Why? I asked, in awful awe
Knowing the death in Nature's law
Should you risk the spot you've won
To pull me up, toward bright day's sun out of the nothing - awful no
In which I've lain…
Before I heard his soft reply
He was pulled from his place and brought to lie,
Against the curb that had known my blood,
Tattered and marked, covered with mud
Seeming to be nothing - except the nothingness
…of men's disdain
I leaped once more toward the Sun
Higher than I'd ever done...
Remembering the eyes of the man who fell
Toward the rotten tone and dark alone Hell
I found nothing - except the nothingness of lonely pain .
Now, something beckoned me even more...
Than the highest leap ever known before,
I needed to lift my brother below,
To see his eyes and have him know.
That the greatest good I'd ever known wasn't the highest leap above and alone
But his hand outstretched to lift me up
To give me place, to share his cup...
Why? I asked, in awful awe, knowing the death in Nature's law
Should you risk the spot you've won, to pull me up toward bright days
Out of the nothing - awful nothingness In which I've lain
Before I heard his soft reply, he was pulled from his place and brought to lie
Tattered and marked, covered with mud, against the curb that had known my
Seeming to be nothing - except nothingness all men’s disdain.
I leaped once more toward the Sun, higher than I'd ever done...
Remembering the eyes of the man who fell, toward rotten stone and dark alone
I found nothing - except the nothingness
of lonely pain…
Now, something beckoned me even more, than the highest leap ever known before
I needed to touch the man below, to see his eyes and have him know
It wasn't the highest leap above and alone, that was the greatest good I'd ever
but his hand outstretched to lift me up, to give me place, to share the cup...
If, in touching him I should fall toward stone, tattered my flesh and broken my
It could not be toward nothingness - Nothing's when you're
If in lifting him, I should fall toward stone
Tattered my flesh, and broken my bone
It could not be toward nothingness –
Nothing's when you're alone.
New child - in the night loudly crying
Bringing me urgently forth from may deep
Needing me - needing me - needing me
I rejoice - flowing with love, with the river of life
Holding you - holding you - holding you
I know what pm for - holding you.
Young child in the sunlight now playing
Sand and water upon your bright face
Showing me - showing me - showing me
All that you can make - all that you can do watching you - watching you - watching you
For this was I made - watching you.
Growing child - walking upward newly tall
I'll still here if you should fall toting now - waiting now - waiting now
I can only wait - wait if you should call
Willing me - willing me - willing me
To stay in this place - if you should go
No longer child now - only man
I cannot see for all my tears
Searching now - searching now - searching now
For the place where I must stand
Listening now - listening now - listening now
All alone on deserted sand
A sound comes - a million voices in the night
Shouting their hunger - shouting their fright
Pleading now, calling now - hoping now
Moving me quickly toward desperate cry
Answering them answering them - answering them
There are too many - I cannot reach
Young man - you walk quickly before me
Child I once carried, now fully grown
Leading me - leading me - leading me
You too hear the sound of the voices
Touching them - touching them - touching them
I do not walk alone.
So swiftly time’s channel onrushing
Propelling life's frail bark to sea
Lights on the shore brightly flashing
Message of endings to me
Oh, why can't I sail on forever?
Brother of stars in the sky
Why bones and tissues dissolving
Shivering, knowing they'll die
The craft so frail - the voyage brief
Death so certain - disastrous thief!
Things never seen come to taunt me,
Withholding illusions of dreams
Places unexplored pass before me
Shaped vaguely in unfinished seams
Oh, why can't I flow on forever?
Bright lights, evening breeze and ship's bell
Why must they move out of memory?
Their wake a forgotten, lost knell
The craft so frail - the voyage brief
Death so certain - irresistible thief!
Then as we rush, 1 sight a star
Unwavering blaze of ancient light
Created for this pain of mine to pierce the dark of night
Made by a hand so almighty
Contemplation moves me to tears
And I know in sudden elation
A mirage is what is called years
The craft still frail - the voyage brief
The journey certain - but not toward grief
"Tell me, Mrs. Martin, why are you depressed?" The medical aide was taking notes after my injury.
"I'm not depressed: I'm here because I was cleaning the basement and tripped over something and fell against the sofa, which threw me against the wall and a metal Christmas tree fell on me."
“Have you ever made suicide attempts before this one?"
"This was not a suicide attempt: I'm retired and now have time to do some of the things I've been putting off for years and decided to clean my basement.”
"We find that older people do tend to have bad moments. We have very good psychotropic drugs which may help you.”
"I don't want a psychotropic drug: I want something for my sprained ankle!"
“We treat the whole person. Just doing something to alleviate your temporary pain will not be sufficient."
"Could you start the whole person treatment with an elastic strip, or maybe one of those elastic wraps and I'll put it on myself?"
"You must understand, Mrs. Martin. I'm on your side. I realize that sometimes after the nest is empty and you don't have enough to keep you busy, depression sets in.”
"My nest is so damn full I can hardly squeeze through it! The middle kid is home again, and he's brought a Dalmatian with him and all of his friends are over at the kitchen table playing games. The pizza delivery truck comes hourly. I'm babysitting kids I've never even seen before because their mothers have to be at work, and the day nursery is closed. Once an hour some agency calls, asking me to collect money door to door. I'm tailing some three courses from the University Extension. The grass grows in inch a minute and my husband can't cut it because he's too busy playing golf. And in between times, I'm trying to clean the basement before we go for a lengthy vacation.”
"Now, now We'd best get something to tranquilize you and slow you down just a little."
"Do you realize that the bone in my ankle is practically sticking out through the flesh?"
"Mustn't get upset now! Just a few uppers and downers should take care of all this for you. Nurse - please bring in a shot of Demerol for Mrs. Martin"
"Touch me with that needle, and you die:" I told him.
"Depressed and filled with hostile anxiety" he wrote on my chart. "You'll feel better soon Mrs. Martin. Retirement and aging is difficult for everyone.”
We live in a magical place, this earth of ours
We whirl around, suspended in vast, vast space
Seventy kilometers above a core of molten metal
Billions of miles away from burning stars.
I’ve developed a tendency to lapse into creating poetry when I’m trying to explain something that boggles my mind, and leaves me in awe. Things haven’t always been this way. I think, when I was younger, I saw miracles from a more ordinary point of view. Age does bring a certain amount of wisdom. Knowledge and experience has changed my perspective of how things are.
I grew up, as all children do, belonging to a certain place called home. It’s boundaries weren’t all that large in the beginning. There was the house, where I wasn’t allowed to leave unless someone went with me. Then, there was the yard, with it’s flowers and sunshine. Sometimes, the rain or snow.
I went to school, and there, I learned many things. My world enlarged. I came to belong to a state, a country, then to the world. I belonged to a certain group of people, my family first, my friends, my classmates, then on to other relationships that I had never understood existed when I was younger.
One of my experiences was to meet a man who had been to the moon and back, in the literal sense. Colonel James Irwin, Astronaut, part of the United States Space Program, did just that. He traveled to the moon, and years later, he came to speak at a lecture I attended.
He was one person who enlarged my world in a significant way, taking me from bland acceptance of where I lived, on Planet Earth, to just what it actually meant to live on this Planet Earth. If you glance back, he told us, when you are far out in space, approaching the moon, or returning from there, you will see something so miraculous that it will bring tears to your eyes. You will see a blue green jewel, set in the black velvet of space. You will see something so incredible that you will never again be the quite same.
Here I will backtrack a little. During the 1960s’s when countries were busy, trying to see which one could first reach the moon, my husband was involved in this same enterprise. He didn’t design anything, or plan how it would be done. But he worked as a technician, with General Motors, on the Apollo Space Program.
Each day he went to work dressed in ordinary street clothes. But, when he entered the inner sanctum of accelerometer land, he wore a white suit and boots, that covered everything but his eyes and nose and mouth. Accelerometers were part of the guidance systems that were used in space craft. Tolerances were incredibly demanding, to the millionth degree. If anything should be even slightly off, to the millionth degree, then the space craft might not come home as it was designed to do.
To me, that was already a miracle, that our technology even permitted such a thing. After all, when I was born, I was only thirty years past the moment when the first airplane flew at Kittyhawk. And now, we human beings were visiting the moon.
So, years later, when I had the opportunity to attend the lecture by Colonel James Irwin, I jumped at the chance. I don’t know exactly what I expected when I met the man who had been to the moon. I suppose some childish part of me anticipated he would somehow have a special glow. He didn’t of course. He was trim, obviously athletic, and he had a gracious manner that welcomed everyone. If there was any glow, from being where very few people had every traveled, it was only in his eyes. They seemed to look beyond the place where the rest of us live and move and have our being.
