Jilly D.

Wheelies on ice.

In Pictures and memories on February 22, 2013 at 3:52 am

Having learned to drive in Appleton, Wisconsin, I am a back-roads follow-the-plow kind of driver. Living now high on top of Buffalo Hill past the drifting areas across Snow farm, I navigate the eastern hills of Ithaca just fine. My mom really taught me the art of driving in this kind of weather.

The winter of 1975 had been wicked for high winds, icy patches on the road, white-out driving conditions. My mother’s white knuckled fears of me behind the wheel with my learner’s permit landed us in the school parking lot, just across the field from our driveway. I’d backed out of the garage without denting Dad’s mint green Lincoln Continental just fine.

Mom grew up on Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, where there are only three months a year that aren’t winter. So driving a car meant navigating winter road conditions. Some of her relation and some of our Appleton neighbors took to driving their cars out onto frozen lakes and rivers for ice fishing. Scared at the prospects of the family car in my adolescent hands, she suggested we practice in the ice-covered parking lot at school. Good idea.

Back then Driver’s Education was a mandated part of the state curriculum for public high schools and we had a driving course that included in-class instruction (lots of scary filmstrips about car crashes) and on-the-road supervised instruction. Three students and the teacher got into a Chevette equipped with both student and teacher foot and hand pedals. Each of us got a chance to drive through the obstacle course of plastic orange cones and practice parking and other maneuvers required to pass the state driver’s test. I knew I could do this. The in-class assignments were easy and I could pass the multiple choice test in my sleep.

Practical application in my parents’ car? An entirely different matter. Very little in the eye-hand coordination department, I had my mother worried about what would happen should I ever encounter any real slick ice; like every time I drove in winter. So I agreed with her for once and pulled into the parking lot at Appleton East High School and came to a stop with her in the passenger seat.

“Floor it. Give it everything you got.” Mom told me. She looked wild with fear. “Let’s do it. I want you to try to do a donut.” I knew what she meant. Really? You’re scaring me, mom. I floored it. Wheeeee. We both screamed and laughed as the heavy boat of this low-riding vehicle took off and the steering wheel spun of its own accord as my mittened hands lost control and let go. Peeling out at full throttle, I gave that Lincoln a gunning on the accelerator pedal and didn’t step off until we’d done a full 360.

“Do it again!” Mom seemed thrilled. My heart pounded in terror. This was scarier than learning how to skate on ice. “Come on. Do it again and when I say stop, put on the brakes.” I knew she was crazy.

I started slower this time and built up the speed across the diagonal of  the empty parking lot and then hit a patch of ice and let the car spin, again and again until it came to a stop on its own.

“Turn into it,” mom said. That seemed the opposite of what I’d been inclined to do if I could have done anything. “Turn the direction your wheels go until you catch control and then correct. Your tires will grab the road. You’ll feel it.” I wasn’t so sure. It felt reckless. “Do a donut again. You can do it.”

I looked around that open empty icy parking lot and the snow banks and the clear blue sky. I realized the worst that could happen here is I could spin out of control and hit a snowbank. She let me feel the power of 2,000 lbs of steel in my hands on a steering wheel I couldn’t manage on ice. And I felt how out of control skidding and sliding on ice presented itself as an experience. She helped it become familiar and real. To face this fear and work it through before such situations would arise every winter.

So as another winter storm crosses into Missouri with twenty inches of snow, I sit upon Buffalo Hill and contemplate the family stories. Skating on thin ice as both my mom and dad take up a honeymoon suite in room 405 at the Cox Medical Center in Branson tonight. Dad recovering quickly from pneumonia. Mom not so quickly recovering from everything as they sit out the storm and keep their kind nurses entertained with our family stories. Nobody should get in a car during this storm. We weather it by phone.

I try to turn into this. My dashboard to daily life spins out of control on this icy patch. Will I catch myself from falling? Will catching myself twist something worse? Do I fall into the snow and relax as I leave a snow angel imprint? Get traction, my tires grip the road to weary, and I resist the worst.

“What could you do in Branson?” my mother asked me. I knew the answer. Bingo palaces. Senior shuffle board? I couldn’t even apparently get there except by the most circuitous routes from Ithaca by air and it’s a 17.5 hour drive according to Google Maps. And I’m a loud mouthed New Yorker daughter who will piss off their nice doctors, nurses, therapists and caregivers they’ve come to know and love in the past two weeks. I got the picture. I’d only make matters worse.

“I love you,” dad said when he hung up tonight. He’d thought his roomie would want to talk with me but mom was having some kind of therapy and unable to talk; tomorrow. Call tomorrow.

“If only you knew how much I loved you,” mom said when she got the fresh cut flowers in her room last Friday. Like I had no idea. Sometimes too much. I knew the chaplain had been in her room just before I talked with her. I’d called during his visit and she asked me to phone back. When I did, she felt certain she’d soon be released, they could enjoy a few warm days and then drive home to Minnesota. Enough with the vacation already.

It’s wheelies on ice. Treacherous terrain. Caution. Prudence. All that stuff my mom tried to teach me. Face the fear. When things are out of your control, go into it instead of fighting against it. Burn rubber on ice.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: