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Grandpa Hopewell and his flying tractor.


The papers reported that grandpaspoke about three minutes in the Hollywood Bowl.

They had expected a little longeraddress, but it was all right, because the man who introduced him talked 25 minutes, and there were a number of movie actresses on the stage.

According to the papers, grandpatalked about land. "It's the only thing I know to talk about," he said. "I'm a farmer. Maybe you city folks don't rightly realize how well a farmer gets to know his land. When a farmer lives, his land becomes a part of him, and when he dies, he becomes a part of it. But I want to tell you something. No man rightly knows his land until he sees it from a long ways above. Till then, you can't rightly tell how it's connected with the rest of the world. Till then, you think your own land's mighty big and important and unusual."

That was about all grandpa said. Butthe papers said there was a lot of applause for the Iowa farmer.

Back home, all Guthrie Countyhad assembled around its radios to hear Grandpa Hopewell at the Iowa Picnic in Long Beach. The picnic wasn't as big as usual because of the war; only about 100,000 people were there. And four radio networks.

"He's only a wisp of a man, butwiry," an announcer said. "Must be plenty tough to chauffeur that tractor around. He's wearing blue work clothes and an airplane helmet. His white beard sticks out of the helmet and trails down his shirt front. And, ladies and gentlemen, I wish you could see this afternoon sunlight on the mountains. Southern California sun and Southern California mountains. I haven't seen the Alps, and I haven't seen the Andes, or the Himalayas, but I am sure that nowhere on earth is there a sight like the afternoon sun lighting up these Southern California mountains."

"I'm so glad we didn't let him takeall that cider with him," Adelaide Hopewell said to Minnie as they listened to news of their father-in-law.

"And now there seems to be somethingwrong," the announcer said. "Mr. Hopewell is conferring with the officials. Every few minutes out here the mountains change color. Now they are a kind of deep orange. And here come Mr. Hopewell and the officials toward the platform. Ladies and gentlemen, I wish you could see what I see as I sit here and look over the orange groves toward the sea."

"What do you suppose can bewrong?" Minnie asked.

"He needs so much taking careof," Adelaide said.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the announcersaid, "if we can take our eyes off this gorgeous Southern California scenery for a moment, we observe that the chairman of the Iowa Picnic is speaking to the crowd. Let's see whether we can hear what he is saying. Yes, he is saying that Mr. Hopewell is not prepared to exhibit his tractor because his fuel has not arrived from Iowa."

"What fuel?" asked Minnie.

"The chairman says Mr. Hopewellfeels his tractor requires special fuel. However, the chairman says they have arranged to get airplane gasoline for him, if that will do. Mr. Hopewell is shaking his head, negatively. Ladies and gentlemen, I wish you could see these mountains. The chairman is talking earnestly to him. Mr. Hopewell shrugs his shoulders. The chairman smiles and waves to the audience. Apparently, Mr. Hopewell has consented. And now they are pouring the gasoline--or, as our Allies say, petrol--into the tractor, and the exhibition is about to go forward. Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to see whether a tractor can actually fly. And where could the test be made more appropriately than in this lovely Southern California setting? Now they are starting the tractor's motor. It sounds exactly like an airplane. Mr. Hopewell is shaking his head. He indicates it isn't supposed to sound like an airplane. But now he is starting off around the field. Just as the sun turns the near mountains to purple."

"It must be lovely out there,"Adelaide said.

"And now, ladies and gentlemen,Mr. Hopewell is circling the field at high speed. You've got to hand it to this old gentleman from Iowa. He certainly can handle that tractor. But he makes the most extraordinary motions. Ladies and gentlemen, this is one of the most extraordinary things I have ever seen. Every hundred feet or so, Mr. Hopewell seems to jerk the steering wheel, as though he were trying to pull the tractor off the ground by main strength. And he grunts. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, he grunts. And now the whole audience is intent on the scene before it. Is the tractor going to fly? Mr. Hopewell is still jerking and grunting, but the little tractor is staying firmly on the ground. All three wheels. Ladies and gentlemen, the tractor is not flying. And now the audience is laughing and tossing paper plates and napkins into the field where the little tractor is still dashing around in a circle. The tractor is stopping and Mr. Hopewell is getting down. He looks bewildered. He starts toward the officials. Ladies and gentlemen, you can probably hear the sound that is going up from the crowd. We might call it--in another part of the country, of course--a Bronx cheer. And now, as the setting sun gilds the tops of the everlasting peaks of Southern California, we return you to our home studios."

