We had a traffic accident last week in the little community where I live. Fortunately, no one was hurt worse than a few bumps and bruises, but another 18 inches, either direction, and there would likely have been fatalities.
As several of us gathered to gawk at the carnage, some of the men began telling stories of how, based on their life events, they shouldn’t have survived to this point in time. I began to think about how I shouldn’t be here, as well.
My first “near-death” experience happened sometime before I was 10 years-old. It was early winter when a neighbor girl came over to our farm to visit and play. As we walked by the freshly iced-over pond, she dared me to walk across the entire width of the water reservoir. Her statement of, “Or are you chicken?” was all the encouragement I needed to do something really stupid.
In retrospect, the pond needed another couple of days of sub-freezing temperatures to be safe for foot travel, but…I had a girl to impress. Halfway across, I could hear the ice start cracking. Best as I remember, I flew (or at least ran really fast) and made it to the other side before the ice broke. I do remember my heart beating out of my chest as I watched the neighbor girl move on to the next daredevil event, totally unimpressed with something that could well have killed me. I wouldn’t try to impress a girl again, for several years.
My most haunting event, though, happened a couple of years later. I was around 12 and my father and I had been helping a neighbor make hay up on the ridge, about 2 miles from where we lived. It was close to sundown when we finished for the day and, since we had both the tractor and the truck at the neighbor’s farm, Dad instructed me to drive the tractor home and he would go on ahead, in our truck, and get started on the evening chores.
Driving the tractor on the gravel-covered, county road, for that distance was a rare treat for me and I readily agreed. The trip to our home was mostly downhill and included the steep, one-mile stretch we referred to as Anderson Hill. Knowing Dad was already home, I had the 8N Ford pegged out in fourth gear when I started down the long hill. Craving more speed (a phase that lasted several more years), I realized that I could get more speed out of the little tractor if I took it out of gear and let it coast down the hill. As the speed continued to increase, I remembered the sharp curve near the bottom that was going to be difficult to take at the present speed, so I started trying to apply the brakes. For those who’ve never driven an 8N Ford, I’ll explain that there is a brake for each rear wheel and, at that current speed, it was going to do nothing but lock up one wheel and slide in that direction.
As my heart raced faster than it had since the ice-covered pond, I felt I had two options: 1) jump off and let the unmanned tractor crash, or 2) ride it out like Richard Petty. Since I knew option one would result in my death (if jumping didn’t kill me, Dad would), I decided to become NASCAR’s newest sensation.
By the grace of God, I managed to make it to the bottom of the hill, curve and all and stopped the tractor on the side of the road for a moment to get off and kiss the ground. I promised myself I would never do anything that idiotic again.
I broke that promise…many, many times.
Jerry Crownover is a farmer and former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University. He is a native of Baxter County, Arkansas, and an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’