“I don’t know. If I’m going to be giving you all my Lego blocks, I think I should get something in return,” Michael, an older boy in Daniel’s school said during recess.
“But you don’t even play with them anymore,” Daniel said. “You just said so.”
“Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t,” Michael said, the words weighing from one side of his mouth to the other. “You know how it is. I’ve got something you want, and you’ve got something I want. Nothing in this world’s free.”
Daniel knew what Michael wanted, his 1970 Reggie Jackson card. In 1970 Jackson had a batting average in the low .200s and a little over 60 RBIs. Just three years later in 1973, Jackson led the league in RBI’s with 117. Arguably, 1970 had been one of the worst years of his career. Daniel liked the card for that reason. It reminded him that even though sometimes things get hard, the best is yet to come.
Michael had lost the card to Daniel some months back when they’d been flipping them out in the gravel behind the school yard. Michael didn’t really want the card back, he just didn’t like the idea of losing to somebody smaller than him. If the card had sentimental value to Daniel, all the better, since it would make giving it up all the harder.
Daniel sighed and opened one of his notebooks. He’d slid the card in one of the pockets, and had taken to looking at it during especially hard math tests or whenever the teacher or his father had just been yelling at him. Reluctantly he handed the card over to Michael, who tossed it in his bag without a second thought.
“I’ll bring the bricks over to your house tonight,” Michael said. “What do you want with ‘em anyway?”
Daniel shook his head, “Nothing. I just really like Legos is all.”
Daniel had made a dozen such deals in the space of a week. Rather than meet him up by the house, he had the children deliver the bricks to an old tarp he’d set up at the back edge of his father’s fields. The planting for that section had been done for weeks and he’d volunteered to take care of he watering and feeding of that section to save his father from having to go out that far.
Lester had been proud to see the boy take some responsibility, and in truth was dog tired from the last days of digging and hours of lying under a hot greasy engine. His hands and his face were black, and the tractor was no closer to moving than if he had just pushed it.
At night, long after everyone had gone to sleep, Daniel would sneak out to the field with a flashlight and an old picture he’d taken from one of the albums from when his father had first bought the tractor. The Colorado sky was big and full of stars, so bright that sometimes Daniel didn’t even need the flashlight.
Some nights a few of his friends would come by and help with the work, sorting bricks into colors, helping him balance sections while he built the underlying support structure.
“Why does the outside have to be all red bricks?” Lucas, one of the boys in his grade asked him.
“You ever see a Massey Ferguson any other color but red?” was Daniel’s reply. When he ran out of red bricks, he took to painting the other colors, finally applying a coat to the whole outside of the frame to keep everything smooth and consistent. Some of the pieces he had to glue together for the extra support.
He’d drag himself back to the house a couple of hours before sunrise. By the end he could practically sleepwalk to his bedroom. His mother looked concerned when she came up to wake him every morning. Usually, all she had to do was shout that breakfast was ready, and Daniel would tear down the stairs. But now she practically had to shake him just to get him moving.
Fortunately school was almost over, so his grades didn’t suffer too much. Some of the other kids even took pity on him during some of the tests and let him copy their answers, though for some this was better charity than others.
The last Tuesday of May was the hottest all month, getting to nearly 90 in the heat of the day. Lester’s legs were rubber, and his face was leather from spending all day in the hot sun. When he licked his lips he could taste the salt of his own sweat. Daniel was waiting for him outside the house, his hands clasped behind his back, his face looking down in the dirt.
“What’s the matter, son? Why are you standing out here when you should be helping your mother with supper?”
Daniel’s voice was small, and Lester didn’t hear him the first time he spoke.
“What was that. Speak up boy!”
“I said I had something I want to show you!” Daniel finally yelled. Lester couldn’t remember a time when Daniel had yelled about anything. That alone was reason enough to be just a little curious.
Daniel took him out toward the fields he’d been taking care of that season. Lester assumed that Daniel wanted to show off his handiwork, maybe to get some advice from his old man on how he could make the crops grow just a little bit higher. He got confused when he saw an old brown tarp draped over something taller than Daniel. It had a familiar shape but he couldn’t quite place it.
Without a word Daniel took one end of the tarp and pulled. It seemed to take all of his strength for just a moment, before the tarp popped off of something that had caught it, and sent Daniel stumbling back a few paces. The sight in front of Lester nearly did the same.
Standing before him, in perfect detail was his tractor, rendered in thousands of tiny bricks of plastic. He ran his hand along the top of it, and found it as smooth as the metal on his old rig.
“I sanded down the pegs on the outer bricks,” Daniel said.
Lester just stared aghast. Finally he said, “The ‘M’ and the ‘E’ are missing.”
“Of course,” Daniel replied, “this is your tractor.” He got a little twinkle in his eye as he saw genuine admiration in his father’s eyes possibly for the first time in his life. Dad had always preferred Jimmy,not for any particular reason other than he’d known the boy longer.
“Hey Dad, watch this,” Daniel said, jumping up on the black seat.
He turned a golden rounded key to the right and on cue an engine roared to life, kicking back a little smoke at first, but then running smooth, smoother than Lester remembered even on his tractor’s first day.
Daniel kicked a lever into gear and inched the Lego rig forward around his father. He patted the space behind his seat.
“Hop on Dad, we’ve got to get back to the house. We’re already late for supper.”