“Grandpa, can we go for a ride? Anna Mae and me fed the chickens, just like you asked.”
It was Gracie who asked, of course. Anna Mae was never brave enough, and Stevie always insisted that rides were ‘kid stuff.’ But he was just as happy as the rest of us to pile on, should the occasion arise. It was also Gracie’s trademark to remind Grandpa of a chore well done, so we sensed the deal was cinched.
“You kids never quit your yappin’ do you?” Grandpa pretended to shoo us away, but the twinkle in his eye told us he was teasing. “You sure Mattie Sugar’s been fed?”
“Grandpa, we’re sure!” Gracie gave him her most winning smile, and the rest of us clustered around to add our voices to the chorus.
Grandpa grinned and tousled Anna Mae’s hair. “Well, as long as I’m driving,” he said. Glad that he’d surrendered, we all tromped off to the barn without objection—except Stevie.
“Grandpa, no fair!” he insisted. “You said last time it was my turn to drive Morris.”
We looked up from our combined effort to hoist the barn door open—leftovers from an old-style garage that Grandpa had rigged up to keep Morris out of the weather. Grandpa lent us a hand with the door before turning to study Stevie.
“He’s been awful ornery lately,” Grandpa cautioned. “You sure you want to drive him?”
“Remember that time you almost fell off?” Gracie piped up. “He wasn’t too happy after that.”
“You just want your turn,” Stevie scowled. “I’ll be fine, Grandpa.”
Grandpa raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Okay, if you say so. Just let me back him out.”
We all cleared the door, standing in a careful semicircle. From inside the barn, the sounds of the sputtering starter drifted out to us, followed by the earsplitting reverse. Morris inched out of the barn, his ‘slow moving vehicle’ sign bent but still intact. Grandpa flipped the reverse switch and engaged the parking brake, then slid over to make room for Stevie.
“All yours, hotshot,” he said. Stevie scrambled into the driver’s seat, and the rest of us fit ourselves in wherever we could.
“Hey, Grandpa?” We tried to shush Anna Mae, but someone must have been squishing her. “How many people are supposed to be ridin’ Morris, anyway?”
Grandpa laughed. “Not many big folks, that’s for sure. But you’re just little tykes.”
Stevie relaxed his fierce grip on the steering wheel to give Grandpa a look. “Who’re you callin’ little tykes? I’m driving Morris all by myself.”
Grandpa released the parking brake and smiled down at Stevie. “What about a test track drive round the fields? He’s been sittin’ comfortable in his garage for too long. I’ll keep the gas goin’ and you steer, okay?”
Stevie nodded and resumed his grip on the wheel. Morris crawled forward, so slow we could feel every bump in the grass. After creaking around the corner of the barn, Stevie brought Morris even with the edge of the field, and Grandpa shifted Morris from a crawl to a slow trundle. Anna Mae giggled.
“Stevie sticks out his tongue when he’s thinkin’ hard,” she whispered, “and Morris isn’t even going that fast.”
Gracie elbowed her. “Hush up, Anna Mae. He’s doin’ the best he can.”
“Course I am,” Stevie said. He would have glared at Anna Mae, but he was keeping his eyes on the makeshift path that many Morris rides had created around the soybeans.
“Not bad, hotshot,” Grandpa said, when we rounded the first corner safely. “How about a bit faster for the straightaway?”
Stevie grinned. “Sure, let’s take him for a run!”
When Grandpa accelerated, we didn’t notice much of a difference, but Stevie was still pleased as cherry punch. We reached the second corner, and Stevie steered carefully around it.
“Grandpa,” Anna Mae complained, “this isn’t very fast. Can’t you drive now?”
Grandpa’s skeptical eyebrow reappeared. “Not very fast?” he echoed. “Well, I’ll just let Stevie take the gas.”
As Grandpa’s foot shifted off the pedal, Stevie’s came down like all get out. We braced ourselves for the shot forward—but Morris all but changed speed. Stevie frowned.
“He isn’t goin’ that much faster, Grandpa.” The rest of us gave Grandpa sideways glances, but Stevie pressed on. “My foot’s all the way to the floor, see?”
Grandpa nodded solemnly. “Maybe Morris just doesn’t like you goin’ fast. Ever thought of that?”
“Grandpa, quit teasin’ us!” Gracie protested this time, giggling a little. “You know Morris is just a golf cart. He can’t—”
Grandpa gave us a confused blink. “Who says he can’t? I don’t think he likes you goin’ fast.”
Stevie slid off the driver’s seat. “Aw, you’re still teasin’ us. Here, you drive.”
Grandpa waited for Stevie to join the gaggle of passengers before tapping the gas. Morris rolled forward a few feet, then stopped.
“Not like that, Grandpa,” Stevie corrected. “Hit the gas, and you’ll see.”
“Like this?” Grandpa pushed the accelerator, but Morris didn’t advance beyond a sedate stroll. We stayed like that, Grandpa’s foot to the floor, all the way round the third and fourth corners of soybean. As we rolled up to the barn, Grandpa clicked the parking brake into place.
“Now, that’s downright funny,” Grandpa said, twisting in the seat to give his passengers the once-over. “You haven’t been messin’ with Morris, have you?” Before we could answer, he shook his head. “No, course you haven’t.”
“Nat might know,” Anna Mae piped up. “He likes messin’ with cars and stuff.”
Grandpa sighed. “First football, now cars and stuff. Gracie, run up to the house and see if he’ll come down. I’ve got some real animals that need seein’ to.”
Anna Mae frowned. “But Grandpa, what if he starts messin’ with Morris instead of fixin’ him?”
Grandpa laughed. “He won’t—not as long as you’re watchin’ him, missy. You just holler if he starts anything funny.”
Anna Mae bounced a little. “Okay, Grandpa. Stevie’ll holler too.”
Stevie nodded, surprising us all. “Yeah, I don’t want Nat messin’ with Morris either. No one’ll be driving him anymore if he keeps bein’ slow.”
Grandpa gave us a last smile before pulling the key from the ignition and heading off to the animal barn. We shifted in our seats for a minute, rocking Morris back and forth, until Gracie approached with Nat in tow.
“I’m wastin’ my time on this,” he was complaining. “It’s probably just gettin’ old.”
“Grandpa said to look, so you’re lookin’ whether you like it or not,” Gracie insisted. “Everybody out so Nat can have a look.”
We all piled out, and Nat flipped up the seat to reveal a collection of parts. What must have been simple to Nat was incomprehensible to us, but we still watched carefully as he examined Morris’ insides. After a while, we heard a click and a rattle. To our complete astonishment, Nat started to laugh.
“There’s nothin’ wrong with Morris,” he managed. “Boy, was Grandpa pullin’ your leg!”
Gracie stared up at Nat, her hands on her hips. “What do you mean, pullin’ our leg?”
Nat smiled down at us, but it was almost a nice smile. “He put pins in the motor to slow Morris down, that’s what.”
Stevie blinked. “You mean, he knew the whole time?”
Nat thumped down the seat, still grinning. “Yeah, guess he didn’t want you hotshots drivin’ too fast.”
“Hotshots?” Stevie shook his head. “Naw, guess we’re just little tykes.”
Nat looked off toward the barn for a minute, then down at our somber group. “I’ll go ask Grandpa about lettin’ the little tykes drive a little faster, all right? But that means I get to drive, come next time.”
Stevie grinned—we all did, even Anna Mae. “That’s a deal, big tyke!”