Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Dames of Hazzard
"Why don't you take MY car? Then I'll know you're safe."
I had to agree with her. The forecast was for snow, hard and fast, starting around four o'clock, and my off-farm job had me scheduled 'til six. My car--of recent rock-meets-window fame--sat in front of the house with bald tires and a trendy rural tricolor look, courtesy of a 2003 meeting with a mailbox and some black ice. Ever since that accident, (which happened when I was going, literally, five miles per hour), we've designated mine "The Summer Car" and hers "The Winter Car."
The Winter Car is one of those ubiquitous Maine vehicles: an eleven-year-old Subaru Outback. We've used it to carry bagpipes to gigs in Fort Kent and Kennebunk. We've hauled bales of hay for our cows and grocers' gleanings for the food bank. We know exactly how many eight-foot-long 2x4s we can fit inside--22--if we align them and drive slow so they don't bump the windshield. I love station wagons. Most farmers seem to pride themselves on their pickup trucks, but not me. I'm happy to borrow one now and then, depending on how much hay or lumber we need, but my vehicle of choice is a station wagon: a serious, safe workhorse untainted by too much testosterone.
It was time to warm up that workhorse and go to work. I didn't relish the thought of standing at the cash register all day, but I knew enough to take the work while I could get it. I put on festive holiday garb and--in anticipation of long hours--tempered the effect with cushy socks and hiking boots. I was glad of those boots as the day wore on. There were trips up and down the steep back stairs, baskets in hands, to restock the shop. There were hours at the register, smiling pleasantly as I rung up and bagged items I could never possibly afford, myself, to buy. When the snow began to fall at half-past four, I was glad. The day of retail purgatory would soon be ending.
My co-worker looked out at half-past five, and told me to go home. I was happy to oblige. The roads seemed to be fine, judging from all the shoppers zooming by. The extra half hour would give me time to go get the milk. (Our cattle are beef animals, not dairy cows. We buy milk from another farm and take pride in our support of other local producers.) I drove off with joy and caution, keeping a slow pace to match the medieval carols on my CD player as well as the road conditions.
At the farm, my milk was waiting in the old soda cooler in the barn. A big jingle-bell was tied to the handle of the jug, a whimsical seasonal nod. I thought about cows and Christmas and the hard work of dairyfolk, work that has no regard for human illness or holidays. I lifted my milk-jug like a toasting glass and whispered my thanks to the quiet barn.
Back down the driveway, past the pasture fences, and onto the road... the snow was coming down heavily now, but the pavement seemed fine. I checked my brakes and kept my speed down. Other drivers observed the same caution and everything went well for a couple of miles. Then, suddenly, things didn't. The car started to fishtail and skidded toward the edge of the road. All I could see was a swale of darkness, an enormous looming nothing framed by skeletal stands of birch. The car gracefully floated over the edge, into the void. Remembering anecdotes of unhurt infants and unscathed drunks, I willed my body to relax--the only helpful action left for me to take--and prepared for the assuredly awful impact.
Thump. That was it--just, "thump." No breaking glass, no grinding metal, no shattering bones, no blood. I scanned my surroundings. Two great black circles, taller than the car, stared back at me. I had gone over an embankment and landed at the base of two culverts, in the drainage swath. Clumps of ice in the slushy water nudged the running board and swirled lazily around the wheels. Our Winter Car was in its element--or elements--now. A truck--yes, a pick-up-- pulled to a stop above me, at the top of the embankment. A woman hollered, "Oh my God-- Are you hurt? Do you have a cell phone?" I cheerfully, if dazedly, answered "no" to both questions. She called 911 and stayed 'til the police arrived, five or ten minutes later. As much as I love my station wagon, I did appreciate her truck for those few minutes, and thanked her for biding there.
The best part, (riding home in the officer's car as IT fishtailed along was the worst), came after the firetruck arrived. The police officer and the fireman, both burly in their professional gear, came down the embankment to "rescue" me from the car. I opened my door and leaned my head out. "If one of you fellows could just pop the hatch of my car," I said, "I can crawl right out through the back." The fireman looked surprised and, well, a little disappointed. I grabbed the milk jug, threw my purse and registration papers into my handy reusable grocery bag, and scrambled between the two front seats, over the back seat, into the back of the wagon.
"Now, be real careful, Ma'am. The footing's really uneven. We'll give you a hand." The fireman and the policeman both reached toward me, prepared to Do a Good Deed to a Damsel in Distress. I gave them the milk and the grocery bag instead, and stuck my hiking-booted foot out. "Whoa," said the fireman in a reverential tone, "Appropriate footgear!" Flanked--but not held--by my two grocery-lugging public servants, I stomped up the hill without hesitation. Sure, the car was probably totaled, but I was alive, unhurt, and I had appropriate footgear.
Home again, thanks to the Man in Blue, I put the milk in the fridge and recounted my harrowing tale to my two Godsons. I regaled them with the fishtail and the swerve, the black hole and the swale. "Cool!" they said. "Did you catch air?" Upon reconsideration, I realized I just might have "caught air."
It must have looked pretty impressive, like one of those 80s "Dukes of Hazzard" chase scenes where Bo & Luke, once again, outwit Boss Hogg. I'm not saying I'm ready for NASCAR or anything, but I do know one thing: when we hear back from the insurance adjuster, we're zooming up the road to Norm's Used Cars. They specialize in Subarus. Yep, we're gonna buy us another Winter Car.