour too late to buy peaches.
I felt terrible. Our adventure had turned to dust because I couldn’t bother to check the orchard’s website before I left home.
“We’ll have to turn the truck around and go back the way we came,” I told Emily.
Back past the barn painted like a watermelon slice, complete with green roof.
Back past the curved driveway of a friendly-looking old farmer.
Back past the gigantic tractor.
“Pull over,” Emily said as the tractor bore down on us.
Without further thought I did as she said. That tractor really did look big, though we’d gotten by it once before. When it was finally past, I stepped on the accelerator–and spun—and spun—and spun my wheels.
We were stuck fast in the soggy Kansas clay.
I buried my head in my hands. I am SUCH a city kid.
The tractor backed up and stopped beside us. The man inside asked if we had a phone. When I nodded he said, “Good. I can’t help you. Sorry, but I can’t.”
We wondered about that later. What would make him say that? Did he have the wrong tools? Was he on the clock to some absent farmer? Did his exasperated wife want him home on time for once in his dadblamed life? No way to know.
As the tractor became a dim outline in the distance, Emily and I assessed our situation. We could not, as the man so positively stated, call somebody because a) We didn’t know anyone who lived within a 30-mile radius of the problem, b) They wouldn’t have had the equipment to pull us out if we did, and c) Calling someone meant admitting what we’d done.
We assessed our tools. Our truck contained: Jumper cables, a roll of garbage bags, four ball caps with various logos, sunscreen, an orange safety vest, a baggie of cereal (“At least we won’t starve”), and a bike helmet.
“What we need,” I said, “is a shovel. If we could free the wheels from some of that mud, we could probably get ourselves unstuck.”
With no shovel in sight, we opted for the bike helmet.
Now, when the friendly looking farmer in his red F350 found us five minutes later, I like to think it was a mark in our favor that we were up to our knees in mud. The old farmer got out of his truck and walked toward us. “Are you stuck?”
“Yes,” I said. “Would you happen to have a shovel with you?”
He broke into a slow grin. “I’m too lazy for a shovel. You got a ball for this hitch back here?”
The cavalry had arrived.
Since we don’t hitch things to our pickup, we don’t have a ball attachment. Luckily, the farmer did. He fetched it from his truck and walked back to us, but didn’t attach it right away. Instead, he turned to Emily. “Do you go to Truman State?” he said, referring to her t-shirt.
“I will in the fall.”
“What’ll you study?”
“History and Business, I think.”
The farmer said, “Truman used to have an Equestrian Science program.”
She nodded. “I know a girl who’s going to take her horse to school with her.”
He pounced on that. “Does she belong to the American Quarter Horse Association?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know her that well.”
His smile widened. “I asked you that for a reason.”
Aha, I thought. This tow is going to cost us something, but it’s a form of payment I can live with.
“Back in 2012,” the farmer said, “I rode a horse in an American Quarter Horse Association competition in Oklahoma City. This horse was the offspring of a horse I rode in the AQHA World Championships in 1992, which is pretty cool.”
I opened my mouth to agree, but he held up a hand. “I’m not through.”
I shut my mouth.
He went on. “I entered the working cow horse event. Have you ever heard of that?”
We shook our heads, but uttered not a peep.
He continued. “My hat fell off in the ring. A man came into the ring and tried to give it back to me, but I waved him off. When I was done competing, I swung down“–he demonstrated with a big sweep of the arm—“picked up my hat”—he brandished the imaginary hat—“and waved it at the crowd. They showed their appreciation for it, too. Afterward, I got my scores from my wife. I did all right in cow work and reined work, but they gave me a 9.7 for picking up my hat. Not bad for a 74-year-old man.”
More stories followed. We didn’t mind. They were heartfelt, funny tales, and he had a way with the telling. His wife of 54 years sat patiently in the cab of their truck while he talked, probably grateful he’d stumbled on a new audience.
Eventually the farmer taught Emily how to hook the rope to each truck. To me he said, “Get in and turn it on. And whatever you do, don’t put that thing in drive!”
I meekly shifted into reverse and waited. Relief filled me as the wheels began to move. When we were back on solid gravel, I put our truck in park and jumped out to thank the farmer.
He had the last word. Looking at my truck, parked just out of reach of the ditch, he shook his head. “A real farmer would have waited until he was in the middle, but I guess that’s all right.”
On the way home, Emily and I agreed we’d had an adventure, with or without the orchard. To top off the day I treated her to iced coffee at the Groundhouse in Gardner. We bought peaches at a farm stand in Olathe. And we ran the truck through the car wash. Twice.