He described how it was to hurtle through space, leaving everything that had ever been part of his home behind. And then, how it was to walk on the moon, pick up a white rock, and know that no one had ever touched it before.
He was, in every sense, an explorer. Having been there, and knowing how it felt, and knowing that we could never travel the same journey, he tried to bring us what he had learned while out there. One of the things we could do, he told us, was to try to better understand just where it was that we lived.
Of course, we lived on Planet Earth, but did we understand where that was located. Did we know that the Earth was part of a planetary system. And, what were they like, these whirling, sometimes brilliant, always mysterious sisters of ours, orbiting around the sun?
Did we understand that we were part of a galaxy, the Milky Way, and that galaxy included billions of suns, some of them like our own. And beyond that, there were other galaxies, all spun out in space. Spun out, because, if science and astronomy have their theory right, there was a moment, called a point of singularity, when there was nothing. Then there was something. We live in a cosmos where creation seems to still be flowing out, creating something, where there has been nothing, if the scientists have their theories right.
Of course, this new theory, to which most scientists now subscribe replaced an older one. It was one time thought that all things had existed forever, and that there had never been a moment of creation. But most astronomers now believe, from all their measurements, and all their best intuition, that this theory belongs in the junk heap of human knowledge.
There seems to be a moment when creation began. Many of the best scientific minds now concur with that theory. David Hawkings, recognized as perhaps the best mind of all, in the field of physics, has agreed with that. Many people are familiar with who he is. He sits in a wheel chair, a victim of a disease which has taken away his ability to move, and to speak with his own voice, but not the ability to think. He thinks and thinks in the language of physics, astronomy, measurements, and stars, and what he has come up with agrees with that moment of singularity, a moment in which there was nothing, and then there was something.
Science refers to it as the point of singularity. People of faith believe it’s the moment God began creating all things. Think of it as you will. Science appears to have established that it actually happened. In fact, over the past half century, science itself has often turned around, from measuring all things, to standing in awe of many things.
But, I’m digressing from what I wanted to say that Colonel James Irwin wanted to tell us about his trip to the moon, and what it meant to him. Some of his own awe inspired feelings came from an understanding of tolerances. While my husband may have been dealing with a millionth of an inch on an accelerometer, while he earned his paycheck, making certain the tolerance didn’t exceed that incredible measurement, Colonel Irwin sat, marveling at other tolerances. No doubt, he was relieved to find that the Apollo Space Program had come through, and that astronauts did come back home. But, he was even more inspired by other tolerances.
And, here are some of them. Did you know, for instance, that we live within a spiral galaxy. For a number of reasons spiral galaxies are the only galaxies which may support life. It is believed, by science, that only one out of a hundred galaxies meet this definition. Stars exist within galaxies. Our sun is a star. Ninety five percent of all stars are too small and cold to support a functional solar system. The distance that we are from our own sun is of crucial importance.
We are beings who exist through the beneficence of water. If our earth were any nearer, or any farther, from the sun, our water would not exist in a liquid state. There are so many variables which require exact tolerances for life to exist, that it would take a very long time to quote them all. Our earth has just the right land masses, and the exact tilt to enable the necessary mixing of gases, and to provide for the right temperatures.
One scientist has estimated that the probabilities for a life supporting world to exist is one in one hundred fifty thousand million million. And this figure includes only conditions necessary to support life on earth. It does not include all the other precise chemical balances which permit complex codes for DNA and RNA.
Now, all of this seems very different from the popular concept of space which is out there in the world today. Captain Kirk floats off on the Star Ship Enterprise. Between breakfast and dinner, he encounters life, where no man has ever been before. In actual fact, we are approximately 2.2 million light years away from a nearby galaxy, called Andromeda. In real terms, if we were to send a message, not a person, and send it by radio signal, we would have to wait more than four million years to receive an answer. And, radio waves are fast. They are able to orbit the earth over seven times in one second.
Cold and silence exist between stars. And darkness. In considering such things, the mind grows almost cold and frozen itself. It is all too big, too overwhelming. So, just as Colonel Irwin did, we come back to our own world. We do that with thanksgiving, and with awe, just as he did.
