Dad was driving our old beige Chevy down a winding road. Mom was in the front seat, and I was there too, standing on the seat riding in between. There were no car seats back then and no laws requiring them. On the seat I stood tall enough to see through the windshield. I liked watching the ridge of gravel disappear beneath the car as it slowly moved along.
That’s where we were when my dad playfully announced, “You’re not going to be the baby anymore. You’re gonna have a new brother or sister, and they’ll be the baby, not you.” I don’t recall how I respnded or how I felt, but of all the pictures in my mind this appears to be the earliest.
We lived in a little three room house my mother later called a shack. It was at the end of a one lane road that had never seen gravel. We shared this dirt road with my mother’s parents. They lived in a bigger house across the road and down another lane from us.
When the road was wet any traffic would cut tracks in the dirt, each vehicle creating new or deeper ruts. When the mud froze from the cold or dried from the sun, the ruts would harden. The muffler on a car would be damaged or the tailpipe dragged loose if the driver fauiled to maneuver the wheels in just the right place.
One day in the winter around the time I turned three, that road made the next memory for me. It was badly rutted from the moisture and all the freezing and thawing. My dad had made it out to work that morning, but the road had thawed by the time he was on his way home. My grandparents had gone out and come back in during the day. The extra ruts created made the road unmaneuverable. Fearing he’d get stuck or lose a muffler, my dad parked the car and walked on home.
The next morning we had to go somewhere. Whatever had to be done, we always went together. My mother never left us with her parents and there was no one else to watch us. I don’t recall where we had to go, but that morning Mom tucked me in my one-piece snowsuit and zipped me up in it. It was a bumpy wool fabric dyed a kelly green. It had a rough texture I recognized years later when stroking a poodle.
The temperatures had dropped overnight and the road was frozen again. My parents lead the way and my older sister and I followed. It didn’t take long for my hands and feet to get cold. I remember looking at my feet, afraid of stumbling and landing on the rough, scarred dirt. The longer we walked the colder I became. My foot twisted and I fell down. I began to cry for Dad to carry me, but his arms were occupied, wrapped tightly around the blankets covering my baby brother. Mom had a large diaper bag hanging from her shoulder, and she was carrying something else. What it was I don’t remember.
“You keep cryin’ like that,” my dad warned, “you’ll have long icicles hanging from your face.” Neither of my parents ever coddled us. Life was tough and they prepared us from the start. Falling down required that you pick yourself back up. “Get up,” said Mom. “You’re okay. Just keep walking. Stay in the tracks. We’re almost there.”
Some fifty years later, I have started to reflect on my life. Those early memories translate to me as a metaphor. Life is a rutted road. Its ground is seldom level. Expect to fall down, but get back up and walk again. Some things you must do on your own. Loved ones, even if willing, can not carry you.
- Rainbows and New Beginnings (powerofamoment.com)
- Part 2 (tirelessthoughts.wordpress.com)
- A Lost Girl (chicagonow.com)
- Keep Moving Forward (thegourmetgirls.wordpress.com)