I Wish Dad Was Driving

It was my first experience with black ice. Approaching a stop sign on a narrow country road, I braked and the van slid. My ten year old son and I were silent for tense moments while we spun and I tried to remember or intuit how to respond on ice. We stopped, still miraculously on the road, front tires lined up on the edge of the deep ditch in the opposite lane. Thankful – and proud – of keeping us on the road, I took a deep breath. My son was the first to speak, “I wish Dad was driving”.

Maybe he thought I’d suddenly gone crazy, forgotten how to drive. Maybe he knew we’d hit ice. No matter, I understand his response. My husband is a good man and a safe driver. When you are young, a good dad at the wheel gives a sense of security.

My Dad was a much better man than driver. They called it “Sunday driving”, looking around more than at the road. But Dad drove when our family traveled, and Mom kept an eye on the road. My spot in the car was always the seat behind the driver. I imagine this was so Mom could get out of the passenger seat and assist my younger sister on her side, leaving Dad the older kid who needed less help.

We made frequent trips to visit grandparents, less than two hours away, and good friends, a four hour drive. We sang to entertain ourselves as a trip began. Mom taught us School Days and My Sweetheart’s the Man in the Moon. Dad led on Don’t Fence Me In, Every Day with Jesus, and Maresy Doats. They harmonized together on We Ain’t Got a Barrel of Money, as we “traveled along, singing our song, side by side”. We sang in the sunshine, looking for familiar landmarks, excitement growing until, at last, we were there!

It was often late as we drove home. More subdued, tired from the fun, we sang and talked less. I loved the ride home, especially on a starlit summer night. Dad would keep a window vented for a cool breeze. Curled up on the seat behind him, the breeze in my face, I was alone counting the stars, dreaming my dreams. Alone, cocooned with my family and happy memories of the day.

Despite his Sunday driving, the car never wrecked, just the family. Singing and family road trips ended, and before long I was at the wheel myself. But I can still remember the sense of contentment and security I felt when Dad drove us home.


The Ties That Bind

IMG_2727(The Daily Post prompt on May 30th, “Weaving the threads”, caught my interest as it suggested writing a post with three parts, unrelated, with a common thread. Here’s where it led me.)

Sorting through generations of “stuff”, I added one of Grandma’s old workday aprons to my “keep” pile. Aprons were daily wear for both of my grandmothers, as were the dresses they protected. They had many practical aprons, dressy ones for holidays or serving company. My mom wore an apron once a week, serving roast while protecting her Sunday-best dress. My daughter occasionally wears one, because they’re cute as well as practical and seem to have comeback into popularity. It is my 60’s/70’s jean and t-shirt wearing generation that shunned using them. But I will keep Grandma’s apron along with the memory of her rolling out homemade noodles and pie crusts amidst a cloud of flour.

And because of a story I heard at a family reunion.

Some of my family lived in Kansas during the dust bowl years, enduring one difficulty after another. One summer a mini-plague of grasshoppers swarmed the area, eating what little garden they had managed to grow. As the story goes, my great-grandmother was hanging laundry on the clothesline when the cloud of grasshoppers arrived, quickly covering everything in the yard, including her. To quote the family history, “and the hoppers gobbled every green thing, including the green strings off the apron tied around grandma’s waist”. I love the picture that sentence paints, and the hard-working, apron-wearing women I remember.

We spread Dad’s tie collection on the bed and each picked one to take home. He had worn a tie to work for over thirty years as a teacher/school counselor. We laughed at the variety of styles from super skinny to Bozo-wide. Some of the ugliest may have been gifts from us, seen as cool that particular Christmas or Father’s Day. It didn’t look like he had gotten rid of any of them over the years.

I picked one that looked like “Dad” to me. I’m not sure how the others made their choice, or if anyone kept the golf tie, or the hand-painted one from Hawaii. The one he was buried in had blue-gray stripes to match his gray jacket. It looked like him.

They came to get me because she was crying. I was a third grader and my sister had just started Kindergarten. She was crying because she had wet her pants while someone else was in the only bathroom available. Embarrassed because she didn’t usually have accidents, she was afraid she’d be labeled a “baby” in her class. I was embarrassed because my sister had an accident (that baby) and because somehow the school had identified me with her! Plus she could really cry once she got going… I doubt I was much comfort to her while we waited together for Mom to come with dry clothes.