Dark earth, worn ragged by stark drama of spirits clash - Deliverance is near.
Blasted and torn by volley hurled, your purpose is almost served.
Designed by God, a shelter and form for man, you have given untold spirits a place to stand and work out eternal destiny.
Now you wait - wounded, rivers clogged, breath stilled by heated bombs.
Held captive by darkness,
not your own making - have patience for a breath of time.
He who formed you has not forgotten.
He walked your shores and knew your hills - every particle and atom.
He died beneath your sky and overcame that dark illusion finally - then left.
You were once born, shaped by His own finger, darkness parted, sun lit, matter redeemed.
Your rebirth will be in heat, swift as lightening flash from East to West, leaving majesty scarcely dreamed.
Emerald hills and rivers sweet - Resting place where reborn meet - Artistry of God - I long for you.
Armegodon's armies are gathering…
On the side of each lighted shore shouting, “peace” in grave desperation.
Waiting feverish, the moment of war…
Bright visions of splitting the atom and tossing a man to the moon…
Intersperse, with knowledge of hatred, and unsleeping nightmares of doom
Perfecting devices of nations…
Unseeing their brother's raw pain…
Awarding metallic citations…
They brood over coveted gain…
Is there no pathway to follow than grey war, bloodsoaked, diseased?
Do we have no other volition, no choice for cool green moments of peace?
Still, the moment's surrounding us, as soft as the hurricane's eye
And they call as lively as children
In the seconds before they all die.
So swiftly time's channel, onrushing propelling frail life's bark to sea.
Lights on the shore brightly flashin, message of endings to see.
Oh, why can't I sail on forever, brother of stars in the sky?
Why bones and tissues dissolving…
Shivering, knowing I'll die.
The craft is so frail - the voyage so brief…
Death is so certain – disasterous thief.
Things long undone come to taunt me.
Withholding illusions of dreams.
Places unseen move before me…
Shaped vaguely in unfinished seams.
Oh, why can't I hold them forever?
Bright lights, evening breeze and ship's bell…
Why must they move out of memory,
Their wake a forgotten, lost knell.
Still as I move, I sight a star unwavering blaze of ancient light.
Created for this pain of mine…
To pierce the dark of night, made by a hand so almighty
Contemplation moves me to tears.
And I know in sudden elation, the mirage is what is called years.
The craft is frail…
The voyage brief
The journey certain…
But not toward grief.
I was trying to straighten out the skin on my neck the other afternoon, wondering if I'd ever had a turkey as an ancestor, when there was a howl of panic from the living room. Grandchild Kevin was watching a children's afternoon program.
"Grungies!" he said in shock when I went to see the cause of alarm.
"Where?" I didn't know what a ‘Grungie’ was, but if it caused that much anxiety, I wanted to get both of us away from it. Maybe they stung or bit people.
His baby fat finger pointed toward the television. There they were, alright, several of them, leering at us from the vantage point at the top of their television toilet bowl. But their leers turned to dismay as a brush came out, sprinkled with some Grungie Killer Powder and - instant extermination!
"See Kevin, they're all gone:" I said brightly. "All flushed away.”
Kevin's bright little mind drew an instant connection between television grungies and the ones he had noticed in my bathroom. Those might spring up on a tot, just trying to keep his diaper dry. I saw his worry, and realized it was time to destroy some grungies for real.
"Let's go" I said, and Kevin and I spent the next few minutes, sprinkling, scrubbing, and brushing away. The product worked as advertised, and the grungies were gone. The job needed doing anyway, and it relieved Kevin immensely.
The event set me to thinking of all the grungies I've encountered, some that Kevin will probably come across in his own lifetime.
The first grungies I knew about lived beneath an outhouse, one of those old fashioned ‘bathrooms’ where no one ever took a bath because there was no running water. It was at Consolidated School District Number Six, late 1930s, where I went with my cousins. While we were our at the school, my parents remained in the city. They were trying to decide whether they'd made a mistake in getting married.
The fear I had was they might decide that it was a mistake. It probably heightened my sense of fear, but I would have been terrified of the outhouse under any circumstances. The outhouse was located about a hundred feet from the school building. It was painted red, sagged in splintered age, and had a latch on the door. If the latch was hooked, someone was inside. If it was off the hook, the place was open.
