A confession of true colors

-A A +A

Something from the past must be reconciled in today's environment.

By Steve Doyle

There is a confession that I must scrape from my heart and address publicly for the first time. I do so with temerity and humility, because this is not something you or I like to admit. I ask your acceptance and beg your tolerance, because only recently did I come to understand this blemish on my character.

I come from a heritage of mixed colors.

There, I’ve said it, and it wasn’t easy. I don’t even think my parents have realized this, that my history is not as clear as I had grown up believing.

We’ve never discussed it, for sure, at least not in these terms, and I learned this not from studying my family tree or hearing an oral history at a family reunion – although sometimes there were signs in those that I ignored – but rather from the horrible realization that I had been hiding obvious indicators as if under an old tarp in a shed in the corner of my personal development.

Please don’t let this confession diminish those who fought so hard – and continue to fight – for civil rights during that sad chapter from the 1950s and ‘60s, but I, too, was hiding in sort of a closet. In fact, I must have been an outcast when I was young, in a way I just blocked out.

All of this stuck me firmly during a recent visit to the Shelby County Farm Bureau banquet. There, on my personal Road to Damascus, I saw my heritage, and its lines were not pure.

We are a county of people both red and green, and I am a product of both.

You know I’m talking about tractors, right? I mean, is there a more stark division among us than those who line up behind equipment that is red and those who will see nothing but green? Forget that red-state, blue-state stuff.

You know who you are, and you’re not afraid to say so – maybe even right in the middle of a hundred-item door prizes being handed out at that Farm Bureau dinner. Some of you certainly showed your colors, and thus I identified mine.

There were plenty of red items, which should be expected, because the group’s president, John Wills, works around red tractors for a living.

But when one man won a red cap, he said something like, “Could I get one of those in green?” Those seated with him chortled, because they didn’t want anything red, either.

That’s when I bowed my head in shame. I realized that my entire life I had been an adherent to both colors, my crank cases mixed with their varying viscosities. I just never thought that I would come out as one of those. Especially not at a Farm Bureau meeting.

Frankly, I lived a color-blind life during my formative years.

I knew Uncle W.T. brought a red Farmall over when he helped us chop our corn and that Mr. Floyd used a little gray Ford to pull a red McCormick hay baler through our fields. Others with whom we traded our farm chores had a variety of colors in equipment, but I never really thought much about that being a defining characteristic.

Perhaps that’s because the first tractor I ever saw – and the first one I ever rode or drove – was a narrow-wheeled, banged-up Case even older than I am. To me it was like an overgrown toy that I used for all sorts of fun (a relationship I’ve described in a series of children’s books, in case a would-be publisher has read this far) and later learning.

That we added a big green machine, a big, putt-putt John Deere, seemed only a fun thing, nothing so controversial as a mixed marriage in the 1960s. In between, in fact, we acquired the somewhat merged color of orange, in a vintage Allis Chalmer, the most powerful of the group.

I drove them all, relished the opportunities to open the throttle on the short bits of asphalt that connected our fields along Todds Point Road, to feel bigger and more powerful.

But I never realized that really I was an outcast, a person asea, without an abided loyalty or foundation.

I guess I understand what it’s like to be a cow or horse without its registration papers. Your blood is never really true and blue (unless you drive a New Holland-hued Ford, I guess).

Now, to be honest, this confession also must be startling to my wife. She grew up in a decidedly red family. Her maternal grandfather traveled the Midwest, selling International Harvester products of all shapes and sizes, some of them built in the factory just south of Standiford Field in Louisville.

She certainly wouldn’t condone a green anything – that’s whispered at family gatherings – and even during those door prizes at the Farm Bureau event, she became very excited when she spotted a scale model Case IH wide-wheel tractor among the goodies.

“I want that,” she said in a fervent voice likely heard by the green-loving folks nearby. I was a bit afraid for a second.

That my son’s number came up for that item brought out a little shriek of joy, and that tractor has been added carefully to the little gallery of models provided by her grandfather, which surrounds a cap her grandmother used to wear.

Thus, it’s clear I must man-up and face the shame of my multicolored past.

Now, we don’t have any real tractors out at Dozen Acres Farm. In fact, only an oversized lawn mower approaches that status, and even it says something about my personal shame.

Because that little zero-turn model is neither green nor red but yellow – a color long established as a symbol of cowardice. It appears than until now I was too cowardly to speak about my sullied history.

To all I have offended, I apologize. To all those purebred red and greens, I beg tolerance.

I may not be one of you, but I have lived your life – sort of.