(Here's a guest post by Chicago writer Lynda Barckert, a native of Birmingham in Florence Township in Erie County. Hope everyone's local college kids had an easier time getting home than she did -- Tom)
Home for the Holidays: A Memoir
By Lynda Barckert
Unlike many of my peers driving around our rural township with newly minted licenses when they turned 16, I did not get my first car until I was eighteen and almost ready to graduate from high school.
The morning I turned the key in the ignition of my 1969 brown Chevelle Malibu, pulled out onto Route 113, drove four miles, hung a right onto Vermillion Road and pulled into the gravel parking lot of Firelands High School, was the closest I had ever gotten to a religious apotheosis. I walked into the school smiling to myself as I passed the parked yellow school busses vomiting out their chaotic load of noisome underclassmen. Almost as good as the elevation in social status that driving my own car surely gave me, it was also a great relief to know that I could drive myself to my after-school job, rather than walking the two or three miles, or occasionally getting a ride from someone I almost knew who happened to be driving by. Now I could go to the mall whenever I wanted, stop by a friend’s house to hang out, or go to Tommy’s on a Friday night to see if anything was happening. Heck, I could even skip school once or twice if I wanted to be daring.
There were, of course, some initial driving mishaps. A few weeks into my driving career, a cop stopped me for going 50 in a 40-mile-an-hour speed zone on a long straight stretch of country road. Shortly thereafter, I earned another speeding ticket for going 42 in a 35 mph area of a neighboring town. Those encounters effectively taught me to be more circumspect and to realize that cops were generally not out there to serve and protect me.
My driving skills improved with each new mistake. Knocking over a pump while pulling into a gas station improved my spatial judgment. I also learned to back out of a parking space with as much care as if there was a super-sized batch of nitro glycerin in the backseat after a car accelerating past my row in the mall parking lot slashed off the Malibu’s right tail light.
By the time I packed up and drove myself to Ohio State University that fall I felt has though all my bad-driving juju was in the past. I didn’t really need the car, except to drive home a couple of weekends. And these trips went without incident. Yes, a trooper motioning to myself and two other cars from the shoulder of I-75 while driving home for Thanksgiving did pull me over for speeding. But I don’t count that because I was going with the flow of traffic and had never heard of multiple cars being caught and ticketed at the same time. As he handed back my license, the trooper patiently explained to me about how the ‘bear in the air’ measures the time/speed a car takes to travel from one horizontally painted stripe on the road to another. Valuable lessons learned about surveillance technique and holiday travel on major interstates.
When Christmas break rolled around I was prepared for a smooth and uneventful trip home. Large fluffy snowflakes were dropping daintily as I drove out of Columbus that afternoon and pulled onto I-75. Traffic was thick but moving well. Cars would often speed past me impatiently, but I chuckled knowingly and kept to the speed limit. The invisible bear in the air would never catch me again, I vowed.
Darkness fell and the snow continued to twirl merrily. I was relieved to finally get off of the interstate and onto the deserted country roads that would eventually lead to my driveway. On this last leg of the journey I would be able to take my eyes off the speedometer and relax.
I was enjoying the peacefulness of empty snow-covered fields when the Malibu hit a patch of ice and suddenly went out of control. The car spun off the road and into the front yard of a solitary house. A giant evergreen jumped directly into my path. I shrieked and whirled the wheel madly to the left. The tree disappeared into the darkness and the car shot sideways. As I fought to correct the fishtailing back end of the car a giant pile of cut wood flashed before the windshield and I shrieked again, madly spinning the steering wheel to the right. The woodpile moved away as I bumped along across the yard, praying that no other obstacles would present themselves.
Miraculously, the car tires found traction in the snow and I was able to regain control of the wheel. Before pulling back onto the road I slowed the car and saw two sets of headlights at a dead stop on the road just at the point I where had left it. They didn’t budge. I pampered the car over the lip of the road and drove white-knuckled the rest of the way home.
Pulling at last into the driveway of the parental abode I felt a triumph and gratitude akin to what Odysseus must have felt at the successful conclusion of his Homeric journey. I had narrowly escaped certain death, thanks to my own god-like driving prowess during moments of acute crisis.
I was never so glad to set foot in the humble warmth and familiarity of my mother’s kitchen. I somehow imagined a royal fanfare of welcome or a ticker tape parade as parents and siblings gathered in ecstasy around me. But the kitchen was empty. Lights were on but not a soul to be seen. I looked up at the wall clock—only 6:45pm. I shrugged my shoulders and opened the fridge. My brother Mark passed through the kitchen, said,
“Oh, you're back,” and continued on his way.
I pulled out the mustard and some lunchmeat. Yep, I was definitely home for the holidays.