They say a collective groan went upfrom all the living rooms in Guthrie County where the radios still had batteries, and it seemed as though a deep blue cloud issued out of the loudspeakers and settled over the Great Plains. For, more than anyone cared to admit, Grandpa Hopewell had become a symbol. Through grandpa and his cocky little tractor, the farmers could thumb their noses vicariously at the city slickers. Thinking of the flying tractor, they could dream of a future in which farm life might be one long Saturday night. And so it was that when the newspapers and radio commentators had a good laugh over grandpa's performance at Long Beach, the farmers gritted their teeth and scowled at their families.

"The poor man," Adelaide said.

"It was pride," the parson said. "Doyou remember how he used to say: 'The Wright brothers flew this far, but Hopewell flew this far'?"

"The way they treated him," PeteLittlefield said, "we wouldn't even treat a Democrat."

"His spirit must be broken," Minniesaid.

But they got a telegram whichseemed to indicate that his spirit might be no more than bent. SEND 20 GALLONS MY CIDER, it read, OR WILL CUT YOU OFF WITHOUT PENNY. They sent the cider.

"Maybe he needs to forget," Adelaidesaid.

By the time Grandpa Hopewell gotthe cider, of course, he had dropped out of the newspapers. To find out what happened after that, you have to put what little he was willing to tell together with a lot of other facts.

He says the cider came in late afternoon,and it was nearly sunset before he could fill the tank and get ready to take off. There was a crowd around the tractor, making fun of him, he said. Nothing pleased him more on the whole trip than the expressions on the faces of those scoffers when he circled back over them and did a couple of lazy-eights, his beard curving gracefully in the wind.

He flew up the coast past Hermosaand Redondo Beach and Santa Monica, and then he turned east toward Hollywood. He squinted along a line of lights that he figured was Sunset Boulevard and could see past some of the movie studios right to the pillars of the Los Angeles railroad station. If only he could remember where those Lane girls lived--the ones from Indianola, he thought--he could drop down and call on them. He wondered whether it would be too early in the evening to see some of this Hollywood night life as he passed over. And then the darnedest thing happened, he said. The lights went off. First the long armies of street lights marching toward the mountains, then the twinkling home lights, and finally the big red and blue and yellow neon signs.

"Turn on those lights!" heyelled down at Hollywood. "How d'ya expect a man to find his way?"

In Guthrie County, Minnie'sradio read an excited bulletin from Los Angeles.

"Poor father," Adelaidesaid when Minnie telephoned her. "I hope he is in a good, safe place."

Grandpa Hopewell says hecouldn't figure out why they were having fireworks. If they celebrated this way on an ordinary day, what must they do on the Fourth? Rockets seemed to be going up on all sides, and searchlights streaked the sky. It must have cost a pretty penny. When he turned southeast, aiming for the city-hall tower, something sizzled past him. A second later, he heard a dull pop, as though someone were bursting a half-blown-up paper bag. It was a suspiciously familiar sound.

"Is some buzzard down thereshooting at me?" he shouted into the darkness.

"This is not a drill," Minnie'sradio announced. "Pedestrians are frantically seeking shelter. The motors of the unidentified planes can be heard distinctly in downtown Los Angeles. It is thought that they are in large numbers and flying at a great height."

Grandpa Hopewell flew around thecity hall several times to get his bearings and watch the fireworks. He recognized the May Company and Bullock's and the Broadway Department Store and a park that must have been Pershing Square. Just then his engine hood flew away as though somebody had picked it off.

"Watch where you're aiming thoseRoman Candles!" he howled angrily.