Inside, the seat had two side by side cutouts, permitting two at a time to go in and do their business. The rules were simple. Girls went in with girls. Boys with boys. There was a three minute time limit, unless three was a severe emergency, such as eating old watermelon the day before.
One of the most important school rules was that the older kids were not to tell the younger ones that colorful snails (1930s grungies) lived below the seat, in the pit, where lime was sprinkled daily over the top of the business transactions.
Of course, the older kids did just that.
"They're red, green, purple and silver colors" a sixth grader told us. "And they can leap all the way up to the top of the cutout and grab anyone who drops anything on them."
Since 'dropping something on them' was the whole point of the outhouse, this produced some negative results, such as a drastic increase in wet pants during school hours.
Eventually, the teacher found out. The younger kids were reassured that rainbow snails did not live in the lime. And, in my own life, my parents decided that they could tolerate each other for another fifty years.
Soon after, I returned to indoor plumbing in the city. But, after all that time, there has never been a night at a campsite, throughout all my adult years, when I haven't had to shine the light down into the outhouse before making my business transaction, just in case there was a grungie.
The next grungie began to appear in my nightmares when I was in my twenties, pregnant for the first time. It never occurred during waving hours, but was in there lurking as one of my night fears. Along with the wonderful knowledge that a human being lived inside my body, I had the fearful thought that at some point, the baby was going to have to leave said body. I didn't see any trapdoors, and the story I had been told—that babies come out of a woman's navel blowing up a balloon with the baby inside—was gone with Santa Claus.
"Does it hurt?" I asked my mother.
"It's a cross between trying to push a basketball though your wedding ring and having trees tied to each leg, trying to pull you apart." My mother said. "But it only lasts for ninety six hours."
Never argue with your mother over how long it took for you to be born. She was there and remembers the truth, even though the length of time it took increases yearly from the actual happening. The last time we discussed my own birth, I had grown to ninety six inches long, with a weight of seventy six pounds. But always, the doctor had told my mother that she must be the 'bravest little woman on earth.'
"You would have been an only child" my mother continued, "but your brother was an accident. Don't tell him that."
"No one could ever pry it out of me!"
In my own birth experience, it was indeed like trying to push a basketball through a wedding ring. But it didn’t last ninety-six hours. And when it was over, it left a tiny tyke with blond hair and eyelashes that were gold in the sun. Grungies no longer mattered.
After that, there were many grungies. Unemployment for a few months, kid problems here and there, empty nest syndrome…
Lately, my husband has begun actively searching for grungies.
"It says here that inflation may reduce our retirement credits to zilch!" my husband said, looking up from the newspaper.
"And the world health situation is not improving.”
"it can be improved if enough people want to improve it."
"And even if health is improved, where will the food come from?"
"All grungies." I said.
"What's a grungie?" he asked, pinning me down with blue eyes.
"Have you ever tried pushing a basketball through a wedding ring?" I asked.
"No, but I think we'd better get out of here for a few days and go on vacation. You're getting a little strange in the way you talk!"
The biggest fear has always been that fallen once, I could not rise again
That should I slip upon the stone, helpless held, down pressed – Alone
There would be nothing - except nothingness and taste of pain.
I strove to rise with mighty leap, above the highest in the heap
Struggling fiercely through the tide
In which those weaker slipped and died
Dropping to nothing - except nothingness
Death's frightful reign.
It came of course, the thing despised, against a thing by men devised
Pulled down and smashed against the curb
All my taste knowing bitter herb
I expected nothing - except nothingness
All hope in vain.
But when I fell. to my surprise, I saw a look in one man's eyes
His hands outstretched to pull me up
A tender mercy, outstretched cup
In the midst of nothing - except nothingness
Gift of Cain.
Why? I asked, in awful awe, knowing the death in Nature's law
Should you risk the spot you've won?
To pull me up toward bright day's sun
Out of the nothing - awful nothingness
In which I've lain.
Before I could heard his soft reply, he was pulled from his place and brought to lie
Tattered and marked, covered with mud
Against the curb that had known my blood
Seeming to be nothing - except nothingness
of men's disdain.
I leaped once more toward the sun, higher than I’d ever done
Remembering the eyes of the man who fell
Toward rotten stone and dark alone hell
I found nothing - except the nothingness
of lonely pain.
