Delmas, Master of Tractors

My grandfather, Delmas Waters was a heavy equipment mechanic for Ridgeland, South Carolina’s Malphrus Construction, a general contractor that did much of the original development work on Hilton Head Island. I can remember going over as a very young child to the Malphrus Construction offices and equipment barn on Hilton Head with Daddy Delmas. Their buildings were located in an otherwise undeveloped area off of what was then a two-lane U.S. Route 278, just over the bridge from the mainland. Today, the spot is as densely developed and trafficked as central Nassau County, and Route 278 looks something like the Long Island Expressway much of the time, especially during turnover days when one set of weekly tourists arrive while another heads home. Daddy Delmas was the guy who kept the big machines that built all those golf courses and condominiums running, which was brutal, dangerous work. I wish I had a photo of his hands, which were huge, calloused and strong, and had but nine fingers between them, one having been sacrificed to appease the hunger of some engine. He chewed Juicy Fruit gum all the time when he worked, and whenever I smell that distinctive brand of gum now, my brain also inserts the smell of motor grease, since those two aromas always went together when I was little. I wrote a poem about Daddy Delmas during my 2004 Poetry Project, and reprint it here, as a supplement to the pictures below.  It’s called “Delmas, Master of Tractors.”

These big, ol’ Caterpillars here, I’ll tell ya,
are just like lions in a circus cage:
they do just as you say while you are watching,
then strike to kill, once you dare turn away.
You gotta crack the whip with these here fellas,
to let ’em know for sure that you’re the boss,
but at the same time, too, you’ve got to love ’em,
and keep ’em fit and trim, at any cost.
They’re more than just big piles of glass and metal,
like dogs, they smell the fear upon a man,
but I walk strong and tall through their garages,
the grease and gas they bleed upon my hands.
These tractors know they need me to be healthy,
they know it’s me what keeps ’em strong and clean.
I’m not no fancy doctor, nor a lawyer,
but I’m the Lord to these here big machines.

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