The Ride: Tales from the Rez



Okay…I’m pretty sure this happened during some holiday vacation from school and I’m positive it was during one of the cooler months and not during the blazing hot summer. Otherwise I’d remember getting my bottom scorched from sitting on one of the tractor’s big metal fenders. And this incident happened on a day we were home and Dad was off on one of his many trips, which we kinda loved because Mama would let us sleep late and play the day away. Best times ever! Anyway, we–the five younger kids–were alone with Mama. We used to have to haul drinking water in these huge stainless steel canisters because we didn’t have a well yet. We had moved down to the eighty acres months prior to this incident but the thing was, we had to wait until we could afford all the equipment and stuff required to sink a well. Dad had built a platform from wood planks that could be fixed to the back of the Ferguson tractor where one large container could be secured. We’d go to a neighbor’s house, ask permission to get water, fill up the container, tie down the lid, and return home.  We never had problems getting water from our neighbors, except for one family where the wife had the attitude of an uppity country club member. Yeah, like a third world reservation should even have uppity folks. We were all sailing the river called Life, in a boat called Dead Broke, so the attitude was unwarranted. 


       Mama sent the twins and me on a mission to get fresh water. Since our machines always seemed to be running low on gasoline–most often they were plain out of gas–the fuel tank had to be checked. The gas gauge had long ceased to work. My brother found a skinny stick, clean it off, and stuck it into the tank. He figured the tractor had at least half a tank of fuel in it. So with my brother at the wheel, my sister and I riding the fenders, we headed out. We were enjoying ourselves as we rode along, traveling at such a slow speed that if someone on a bike came upon us, they could have easily passed us by. Anyway, we travel over a mile to the first house but my brother refused to stop there since a girl in his class lived there. I don’t know if he liked her or not but he said it’d be too embarrassing to go asking for water. So on we went for a few more miles before my brother decided to stop……at the home of a boy who was in my grade and liked me. I begged him to keep going but with his twin egging him on, my humiliation was sealed. The boy came out to help and visit and there I was perched on the fender in raggedy cut-offs and a tumbleweed hairdo. I remember thinking it was taking forever for that canister to fill up that day. My brother secured the lid with rope, we gave our thanks, and began the slow journey home.


        After yelling at the twins  for embarrassing me, we traveled on, loudly singing church songs and discussing the latest gossip, which mostly involved our relatives. As we neared home, the talk switched to fast cars. Well, my brother talked about these cars like he knew all about them, which he did not. We were elementary school kids growing up on an Indian reservation where farm equipment was always breaking down and staying broken down for days, even weeks, and beat-up pickup trucks and second-hand automobiles had to negotiate neglected roads. Anyway, by the time we arrived at our yard, my brother had gotten himself all worked up about fast cars and decided he was going to gun the Ferguson and take the turn as fast as the old tractor could go. My sister and I did not object. It seemed like a fun idea at the time. The Ferguson picked up a little speed, not much, but when time came to make the turn, the steering wheel refused to budge and we continued on a straight course. Seconds after we pass the turn-off, the world went very, very lopsided. My sister was suddenly screaming and sitting very close to the ground and hanging on for dear life. I was sitting high up and also hanging on for dear life, as was my brother. The big back left wheel had come off and sailed ahead of us.  Stunned, we watched it roll onward, until it wobbled a bit and then plopped to the ground. After we came out of our shock, we jump off the dead tractor and took to surveying the scene. Somewhere along the way something had gone wrong.  We didn’t know what but we were pretty darn sure that if we had taken that turn the tractor would have turned over and we would have been badly hurt. Like I’ve said before, we survived our childhood by the Grace of God. As it was, we ended up all excited that we had escaped death, and yes, we truly believed we had cheated death. My sister was drenched. Our precious liquid cargo had poured out and all over her. I thought of it as revenge. But now we had no transportation and a new mission, a mission that required walking to get help from neighbors. Mama couldn’t pick up the monster wheel and we were too puny to help her. So over the cotton and alfalfa fields and the canal we went seeking help. Several farmers came the next day and put the wheel back on the Ferguson, and all too soon, we were once again rolling down the road on another water mission. The old Fergie stayed intact this time and took us on many more water missions.