The year was 1980. I worked the third shift, three nights of the week at a computer firm while my husband was at home with our two children.
The car I was driving, our second, was a sturdy old Plymouth Valiant, model year 1964. It ran well and had been very reliable for trips to the creek with the children and the dog, or to town to visit a museum, for grocery shopping, and whatever else a mom and two little ones might be bound for in the course of a day. We never had to worry about spills or mud on the seats so the children loved it.
One night on my way home from work, at approximately 1:30 am it started to rain. By the time I reached the highway it was torrential. Suddenly my windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the deluge and visibility was absolutely null. I panicked because I remembered that the road was close to a ravine with only a very short rail along the side of it. I steered the car toward the gravel strip beside the paved road and very slowly drove until I thought that all of the car’s wheels were off of the road and onto the strip. It was pitch black as I got out of my car to see if it was safely positioned. A chill ran up my spine. My car was just inches away from the rail.
I got back into the car and rolled down my window to try to flag someone but the traffic was moving so fast that I didn’t feel at all safe doing that so I rolled up the window. The passenger in a large truck looked straight at me laughed devilishly as it sped by. I remember feeling absolutely helpless and desperate.
Then I looked up into my rear-view mirror and instead of the terrible darkness I saw two yellow headlights approaching from behind. I remember thinking that the lights seemed to have an uncharacteristically soft yellow glow. I felt so relieved as a gentlemen, wearing a brown tweed overcoat and a hat was approaching my car. He tipped his hat as he asked, “Hello, Miss. May I help you with something?” His antiquated gesture and graceful manner were both startling and disarming. Men don’t tip or wear fedora hats these days. His skin was flawlessly smooth and pale and his eyes were the color of blue crystal. I was stunned. I told him that my windshield wipers were not working and that I couldn’t see to drive. He smiled and said, “I’ll see if I can be of assistance.” He went straight to work removing the windshield wiper blades and switching them from one side of the window to the other, and turning them so that the worn ends were at the bottom of the windshield. Then he told me to, “Try them now.” They worked perfectly well to clear the rain from the windshield so that I had visibility once again. I was astonished with simplicity of his solution to my problem. The stranger said that he was glad that he could help me and that I should take good care going home in such weather. He smiled again as he tipped his hat good-bye. I thanked him profusely and watched him as he walked to his car, got in and drove away. As his car disappeared into the darkness from which it came, I was thinking that the round and sturdy looking vehicle was a match with his manner and style of dress, as if from the era of 1950s.
Once my friend was out of sight, I became acutely aware of the intimidating highway traffic swishing by my car. And I realized that while the kind stranger was with me, how it had seemed as if we were completely alone on the highway, and that for entire time I hadn’t seen nor had I heard any traffic passing at all.
I didn’t know that somewhere deep in my heart was a memory of a time that I spent with my grandparents. One day this forgotten memory came forward and most effortlessly, revealed itself to me as I wrote all that I could remember of what one month later became a book.
This extraordinary experience of my childhood took place during the summer of 1957 in Virginia. As I wrote I was engulfed with warmth and comforting support, rather startling as it was so real. I know now that it had to remain deep within me as only the passage of time could reveal the beauty of it. Until the time of writing, I was unaware of how much meaning it had brought to my life. It was written with love and a deep and ever-growing appreciation for my family. It might well have been entitled , “The Gift”.
* An excerpt from my book:
Two Little Girls
As far as I was concerned, summer began with the day my father installed the screens in the windows. Early that morning, Mother would have taken the summer sheers from storage to the clothesline in our backyard. By the afternoon, she swooped up the freshened bundle and brought them back indoors to hang on the rods at the tops of the windows. When the transformation was complete, I’d run from room to room to see the curtains flying on the breeze that raced in through the windows of our big old house. Like a magical invitation to adventures possible only with summer, when one day melted into the next and no one asked about the time, I felt that I could fly too and that anything could happen.
There were 5 children in my family. My brother Lionel was the oldest; my sister Cecilia was next, followed by my sister Rose, then my brother Isaac, and me. We spent summertime totally absorbed in keeping pace with our friends as was our Mother in keeping up with us. She mended our scraped knees, our bruised egos, and the holes in my brothers’ dungarees. I remember lemonade and tuna sandwiches, cotton sun dresses and hair ribbons; the pennies I collected for the corner candy store, and my ankle socks that never stayed up. Summers seemed much longer then when hopscotch and jump rope, hide-and-seek and tag, dress-up and make-believe, with my bicycle, my dolls and friends filled the days until supper time. When August finally came around, among the five of us someone would be chosen to vacation with our grandparents in the country. It was in the year 1957 that I was to spend my first summer there.
I’d thought so often about my first trip to the farm. But like the landing of a cascading boulder, my mother’s cheerful delivery of this summer’s plan completely shattered my vision of it. Leaving little room for the way that reality alters things but similar to most events concerning “the children”, I was quite certain of my unvarying reverie. It was always the same. My brothers and sisters are running through a country field with me, very happily and as usual, following close behind. But everything had been arranged and I alone would spend two weeks on the farm that year.
My family had gathered in the living room when Mother made the announcement. But my frustrating lack of enthusiasm was like a call to dinner in emptying the room of everyone and I found myself alone, save for the dog. While I struggled with the concept of being on my own, Spiky jumped onto the couch next to me. Placing his head upon my foot he kept a concerned and watchful eye over my disposition until we both fell asleep.
Later that day, I listened to Dad’s recollections of farm life adventures while Mother prepared supper. As she filled in with the finer points and particulars she’d taken note of my mixed feelings with her knowing smile that always took the sharp edges off of things. “Don’t forget that your cousin Joanna is just about your age and lives close to Grandpa‘s”, she nearly whispered. Then I thought of the pocket inside the little green suitcase as the place where my Jacks would find a perfect fit.
~~~~~~~ Truth is Beauty is Love ~~~~~~