"This display of an angry city'sarmed might is the most dramatic sight ever seen in Southern California's unparalleled setting of sea and mountains," the radio said.

Grandpa Hopewell headed towarda tower in an open space that he judged was Forest Lawn. Something caromed off the axle and turned the tractor cleanly over. Grandpa said he hadn't known the tractor could do an outside loop. He had a hard time pulling it out. It seemed to want to do another one.

"The mysterious planesare taking evasive action," the radio said.

Grandpa Hopewell shookhis fist into the night.

About that time he arrivedat a generalization from which he has never departed: that the inhabitants of Southern California are for the most part lunatics. He stepped on the accelerator and headed toward Iowa.

The air, he said, was asrough as an Iowa road before the scraper comes in the spring. He steered toward Mount Wilson, which still had a little light on its summit. Out there, he figured, there ought to be some open space. All around him, the fireworks lighted up row on row of white bungalows. He talked to the little tractor, and it hurried and pantedf. And then, when most of the fireworks were behind them, something hit the tractor squarely and it seemed to got o pieces like a set of dominoes--one tire to this side, engine to the other, and the gas tank flying far ahead as though nothing could stop Guthrie County cider. Grandpa Hopewell landed in an orange tree. Lucky, he said, they were flying low.

"Come down! Come down out ofthere!" somebody was yelling at him. "You boys ought to know better than to climb these young trees!"

Grandpa said he didn't even feellike arguing by that time.

He was still drooping and dispiritedwhen he got back to Guthrie County. He looked older than they had ever seen him.

"His spirit is broken," Minniewhispered.

"What you need is a long rest andus to take care of you," Adelaide said. "Here. I'll get your bedroom slippers."

"It must have been lovely outthere," Minnie said.

"Funniest place I ever saw,"grandpa said. "Everybody crazy over fireworks."

"The idea!" Adelaide said.

"I'm glad you wasn't in that airraid," Minnie said.

"What air raid?" Grandpa Hopewellasked.

"You're joking," Minnie said. "Thebig raid on Los Angeles."

"Oh," grandpa said. And thenagain, "Oh. Look," he said, after a moment's thought, "nobody says I caused that air raid, do they?"

They laughed at him. "They neverdid find the plane that caused it," Adelaide said.

"Nobody ever believes things likethat about me," grandpa said almost sadly. "Who is this?" he asked, pointing to the stranger in the army suit.

"This man works for the government,"Minnie said. "Builds airplanes. He's been waiting for you."

"I came to talk to you about yourflying tractor," the visitor said, undraping his long legs from the rungs of the kitchen chair.

"You know," grandpa said, "Ihate to lose that tractor. I had plans. I figured I might come back and organize a Guthrie County Tractor Flying and Cider Society. Shucks, what would a chicken in every pot be to a flying tractor in every barn? I thought I might even join the air force. Many a time I bet they could use a flying tractor," he said.

"You bet the air force could useyou," the visitor said.

"But now I've got no tractor,"Grandpa Hopewell said. "You can't fly just any tractor."

"You don't need a tractor,"the stranger said. "The thing we're most interested in is what kind of fuel you use to make your tractor fly."

"Cider," grandpa said. "Comeover here a minute."

The visitor coughed andstudied the rest of his cupful. "Mr. Hopewell," he said, "can you make this--this cider for the air force?"

"Can you get me somekegs? They're scarce now," Grandpa Hopewell said.

"Now, father," Adelaidesaid, "don't get excited. Wouldn't you like a little nap?"

"You take the nap!"grandpa said. They say he looked ten years younger.

I hear they took grandpa to Washington,built him a keg nearly as big as Guthrie County, and bought up half the apples on the market. And what do you think will be pushing the new jet-propulsion planes when they go over Tokyo? That's right--Grandpa Hopewell's high-octane cider. And as for grandpa himself, they say he looks like any other spry young general in the Pentagon Building now. No, I never saw him there, but I never could find anybody in the Pentagon Building anyway.
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Title Annotation:short story
Author:Schramm, William
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:May 1, 1987
Previous Article:New ceilings: looking up.
Next Article:Oh, Vanna.

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