I met an old man the other day, deep in the heart of the Galway countryside as I travelled across this lovely little Island to a meeting. He was driving a big old Massey Fergusson on a very narrow country road. Now as you do, I squeezed my car as far into the ditch as I could and he considered doing the same, but it was clear there wouldn’t be enough room for him to pass me as he had a wide cutting machine attached to the back of his tractor.
Now I don’t know how this would develop in whatever part of the world you live in, but in the west of Ireland on narrow bohereens, no one is really in that much of a hurry. What should have been a conversation prioritising a solution to our dilemma, turned out to be something entirely different.
Now Jimmy (that was his name as I quickly established) had a brother, who he suspected I should know because he had some vague connection to the same business I’m involved in. He struggled to understand that I didn’t know him, despite the fact that I lived on the far side of the country and there are another four and a half million of us floating around, but to be fair, I don’t know them all.
As we chatted blocking the little road in the middle of nowhere, I stood leaning against the side of my car, while he sat high in his tractor with the door open. It was initially a strained conversation over the noise of his big tractor engine, but somewhere along the way he turned it off. I didn’t even notice until after the fact. The quite was simply splendid, framed by sporadic birdsong or the buzz of the occasional bee as they passed by my head, intend on completing some work of their own.
He enquired where I had come from, by which he meant from which direction, as it was as clear as the nose on my face that I was from Dublin based on my D reg and my accent. He didn’t ask me where I was going for that would have been nosey. When I told him I had come from out the Oranmore direction, he told me he had a sister or sishter as he pronounced it, who nearly married a fella from Oranmore, but he turned out to be a bit of a blaggard and himself and the brother, had dealt with that problem. I asked how long ago that was and he had a little think, before telling me that was in nineteen hundred and forty seven, the same year his aunt had died. It was at that point that I realised how old he was so I had a good close look at him.
He must have been ninety if he was a day and there he was, a big fine agricultural looking man, still working, hands like plates and a head the shape of a turnip. I thought he had a look of invincibility until he flittered onto his next story.
Hi aunt had died in a farming accident ,something he didn’t elaborate on but instead diverted as it reminded him of his own dice with death last year. He had been trying to shift a bullock, to where or for what reason I didn’t question, and he had the creature tied up beside his tractor. Apparently the bullock took offence to being tethered and swung about, forcing the poor man onto the cutting blades attached to his tractor. Again out of politeness, I allowed him assume that I could make full sense of the picture he was painting, but my big urban head just imagined a Transformer-tractor stabbing him with a sword. I began silently singing my own version of the Transformers song in my head. “Transformers… Tractors in the nude”
I implored him to tell me more and he didn’t need much imploring, but first he had to clarify some detail. He was not at home at the time you see, but doing a favour for a cousin. He wouldn’t have minded, only sure wouldn’t it have been easier to get a pulse from a dead man, than to get the very same fella to put his hand in his pocket and stand you a round. Anyway the cousin lived near Loughrea by his account, and didn’t the blade slice open his stomach, Jimmy’s that is not the cousin (I had to keep up as he had a tendency to meander.) He lifted his auld geansaí and showed me his scar with pride.
Didn’t it slice open his stomach as he said and out came his guts. He was standing there in the middle of a field all alone, trying to tuck his guts back into himself, covered as he was in cowshite and muck, with not a soul to help him. You know I asked him what he did of course.
Now here is where I really did admire him, not for what he told me next, for it was clearly not true that he walked the 40kms (25 miles) to the hospital in Galway, holding his guts together with a pair of cowshite covered hands, but I admired him for the fact that on another day, a lesser man might nearly have believed him.
Content at having retold his story to a complete stranger, no doubt something he had done many times, he showed a little vulnerability. I’ve not been the same farming since, he told me. To be very honest, he continued, he had become nervous and stopped working with livestock altogether. He was getting a little old for that side of things. Suddenly through all the bravado and tall tales, I saw that this wasn’t a fine big sturdy farmer, rather a frail, lonely old man, once mighty no doubt, but weakened by the vagaries of old age. I admired him even more.
Anyway he said, he’d best be getting on. With that, he turned on the tractor engine and bid me adieu telling me I’d best step off to the side of the road for a minute. I stepped to the back of the car and he raised the big old yoke at the back of his tractor high in the air, and he was able to pass me by without a problem. He could of course, simply have done this in the beginning. But sure then we wouldn’t have met, nor passed the time of day and I wouldn’t have heard his story. Isn’t it a grand little country I live in…
Haven’t read a Max Power book yet? I think it’s time to pick one up.
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
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