Happy Father’s Day: a reflection on my best friend

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By Tom Whatley

I was 10 years old and I got up early, 4 a.m., like I did everyday, during “silage season.” Silage Season was a time in August when we would cut all the corn Dad and Uncle planted, around 600 acres, and grind it up, pack it, and store it in a pit for feeding to all the cows, for the coming year. You see my dad was a Dairy Farmer and silage season was hard, hot work, lasting 16-18 hours a day.
Silage season was a yearly event for me even at the age of 10. I was young and a baseball fan, I wasn’t any good at baseball, in three seasons, this being my last, even though at the time I did not know it, I compiled eight total hits, four in the last game I would ever play. I still remember my dad at the farm working after the game standing with one of the big push brooms, pushing the brewers grain we fed the cows, that had spilled over the sides of the truck during loading, back into the pit, congratulating me on the game. I can see his smile 35 years later and him saying to me, “You had a good game today, 4 hits!” and then back to pushing the broom, whoosh, whoosh, on the concrete.
But back to the story, it was 4 a.m., I was up, and it was silage season. My brother Andrew and I collected baseball cards and I had a Babe Ruth card, albeit a rather non-valuable card, but a card. It was of The Babe standing hunched over in 1947 wearing an overcoat and speaking to a crowd, he was sick at the time and would not be around much longer. But hey, no one else had any type Babe Ruth card, so I was cool. I was getting paid this summer, 50 cents an hour, and I was going to save my money and get a real Babe Ruth card, one from when he was a real player. So I put on my Lee jeans, a shirt, and some shoes and went down the stairs to go to the farm with dad.
Dad and I both had straw hats, he had taken me to Dorsey’s Feed and Seed earlier in the summer and I had gotten my straw hat. I would take it and go to the kitchen just like dad and wet four or five paper towels and put them in the hat to work at keeping my head cool. It didn’t really work, but dad did it so I did it to. So I put on my hat with the wet paper towels, with water streaking down the back of neck in the back, and water dripping off my nose in the front.
As I opened the door to the house around 4:15 a.m. I could feel the heat slap me in the face. Even with the sun still hiding I could feel the humidity and hat working together to ensure a hot muggy day ahead. As I climbed into Dad’s truck, I would sit on the passenger side, careful to avoid the springs coming up out of the seat. Dad had a plastic car seat that went over the coils on his worn out side, We would drive around the house on our way out, Dad always said, “always go forward when you can, nothing really good comes from backing up.”
Out of the yard and down the hill we would go and to the field that held the tractor that cut the silage left where dad had finished the night before. The tractor would be cool at 4:30 a.m. and on it we would climb with the smell of cut corn, diesel fuel, and sweat all around. Down on the seat dad would sit and fire up the Ford 8000 and on the cool wheel fender (which would get so hot by mid day it would burn you) I would sit. Like that we would ride until lunch when we would take a much needed break from the heat.
During the ride as we cut the corn silage we would talk over the tractor’s engine (later my nephew Henry would say “Big Tractor, Big Sound”). We would talk about anything; baseball, football, politics and farming (the last of which I really didn’t get). You see, you have to be really smart to be a successful farmer and dad is smart.
In the afternoon after a lunch of fresh tomato slices, squash, corn and peas we would take a short nap and then back to field, the heat, and the tractor. Late in the afternoon after we had been on the tractor the better part of 10 hours my mom would show up in the field driving the station wagon out to the tractor. Dad would let me pull the kill switch and the big tractor with the big sound would come to stop and be silent. Mom would then get out of the car and give dad and myself a glass mayonnaise jar (this was before Tervis Tumblers and Yettis) full of ice water complete with the sweat of the cold water permeating through the jar so that it was cool and slick to the touch. Mom would hand each of us our jar and then the big tractor with the big sound would start back up and the black smoke would pour out of the smoke stack and away to cutting we would go each with our jar of water and our sweat soaked clothes. The day would be cooler by now and the sun would be heading out of sight in a few hours and the day with dad would come to an end.
Thirty-Five years later I still enjoy a friendship with my dad. He is my best friend and starts his day saying these words to me, “What can I do to help you today?” There isn’t a thing in the world mom and dad wouldn’t gladly do for Andrew, Virginia, and myself.
There will come a day when I do a lot of last things; a last kiss, a last day in politics, a last time speaking to a friend, and I can’t tell you when the last tractor ride I took as a little boy with dad was. I grew up, I got involved in 4-H, FFA, had friends, went to college, law school, joined the Army, and started my own life. But I will always remember silage season and those days with my dad riding on the tractor. I will remember what great a friend I have and how lucky Virginia, Andrew, and I are to have two wonderful parents. For my dad, my best friend, I always enjoyed every ride with you and still do.
Happy Father’s Day,
Sen. Tom Whatley

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