A Fictional Account
Written By Erick James Conard
Erick, when 2 1/2 years old, on the left,
Erick's brother, Frankie, and their dad,
Frank W A Conard on April 17, 1951
The mason jar, filled with ice water, was cold. It stung my skin as I held it tightly against my frail chest. I felt the flow of energy surging through my body, compelling me to dance and twirl around Mother. I felt joyful … unable to stop moving even though Mother wanted me to be still. Every part of my body enjoyed feeling alive. I overflowed with excitement and pride. Today I was allowed to be a big boy! I was three years old and Mother had decided to let me give Daddy his water jar!
I enjoyed the sound of ice cubes clinking rhythmically against the sweaty jar. As the cubes melted and the outside of the jar became wet, I wondered just how ice made water move through the hard glass to the outside. It was an amazing feat. But I didn't ask, even though I thought it would be fun to know how to ooze through something solid. I'd learned early that my constant questions irritated pretty well everyone. I was incredibly curious about the world around me. Usually, I didn't control myself and just asked my questions anyway. But at that moment, I enjoyed holding the cold jar in the hot summer sun, happy knowing I was going to hand it to Daddy soon.
I wouldn't reach 20 pounds for another year. My head was huge and my body tiny with skinny arms and legs. People stared at me all the time. I thought it was because I was freakishly small. It didn't occur to me that some might be looking because of my smile or some other positive attribute. Or even because I could talk, as my size caused most people believed I was much too young to talk. I was almost always happy and smiling and talking. My parents constantly told me I was cute, but I didn't believe they really meant it. And I didn't believe anyone else might think I was cute either. I'm not sure why.
Disc harrow and larger child than I was at the time
Followed by a huge cloud of dust, Daddy's powerful green and rust John Deer tractor roared loudly as he whirled into the farmyard. The tractor pulled a double set of disc harrows - two sets of discs, each disc weighted down by massive chunks of concrete used to sink the discs deep into the hard soil. Daddy had already broken the soil with a plough. He used the disc harrows to further break up the sod to make the soil ready to receive the seed. Each set of discs was cleverly hooked together, one offset behind the other, with each set containing nine sharpened metal discs two feet in diameter and curved to cut deeply into the compact Colorado soil. With a big smile, Daddy sharply spun the tractor around and slammed the rig to a stop.
My Dad was a masculine, muscular, charismatic thirty-one year old with shiny jet black hair and creamy-white Irish skin. Slamming the tractor into neutral, Daddy hopped off and walked through thick clouds of chocolate topsoil flung into the clear blue Colorado sky by the constant wind and the spinning discs. Hot gusts of the dirt-filled air batted my tiny body with soft cat's paws of restrained power, slapping my skin with stinging pellets of dirt. As dirt hit my eyes, I stopped my exuberant little dance and Daddy ran toward Mother. Smiling and radiantly beautiful, as always, Mother held Daddy's lunch sack in her outstretched arms. Looking down, I blinked furiously trying to clear the grit from my eyes.
With his powerful and agile body and dominant attitude, my Dad was sometimes called a man's man. Daddy had been a top athlete in school. And at a time and place where a man's fighting skills and abilities were highly valued traits, he was one of the best. He greatly admired those qualities in other men. Unfortunately, I was born with a serious thyroid problem resulting in a tiny, frail, and weak body and extreme hyperactivity. I clearly lacked those traits my Dad valued so highly.
Though I lacked physical strength, I was blessed with intelligence and acute perceptive abilities. These gifts permitted me to perceive my Dad's secret shame at having produced such a weak and puny son. While he verbalized only positive assertions about me, I saw beneath his easy smile the hidden sadness and disappointment he felt. I couldn't understand what I had done to be so unloveable. I couldn't change who I was, so I tried to do exactly as I was told. While he tried to hide it, his underlying shame and disappointment in me was palpable. So I accepted any sign of love he offered. I even hoped my simple offering of iced water might allow him to feel a moment of love and approval toward me.
I quietly cautioned myself "Mother says wait to give Daddy's water. Wait... wait... The tractor can hurt so stay away. Wait 'till Mother says." I sternly repeated Mother's serious words of warning. When my eyes cleared, I saw Daddy running back to the tractor holding only his lunch sack while I still clutched his ice water in my skinny arms.
My four year old brother, Frankie, also holding a jar of ice water, began running after Daddy yelling, "Here Daddy! Here Daddy!" So I ran, too. "Daddy! Daddy! Here Daddy!" we called, together, like two baby birds desperately competing for whatever their parents might give. The tractor's motor swallowed our wild, high pitched cries as my Dad sprang onto his tractor.
Frankie stopped running. But I couldn't stop; I couldn't let Daddy leave without the water I'd held so long and so tightly in my tiny arms. I wanted to give him his drink. I wanted him to love me for giving him that water. Believing he was constantly disappointed in me, I hoped he'd be happy I gave him his water. So I did not give up. My Daddy had to have that water. And I kept running.
Daddy shifted gears without looking backward. He moved the tractor forward to finish the short section by the front yard fence before returning to the field. Smoke spewed from the tractor's exhaust as it lurched forward. And I kept running. I had nothing to fear … my Daddy's proximity insured my complete safety. I never heard my Mother screaming hysterically behind me.
Daddy shifted another lever and dropped both sets of heavy discs to sink deeply into the fertile Colorado soil. I didn't notice. I was almost there! I was so close to Daddy that I held his precious water up to him as I ran, looking only toward him, wanting him to see me and my gift of ice cold water. I didn't know I ran between the roaring tractor and the eighteen whirling harrow discs biting deeply into the black soil. I ran as fast as my tiny little legs could run, desperately holding up the cold mason jar of ice water for my Daddy.
As the rolling soil reached out and threw me down, Mother's hysterical screaming reached new heights. The water jar flew from my tiny hands as I was tossed beneath the biting discs. Daddy, who was completely unaware of what he'd just done, drove onward to the end of the short row. He was smiling as he turned to admire his work on the small piece of land behind him.
Daddy saw Mother running. He saw her terrified face twisted by horrific cries. He saw Frankie, turned to stone by shock and fear. And then fear engulfed Daddy, even though he hadn't seen the harrow's discs flip and roll my weak and puny body beneath the chocolate soil and whirling discs, as my Mother had. He understood instantly what happened. He comprehended dangerous situations with speed and clarity just as I comprehended other's negative feelings with speed and clarity.
Inexplicably, the spinning discs passed over me rather than severing my body into bloody pieces, the usual conclusion to this situation. The rolling sod tossed my body into a deep cross trench created by an earlier pass of the plough. It was as if the hand of God reached out and secured my body beneath protective soil. But the heavy dirt held me motionless and unable to breathe. I struggled in vain to break through the hard clods, my precious jar of ice water now forgotten.
I felt pressure and heard scraping sounds. A powerful hand grabbed my tiny arm and roughly wrenched me through the smothering soil into the bright Colorado sun. On his knees, Daddy hugged me fiercely against his chest, sobbing as he held me tightly in his arms. Mother, also crying freely, hugged us both. I held myself emotionally distant from their intense relief at my miraculous escape, unable to feel their joy in my survival. And later, as they admonished me that I must never ever get between the tractor and the harrow, I believed they were angry and disappointed in me yet again. And somehow, I failed completely to comprehend I'd narrowly escaped death beneath the sharp, whirling discs of the harrow.