Saturday, November 11, 2006

Claire and the Baby Tractor


Claire and her dad loved to take walks in the park. They loved the trees, the ducks, the water and the birds. One day they were walking in the park when it suddenly began to rain. They laughed and ran as fast as they could under a large tree to stay dry.

As they stood under the tree giggling and shaking the rain off, Claire noticed that they weren't alone. Next to them under the tree was a very tiny tractor, with very wet headlights.

"What's the matter, baby tractor?" Claire asked. "Why are you crying?"

The baby tractor looked up at Claire's dad and Claire could tell that the little tractor was feeling shy. She knew how scary grownups could seem sometimes. She bent close to the tractor so that it could whisper in her ear. "It's okay," Claire said. "You can tell me."

The tractor whispered to Claire that it was all alone. It had been playing in the trees and got lost from its family. Now they had gone home without it and it was all alone. At this the tractor began to cry again, even harder.

"Daddy!" Claire exclaimed. "This baby tractor is all by itself. We have to help it find its family."

Claire's dad knew from experience that once she had made up her mind about helping someone there was no sense arguing with her. He bent down on one knee in front of the tractor and Claire so they could figure out a plan. "Well," her dad said. "I know of a tractor store back in town. I'm sure they would know where this little guy's family is. We could drive back to town and ask them to help us."

Both Claire and the baby tractor smiled when he said this.

"There's only one problem," said Claire's dad. "If I'm driving our car there'll be nobody left to drive the tractor."

"Um, I can," Claire said, smiling and rolling her eyes.

"You?" her dad asked with a strange smile on his face. "You're five. Since when do you know how to drive?"

"I've been practicing!" Claire said. "At Granny and Grandpa's house. On my truck."

Claire's dad thought about this for a minute. It was true, Claire's toy truck and the little tractor were just about the same size. And if there's one thing he knew from experience it was that when Claire decided to learn how to do something she learned how to do it well.

"Well, okay, " he said. "We'll try it. I think there are enough dirt roads between here and town that we can make it back without taking the highway. But stay close behind me, keep your seatbelt buckled, and no complaining that I'm driving to slow."

"Yay," Claire said, laughing. Then she hopped right into the baby tractor and turned the ignition. It made a ROOM-ROOM sound and blinked its headlights. "You see, Daddy," she said. "It's feeling better already."

They waited until the rain stopped and when the sky seemed clear enough they headed out back to town. A park ranger at the gate had to blink a couple of times when he saw them pass through. "That's funny," he said to himself. "It looked for a minute like a little girl was driving that tractor. I think I'd better get my eyes checked."

The trip back to town was going along just fine. It turned out that all of Claire's practicing had paid off and she had become a pretty good driver. Her dad smiled with pride as he watched her in his rearview mirror. As for Claire, she was having the time of her life. This tractor, like many other tractors, had no roof or windows and she loved the feel of the wind on her face and in her hair as they went. Her and the baby tractor took turns singing their favorite songs they'd learned in school. Wow, Claire thought to herself. I can't wait until I'm old enough to drive a real car.

They had gone quite a ways when the tractor began to make a funny sound. SPUTTER, SPUTTER, SPUTTER. Looking in his mirror, Claire's dad could tell from her face that she was worried and he pulled over to see what was wrong.

"Um, Daddy," Claire whispered in his ear so the tractor couldn't hear them. "The question is, what's wrong with this tractor?"

Concerned, her dad looked the tractor over. He looked under its hood. Then under its carriage. They he looked at the tires. Finally, he looked at the instrument panel. "Well Claire," he said. "There's nothing wrong with the tractor. But it is almost out of gas."

Claire's dad was a little worried now. When they left for the park that morning he hadn't brought any extra money with them, just a couple of sack lunches and a loaf of bread to feed the ducks. After all, he had never expected they'd be helping a baby tractor find its family. How will we ever get the baby tractor back to its family now if we can't buy it any gas?, he thought. But before he could say anything to Claire about this he saw that she had pulled a white change purse out of her pocket. It was shaped like butterfly and had been a present from him on her last birthday. "Daddy," she said. "As you may or may not know, I've been saving up my allowance for something special. And now, I've decided I'd like to spend it on gas for this tractor."

