I wonder what my dad thought as he looked out the picture window of his office on that snowbound day as his only daughter ran screaming down the alleyway towards him? She was followed, slipping and sliding, by his youngest son in slippers, brown and tan stripped pajama bottoms, and an unbuttoned black letterman’s coat, nothing more, cursing and threatening to kill her at the top of his lungs.
There had been a blizzard the previous night. The joke when I was in high school was that if the superintendent could see his mailbox, we had school. It was doubtful anyone could have seen his or her mailbox that morning. Classes had been canceled. It was a cold, and awful winter day, where nobody in their right mind would go out. I lay, wrapped in my blankets, in my bed in the basement, toasty warm and happy.
As an introvert, for me it was perfect. No one was going to bother me. I didn’t have to worry about the homework I had not done. The books sat on the shelf next to my bed. If I felt ambitious, I could open my bedroom door, walk into the family room, turn on the television set, and waste the rest of the day on the couch.
Instead, there was a knock on my door. My sister poked her head into my room. “Mom is busy. Take me into town,” she blurted out. “Are you insane? It is not safe for man nor beast out there. Leave me ALONE.” I muttered half-awake. “I want to go to Angie’s,” she shot back. “Go away,” I replied. There might have been a shoe thrown in her direction at that point. I don’t remember.
With that she disappeared and I went back to whatever dreams a sixteen-year-old boy has, probably involving my football coach suddenly realizing that I was really the greatest running back in high school history and my doing game-winning television interviews with cheerleaders draped all over me.
I had just reached that point of nirvana where Mr. Sandman and I were best friends when someone banged on my door again. It was my sister. “Dad is on the phone. He wants to talk to you.” I groggily looked up from my bed. Judging by the cheese-eating grin on her face and the fact that I had not heard the phone ring, I knew that she had called my father at work.
Sitting up, I pulled on the knit slippers with the faux-leather bottoms that my mother had made for us that Christmas. With no tread, they were more like glorified socks than slippers, but they kept one’s feet extremely warm. So, they were perfect in my book. I walked to the phone, rubbed my face, and picked up the receiver. “No,” I said, cutting to the point. “She does not need to go into town.”
“Take your sister into town,” dad replied. “I don’t need her bothering me at work.” “The driveway has not even been plowed yet,” I answered. We had one of those long gravel driveways that always made me nervous during the winter, especially when it was covered in ice and snow. Because of the incline at the end, to get onto the highway, you had to gun your vehicle at the end and turn onto the road. Good luck stopping if you did not see a car on the road through the bushes.
This was also the 1980s where the notion of cars having any weight in their backend was a luxury, which meant fishtailing was always a good possibility. With a ditch that dropped three feet on each side of the driveway, this was terrifying. “I made it out,” he said. “But you’re insane,” I said.
My father was a legend when it came to bad weather. He scoffed at rain and snow, would have driven through a hurricane to make it to coffee in the morning. He had once left work in a blizzard, made it about a quarter of a block before slamming his car into the next door church’s yard, proceeded to walk home, somehow crossed the local river at least three times without knowing it, and wondered why my mother was upset with him going out in such conditions.
“You are going to take your sister to her friend and that is it,” he said. “There will be no discussion.” I knew there was no arguing with my father. “But I need gas,” I vainly piped up. “and I am not going to spend twenty minutes getting dressed because she cannot stand to stay home.” “Go as you are. The gas station owner or Shauna can pump the gas for you. You won’t even have to get out of the car.”
With that I looked at my sister, who already had her winter coat on, at the top of the steps, sighed, and knew I was not going to win this debate. “Go start my car so the windows defrost,” I screamed up at her. I was not happy. It was a a half mile into town and another three-fourths to the gas station. What could possibly go wrong?
We got stuck in the snow. About a block past my father’s office and half a block from the gas station, all forward momentum stopped. The city had plowed the alley where one would turn into the station. They had not yet returned to push all that newly moved snow back onto the sides of the street. Obviously they did not think anyone would be dumb enough to be out on a day like that.
The car’s back wheels started spinning. The backend moved side to side. This was not a major problem. Someone was going to have to push my boat of a car. It was not even a push really, just a touch of pressure would move the vehicle forward. Since my sister was not old enough to drive and I was wearing slippers and pajama bottoms. Obviously I should not have been so lazy to dress properly for these conditions. So, she was the logical candidate to get out and push. She was the sole reason we were out in that weather in the first place. Plus, the last time she had been behind the wheel of anything with a motor she had driven the riding lawnmower into a tree. No one had moved that rather large tree in for the occasion. She drove into it full speed. There was no way she was touching my car.
“Shauna, will you please get out and push the car. Thank you.” I emphasized the “please” and I know I used the words “thank you.” I remember this because I was amazed how calm I remained. She said “no.” I dropped the please. “Shauna, get out and push.” “No.” I will admit there was a bit of tension in my voice the third time I opened up my mouth. I might have used another word for “backside.” “Shauna, get your (backside) out of this car and push. We are stuck.” “No.”
If I somehow get to heaven, God will play the next sentence I said on a loop and wonder how He could possibly let me in with a mouth like that. “Shauna, get your blank blank, blank, blank, blank, black out of this blank, blank, blank, blank, blank car and blank, blank, blank, blank, blank, blank push it!”
There were a few more blanks in there, give or take a dozen. I am not sure how many. I am sure my sister does not know either. Before I could finish my tirade, my passenger side door was open and she was halfway down the alley heading to dad’s office. She has never run that fast in her life! I would have killed her. The only thing that kept me from catching her was the lack of tread on those slippers.
As I slipped for the tenth or fifteenth time on the icy cement, I saw my father in his widow looking at his children, one screaming at the top of her lungs, the other swearing, in front of a whole apartment building full of people and at least two or three ministers and I am sure he thought, “Oh, how my children make me proud.”
So, if you are bouncing off the walls because of self-isolation, take comfort. At least you don’t have an older brother chasing you down to kill you.