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How Is It I’m Still Alive

by Colleen Millsteed 5 months ago in Family
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Farm life is a little tougher than suburban life

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Some of my fondest memories of my father are the times he and I would spend out on the farm together, but I do have to wonder how it is I’m still alive.

When I was twelve / thirteen years of age, I would often go out to the farm with my father during school holidays. I was there to help Dad and I learnt some great lessons in life, from the time spent out there.

Our farm was a wheat farm and didn’t have suitable accommodation to live on the property, so we lived in the closest small town.

The accommodation was a tin shack, just big enough for a cupboard, kerosene fridge, dining table, chair, old bench car seat and a wood stove. The dining table became a single bed for Dad at night, with a mattress hosted on top of it. My bed was the old car seat in front of the wood stove.

The stove had to be lit every day as it was the only means of cooking — my job — breakfast and dinner. Lunch was a sandwich of some kind, so we didn’t need the fire lit.

There was no electricity or plumbing to the property, therefore no toilet facilities, either inside or out. The toilet consisted of a shovel and a roll of toilet paper, pick a direction and dig a hole. I think you get the gist of the rest.

Dad would spend the days on the tractor, plowing the fields or the harvester, at harvest time. I often would ride along with him but I’d have to stand as their was only room for the driver to be seated. At the time I was known to fall asleep anywhere, and you guessed it, I would sleep standing up, while Dad went around and around each paddock, for hours on end.

How I didn’t fall while asleep has Dad and I both beat — but thankfully I didn’t, I’m still alive today.

As the paddocks where a considerable distance from the tin shack, Dad taught me to drive at this age. The first car he taught me in was an old, steering column, automatic.

One morning he put me behind the wheel in the running automatic and got me to drive him to the paddock he was working in that day. My first driving lesson of approximately ten minutes. Once we arrived he told me to turn around, head back to the shack on my own and then at lunchtime drive back with his lunch on board.

How hard can it be? With ten minutes under my belt, I was a twelve year old, experienced driver. What could go wrong?

Well, let me tell you!

My father never explained how to start or stop the motor. When I arrived back at the shack, I had to work out how to turn the car off on my own. Not hard, I just turned the key to the off position.

I was pretty proud of myself!

When it was time to drive Dad’s lunch to him, it was far from easy, in fact it was a totally different story.

The car wouldn’t start. Nothing I did, either inside the car or under the bonnet could get that motor to start. So I had to walk the half hour to give Dad his lunch.

Of course, I know now that the car needs to be in park or neutral before it would start and not the ‘D’ for drive that it was in, when I turned the key off, earlier in the day.

Dad never explained that part of the equation, so all in all it was a good thing, as a ten minute driving lesson is not conducive to staying safe and alive behind the wheel of a car.

The second car we had was what we called ‘Priscilla The Pig”, which was our old bush basher, with a manual gearbox. This car was a dented, beaten up, rust bucket with no doors and a large hole cut into the roof. This hole was so someone could stand and shoot, when we went out shooting kangaroos for food.

The day after my disastrous lesson in the automatic, Dad put me behind the wheel of Priscilla, showed me first and second gear, hooked up a trailer on the back and told me to drive to the next farm over, which happened to be my grandfathers farm. Dad told me he would be following right behind me so nothing could go wrong.

As Priscilla had no review mirror and Dad knew I’d be too terrified to take my eyes off the road to look behind me, he didn’t feel he really needed to actually follow me, as promised.

I did okay for the first half of the trip, but then I had a large hill to climb. This hill was so steep and terrifying, that I slowed right down. So slow in fact, that even in second gear, that old girl didn’t want to climb the hill. Halfway up and I stalled the car.

This resulted in Priscilla rolling backwards down the hill, the trailer jackknifing and ending up off the road and in a ditch. All I could do was sit with my foot on the brake and cry. If I tried to do anything else, Priscilla wanted to keep rolling backwards down the hill.

I eventually worked out that Dad was not following me and sat there until eventually he did come along to help me. All in all it worked out because again, I’m still alive to tell the tale.

The following day, Dad stuck me behind the wheel of the truck, a couple quick instructions and I was sent on my way, alone once more. I did okay this day with no mishaps but I think back now to all the things that can go wrong with a twelve year old girl driving this huge truck, on her own after ten odd minutes of driving instruction.

I was busy cooking dinner that afternoon, making roo tail stew, and Dad come back from driving in the paddock. Dad knowing I was a lover of snakes, told me he had just passed a large black dugite — a highly venomous snake — not far down the road from the shack.

So, as any pre-teen girl would, I raced off down the road to find this snake. I did happen upon it just as it slivered down a mouse hole. After finding a suitable stick, I began poking around inside the hole, hoping to entice the snake out.

Unbeknown to me, the mouse hole had a back door and I did not see the snake come out and slither around behind me. It was only when a shotgun went off very close to me, that I spun around to find Dad had shot the head clean off the snake, as it was in striking distance to me.

I didn’t know Dad was even there, let alone the snake, which I believe was still down the hole. I think Dad had just saved my life.

A good thing, as I had to finish cooking the roo tail stew I had simmering away on the old wood stove. As we walked back to the shack, me with the headless snake draped around my neck, I remembered I still needed to thicken the stew. For this I used cornflour or so I thought, to make up a paste and pour into the the pot.

Once it was ready, I served up a couple of bowls for Dad and I for dinner. Dad asked me what the yellow lumpy bits were in the stew and I explained that the cornflour must be old, as it just turned into lumps when I stirred it in.

After tasting the lumps, Dad explained that I had actually thickened the stew with custard powder.

Thankfully custard powder mixed with roo tail stew, did not poison us but I often think back to those days out on the farm with Dad and I wonder how it is that I’m still alive today!

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About the author

Colleen Millsteed

My first love is poetry — it’s like a desperate need to write, to free up space in my mind, to escape the constant noise in my head. Most of the time the poems write themselves — I’m just the conduit holding the metaphorical pen.

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Comments (3)

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  • Cathy holmes5 months ago

    Good story. Well done.

  • Scott Wade5 months ago

    In a bind. I want to be in your team! Love the story! Poor iddy biddy snake. Sounds like your Dad was an equal opportunity man. Love it. 🥰

  • Please forgive my sense of humour as I found this funny. But I'm so glad you're alive!

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