Now something beckoned me even more, than the highest leap ever known before
I needed to lift the man below, to see his eyes and have him know
It wasn't the highest leap above and alone
that was the greatest good I'd ever known…
But his hand outstretched to lift me up, to give me place and share the cup
If in lifting him, I should fall toward stone
Tattered my flesh and broken my bone
It could not be toward nothing - awful nothingness
Nothing's when you're Alone.
My daughter had a highly protective mother in the 1970's. It was a different time. Condoms were not handed out in living colors, one for each day of the week, at the local grammar school. In fact, anyone saying the word (condom) would have their mouths washed out of laundry soap, and anyone considering the use of one before marriage would risk the danger of public censure. Public censure meant that a girl became an untouchable in a different way. She was ruined. Her reputation was gone. No one would ever marry her. All that was left to her was to become a librarian.
Those were the rules about sex back then. Rules existed for many other areas of life. Exercise was not encouraged because it make you sweat, and ladies were not supposed to sweat. Sex and soapsuds were defined the end of the world for most women.
But sex has always been a hot item and it's always been written about. I still remember discovering the story my daughter was reading about Jack and Laura. The plot was roughly this:
Jack and Laura were two lovers (way up in their twenties because the books were read by teen agers who were encouraged not to relate to Jack and Laura). I'm not certain just where they met, but they were covered by scads of clothing, so it must have been someplace back in long skirt days.
When they first sighted one another, true love was born. The problem was that there were a lot of people who tried helping them apart. Through most of the two hundred pages, Jack and Laura got occasional sightings of one another around corners, while heaving gigantic sighs of passion. They trembled, and shook and blanched and one time, Laura passed out from the sheer ecstasy of having Jack see her elbow.
Then, a day came when they were thrown together with not another soul around for miles. Clothing started coming off, and soon there was an enormous pile in the corner. They started waltzing around with nothing on but two full length slips (for Laura) and a starched shirt with stays and starched boxer shorts (on Jack). That section caused my daughter to go into the basement and lock the door to get away from her mother. Settled down in the semi-darkness, she read that that, in time, Laura had gotten off another petticoat. It took three pages and she flushed about a million times. Jack finally tore off the remaining one and she stood there in nothing but her pantaloons and a chemise.
At that point Jack grew wild and threw his starched shirt on the highboy (what was a highboy?) Within two seconds flat, they were sitting on the bed together, and Jack was declaring that he would love her until roses turned blue and water ran uphill. He got so carried away in his oratory that it was six pages before his lips crushed hers.
Laura was still encased in her pantaloons, her chemise and some sort of garment with stays that stabbed Jack’s hands as he tried to mightily to undo it.
But the couple had forgotten one very critical thing. In those days, there were no electric lights and candles were used. Before all the ripping and waltzing started, Laura had set a lighted a candle on the bureau, and it had stood there for three pages while Laura thought of how Jack’s eyes turned her on. When Jack threw his shirt on the bureau, the starched garment began to grow hot (so did the reader's cheeks) and eventually a small flame appeared. By the time Jack finally tipped Laura over and was prepared to spoil her purity, the mangled shirt had become a raging bonfire. Flames leaped from the shirt to the drape at the window. Jack and Laura saw it just as their lips touched in demanding, pounding surrender, but alas, it was too late. They were unable to stop their passion that knew no limits, and flame gripped them very soon in more ways than one.
They did not survive their affair, but were able to spend eternity together, as described in the next five pages.
The disappointing part of the book, was that the reader could not follow the action as a guide, other than knowing that love had become too hot to handle.
I found the book. "What did you learn from this?" "That you can get burnt?" My daughter answered. "Excellent:" I said. "Remember it!"
The wonderful thing about growing older is that sometimes your children become your friends. It doesn't happen right away. It's too difficult for a late teen ager or early twentyish type to associate with their parent. In their mind, parents are incredibly unknowledgeable. And it was only with the greatest effort and initiative that the grown up child suffers their ministrations. They like to tell their parents what they’re going to do.
"I want to marry someone. She's a lot like me – self-made."
"I beg your pardon? Self-made? Where was I during those ninety six -tours of labor when you were born weighing eighty one pounds?”
But that came later. Long before that came the driving lessons.
