He is so excited to show my dad, his Grandpa Jack, his tractors. The Eldest had rediscovered this brother-pair of model tractors, about the size of twin shoe boxes, both given to him as gifts a few months back. Like most shiny things, they had lost their glimmer, but were making the rounds back into play, old toys polished back into newness again by the small hands and attention of this four year old.
“This one here: that’s a Ford,” explains my dad, the arm of his glasses pressed between his lips as he lifts the tractor to his now bare eyes for a closer inspection. He fingers the axel with his surgeon precision. “You can tell by the red and gray.”
The Eldest nods solemnly, so as not to appear too eager or juvenile, but inhaling every word Grandpa Jack says. He brings the trailer close, leans over the hitch to line it up just right. “Look how it hooks together!” the Eldest can’t help declare his enthusiasm. He loads the trailer up with the hay bales, turns the tractor up the carpet. “I hook this one up instead, because that one doesn’t steer well. And it makes a squeaky sound.” he shows Grandpa Jack the tight steering of the green and yellow John Deere. Grandpa Jack lifts this one next, flicks the wheels, gives the steering a try. Indeed, a whiny squeal cries softly as the tractor pushes against the floor.
“I’ll tell you just the thing to do for that.” Grandpa Jack sits back on his heels, his eyes holding steady with the Eldest’s, ready to present this key, this pearl of hard-earned wisdom. “Have you ever heard of this stuff called WD-40? I’m sure your dad has some around. Let’s have a look.” He heads down into the basement, pokes around Mark’s work space, and a moment later is back, revealing the blue and yellow aerosol can. Grabbing a handful of paper towels on his way through my kitchen, my dad nestles back onto the floor, invites my son in close. Together, teacher and student, grandfather and grandson, they get to work. Grandpa Jack squirts some of the lubricant on his fingers, offers them up to the Eldest for a smell. The Littlest and I are nearby, in the wings of this stage, but even from where I sit the almost rusty smell of WD-40 fills my nostrils, brings me to a basement of my own growing up.
He teaches the Eldest how to point the red straw in towards the tight joints. He lets him press the nozzle and when he does he releases way more lubricant than practical. They chuckle together; they wipe up grease together. The Eldest is beaming, his smile stretches from ear lobe, across his ivory chin, to the other ear lobe; I think mine does, too. I know that Mark will interupt this, in a moment, stepping out of his post-work-day shower. I pause for just a second; wonder if he may feel on the outside of this lesson. But I know Mark, and I know that, though he has all this wisdom to share with his boy, lessons marked out with mottos like “measure twice; cut once,” I know, too, that he is generous. He will give this gift, freely, to both Grandpa Jack and the Eldest.
Soon, Grandpa Jack gets off of his creaky knees, ready to respond to the next call. The other Little Ones crowd out the scene, and there are phones to answer, dinner to be made. But that night at bedtime, I tuck the Eldest in to with both of his tractors, and he whispers, “Mama?” I lean my head to the side, look at his fresh eyes. “This one is a Ford,” he tells me, definitively, holding out one hand. “And this,” he says, offering the other, “the John Deere works now.”
I say good night, make my way down the stairs. Later, as I’m cleaning up the kitchen, remembering my own version of the day, I hear the hollow sound of tractors being pushed across the wood floor above me.
Really, it was just ten minutes, sitting on the family room floor.