We managed to be a comfort to each other more often than an embarrassment as years went by. We live and work in the same community (by choice!) 800 miles from our childhood home. People here have only known us as adults and struggle to tell us apart. We both have worked with children and are often mistakenly greeted by the others’ name. Long tied to one another in this way, we just say hello and receive the hug from an unknown child on our sister’s behalf without correcting their mistake.

Skipping Away

Parking at a school, watching children through my van’s windshield is not as creepy as it sounds.  Even though it is part of my daily routine.

Most school-aged children at our day care center ride a bus to and fro, but that is not an option for either the sixth grade boy I pick up after school or the five Kindergarteners I pick up at noon.  Watching either the Middle School or Kindergarten groups dismiss can be entertaining, and both are great opportunities to observe human nature.

The Kindergarteners were carefully tagged and trained the first two weeks of school until  they and the teachers knew what line each belonged in, how they were to exit the building, and how to safely approach and enter the vehicle for their trip home.  Months later, they are still monitored, with teachers at the front of the line and strategically placed within the line to herd these children quickly, safely to those of us waiting in three lanes to transport them. It is an impressively organized routine.

Even so, this line of seventy children is no orderly line of ducklings following their mama.

Sure, some are a study in concentration as they keep their eyes straight ahead, maintaining an even pace and a careful distance from the child they follow. These concentrators take their new role as Kindergartener seriously, leaning forward slightly to balance the big backpack they are wearing.  Some concentrators even maintain their composure while the child behind them repeatedly bumps into them, shoves them, or swings a back pack at their head. When these more “interactive” kids tire of pestering the child ahead of them, they try the funny-every-time trick of stopping suddenly, causing a collision and mini pile-up of children behind.  Many are nonchalant line-walkers by now, looking around for distractions without intentionally bothering others.  They check out the cars, find people to wave at,  or spot friends and call repeated goodbyes. This inattention may cause them to run into another walker, to wander out of line, or to occasionally trip and fall.  As long as they get back up, no one seems concerned. The line keeps moving.

Teachers position themselves by rain puddles, urging the children to go around.  The concentrators proudly obey.  The distracted “nonchalants” wander through the puddle while staring at the teacher who is talking so animatedly.  The “interactives” stomp gleefully through the middle and look for more puddles.

No one in the Kindergarten line seems self conscious of others watching them, or self aware as to how they compare, though they differ greatly in size and shape, and styles of clothing. These Kindergarteners all seem happy or at least content, to be walking in line together, part of a group.

Despite varied walking styles, any of them, at any time, might suddenly begin to skip.  Even the most serious minded concentrator spontaneously skips a few steps.  Even the little boy with the skull on his black t-shirt that says “Too Cool For School”, skips. Little girls wearing Disney princess shirts and pigtails, and the ones dressed like mini-teens, skipping together.  It always makes me smile.

When do we stop skipping?  Why?

Six years older, the middle school kids burst out of the building like popcorn.  Many doors, no organized parking lines, no teachers visible, they pop out one or two at a time, then in great bunches overflowing into the streets, then a few last stragglers.

Six years older than my Kindergarteners, so much has changed.

Most seem self-conscious, sure everyone is watching, judging.  They are hugely aware of each other, ignoring any random adults.  Like the Kindergarteners, they vary greatly in size, shape and style of clothing.  Some of them are laughing and happy, some look desperately unhappy as they hurry away.  Some still roughhouse, shoving a friend off the sidewalk or into someone else.  Some talking on a cell phone – that shield against apparent loneliness.  Running, yelling, shoving, riding bikes, walking along.  No one is skipping. Ever.

Those walking alone interest me the most,  worry me a little.  I am glad to see someone speak to them or wave, to know that they have not been completely alone that day.

The boy I pick up just turned twelve.  He still waves each day when he spots me.  He has introduced me to friends and a girlfriend when they have been walking near him.  But he usually walks out alone.  He chatters to me about his good days and bad days, and is peculiarly happy with his lot in life, which has not been easy.  Not much easy in sight for the future, either.

I pray for him.  Childhood skips away too quickly.