"Claire, I had no idea you'd been saving that money all this time," her dad said. "We sure are lucky that you're so smart. And so generous."

So they drove a little ways up the road until they came to a gas station. The attendant at the station had to blink a few times when Claire, whose head didn't even come up to the top of the counter, reached up, handed him her money and said, "Put it all on pump one."

"I think I need a nap," he said to himself, rubbing his eyes.

With that problem solved, Claire, the baby tractor, and her dad set off once again back to town to find the tractor's family. But they weren't on the road for very long when the sky began to get cloudy again and the wind began to blow harder. Claire's dad was worried. It was surely going to storm soon, he thought, and there would be nothing to protect her from the rain. He pulled over.

"Claire," he said. "We've got a problem. It's going to rain any minute and that tractor has no roof. You'll be soaked!"

Claire smiled and looked at her dad with her look that seemed to say, are you kidding me? "Um, daddy, there's a bridge right over there," she said, pointing down the road. "We can hide under it to stay dry until the rain stops."

"Oh," her dad said. "I hadn't thought of that. Now that you mention it, that's a pretty good plan, Claire. Good thinking."

Claire shook her head and giggled. "You're silly, Daddy," she said.

Claire and her Daddy parked under the bridge and just as they did, it started to pour buckets. They waited there for a while as it rained and rained. "I'm hungry," her dad said. "I sure wish I had something to eat."

His stomach made a GRRRLLLLLL sound.

"Um, Daddy..." Claire said.

"Yes?" her dad replied.

"Our sack lunches..."

"Oh, right!" Claire's dad said, relieved and happy. "You know, sometimes I don't know what I'd do without you Claire Bear." And at that Claire and her dad tore into those sack lunches and ate three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a bag of crackers, an apple, two puddings, two juice boxes and a half a banana quicker than you could say "fifty fat fairies."

Just as they were licking their fingers and cleaning up from their lunch it seemed to get quieter. "Daddy," Claire said quietly. "Listen. It's stopped raining!"

"You're right," her dad said looking around. "It has, but we'd better hurry up if we want to make it back to town before dark."

They set out on the road, and Claire smiled again as the wind blew through her hair. The air seemed cleaner after the rain and her and the baby tractor thought of all the songs they had learned in school that had the word "rain" in them and sang each one again and again, without ever getting tired of them.

As they went, the sun began to set and the sky turned pink, then purple. Just when it seemed they would never make it back before sunset they saw lights and signs in the distance. They had finally made it back to town! Claire's dad led them past a grocery store, past more gas stations and past a coffee shop before pulling in to the parking lot of a large tractor store. There were rows and rows of tractors and Claire's dad started worried that they wouldn't be able to find the little tractor's family in all those lines. But almost as soon as they'd entered the parking lot the little tractor began to hop up and down with excitement. A group of tractors near the middle of the lot had recognized the baby tractor and were rushing out toward them. It was the baby tractor's family. They had found them!

Claire and her dad stood watching as the tractors laughed and took turns hugging the baby tractor again and again. This seemed to go on forever. "Pick me up," Claire said to her dad. He looked down at her, smiling. "Aren't you a little bit big for being held," he asked, and then bent down and scooped her up anyway. When the tractor family had finally loved on the tractor until they couldn't love on it anymore, they turned toward Claire's dad and said, "We can't thank you enough for bringing our precious baby back to us."

"Don't thank me, thank her," Claire's dad said, nodding toward Claire. "After all, it was her idea. Claire don't you want to---"

Claire's dad stopped when he saw that she had fallen asleep on his shoulder. "Well, I'll be sure to tell her how grateful you were," he said to the tractor family. He waved goodbye then walked back his car and buckled a sleeping Claire into her seat. He kissed her chubby cheek. "Sweet dreams Claire. You've earned them."