The normal way for a parent to make sure that their child learns to drive is to send a permission slip to school, and attend the funeral of the driving instructor when it's all over. If for some reason, the child has delayed mumps during the time allotted for his road instruction, his parents’ efforts may be necessary instead – they may need to teach him themselves. If this happens, the wise parent will join the foreign legion, pretend memory loss, and insist that this is not their child.
If none of these work, a possible out is to flip a coin with the child's other parent. That's not too smart if the other parent has already helped in teaching another child to drive. Then they are certain to threaten to join the foreign legion, pretend memory loss, or protest that this is not their child.
"But you were the only one!" I pleaded without avail.
"I can't remember whether that's true or not.”
“I'm your wife. This is our child.”
"Mail me to the offices of the Foreign Legion."
So, it was me this time. At any rate, my son was already there, dangling car keys. A bit later, I was shaking and quaking along the driveway toward instant annihilation. My destruction was embodied in the black Pontiac Grand Prix he'd prepared the year before, when he was fifteen. I should have known when he polished and painted the old wreck (calling it names like "Beast", "Hurtler", "DevaStation") that the future boded ill for someone!
"This is all a dreadful mistake" I began calmly, patting him on the hand. (How could they let babies learn to drive?) His Tonka trucks were still in the toy box in the basement. (and they're still in the same toy box in the basement). "You'll just have to wait another year. You'll only be barely seventeen:"
"I'll be too old to drive:" he moaned. "My life will be over."
"If I get in that heap with you, I'm afraid maybe mine may be" I said, deciding to be honest.
"Mom! You taught me that a man has nothing to fear but fear itself:"
"But that's what terrifies me. My fear is that I don't want to die yet. I still haven't straightened out the laundry."
"It's just a couple of times around the block!" he said reassuringly.
I picked up the checksheet I had with me to annotate which areas needed work. He put in the key, turned it on and we hurtled right up inside the garage and stopped as the bumper connected with a board, gently, to be fair.
"How was that?" he asked proudly. He had stopped.
"OK" I said. I wasn't going to suggest we go through that again. "Just ease your foot off next time."
He eased it off and it took what seemed to be several hours as he drove in reverse, back down the driveway. He reversed turned without hitting any cars.
"You can ease off the brakes a little further" I said, my fear beginning to be that he would be an old man by the time this was over.
Within a short time, as I sat rigid, determined not to show terror, he mastered the four way stop. "Boy, was that a relief:" he said. "After that first stop, I didn't know if I'd ever be able to do it again without getting us killed"
"And now a left turn," I said hopefully, and watched him grow pale. He gave a right turn signal and we went right. Then we turned right.
"Maybe a left turn at the next corner, son."
At the next corner, he signaled and we turned again. And so on for the next two corners.
"You realize we're going in circles," I said, beginning to get dizzy.
"We'll never get lost," he said worriedly. "I'm not so sure about those left turns. If I do it wrong, and a car crashes into us, it'll get your side."
"Why don't you just keep going straight until you feel sure of yourself? Then you can make a left turn.”
We traveled a direct path for five minutes that was destined to not get us lost. And then smoothly, as though he'd been doing it for years, he executed his first left turn, correctly gauging the oncoming traffic. An hour later and we arrived back home.
"That wasn't so bad, now was sit?" he asked hopefully.
"Not bad at all" I said, thinking of the freeway, parallel parking, and several other things lay ahead. Fortunately, my husband was not joining the Foreign Legion, and was going to take his turn. That way, we'd be able to go through therapy together after it was all over.
Did all of that actually happen over twenty years ago?
He got his license. And then he married What's-Her-Name who couldn't boil water.
"The telephone's ringing" my husband called.
"I'll get it!"
"Hi, Mom. We thought we might drive down and see you this week. How ya doing?"
"Pretty well. I lost my gallbladder two days ago and your father has a temperature of over a hundred degrees from a virus. Otherwise, all's well:"
"We might stay awhile and help you out. You'll need someone to drive you around for a few days."
"Did you ever become good at four way stopping? Don’t worry, I'll be able to get to the grocery store and back, and also to the doctor's office. Other than that - you'll have to take your chances."
Isn't it interesting, I thought after hanging up the phone - I really think I got that right.
Opaline Marks is the pen name of Opal Markiewicz, a writer of novels, short stories and nonfiction essays.