This story is pretty darn realistic. It's an average winter day at an average ranch with an average woman doing some above average gardening. Except for the arrival of the tinker, it's everyday life at its most everyday.
It's what Steinbeck does with the everyday that makes this story a drama, and that's what makes it such an impressive work of art. He manages to pack a whole boatload of conflicting, compelling, and confounding emotions into simple dialogue and restrained actions.
We're riveted by Elisa's every move in the garden, and we hang on every word she says, hoping to get even the teeniest glimpse into her inner world. That's what makes it so exciting when she reaches out to touch the tinker's trousers. What seems like just a strange, totally G-rated moment is layered with oodles of emotional intimacy, but only if we're reading carefully enough to go looking for it.