Rolling Down the Snow

So, last night, the car started acting funny. Actually, there was nothing funny about it. The car was packed to the gills with small, wiggling children, seven tons of groceries and many hard won trophies from the hunt at Target. We had been out since eleven that morning and, naps be damned, we had stayed out until close to three thirty! Sometimes in the effort to have some semblance of a normal life, not to mention trying to actually accomplish goals you set for your self (such as having food to eat) you need to forgo the normal routine that ostensibly keeps your children sane but keeps you anchored to your house. This is exactly what we had done and we had the station wagon full of booty and crazed children to prove it.

The excursion had all in all, gone well. Neither Short Stack nor Lulu Belle had inflicted an emotional meltdown on us and both seemed happy for the chance to do something interesting. The rainy, cold weather had prompted me to do something! By ten that morning, I was looking down the barrel of hours and hours of hanging out in the living room with the kids, slowly going insane to the pitter patter of raindrops. Normally, I’d have jumped into a project, but with both kids home, that was decidedly NOT going to be a possibility. Plus, I didn’t want to.

By the time we were pointed homeward, the sky was looking brighter, the February rain had stopped and Short Stack at least, had managed to nod off for a few precious minutes. We were wrapping up a good afternoon outing. We drove back to the boat terminal and were the first car in line to board the ferry for the trip back to our island home. When the boat was ready, we drove on, parked and shut off the car.

Bad move.

Some time later as the ferry pulled up to the dock, we got the kids back in their seats and turned the key.

“Raur… raur…. raur.”

“Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me!”

My wife, Action Girl, was driving at the time and she was looking at the dashboard with a mixture of disbelief and hate-lasers. If any mortal being had been given that look, they would have had to shield their eyes or burst into a torrent of flame. The car, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care.

“Raur… raur… raur…”

There was obviously no way it was going to crank fast enough to catch. Having to make the other cars behind us wait while the crew went to get the onboard jumper pack was bad enough, but remember, Action Girl is a captain here. This is her turf and she knows every one and they know her. Plus, she HATES to be embarrassed. Needless to say, I wouldn’t want to be the car right now.

So, with a jump, we got home with our cargo. It just about died when we pulled into the yard and after going for a quick spin to charge up the battery, I’m pretty sure it’s the distributor or possibly, the alternator. Either way, it’s not reliable and is scheduled to go in to the garage later this week. Should be a fun drive to get it there.

This morning we all got up early enough to have a leisurely breakfast before heading in our various directions. Action Girl is working an AM shift and needed to be gone on an early boat and Short Stack needed to get to pre-school. Lulu Belle and I were the only ones loafing at home today. Not trusting the car to behave was no problem for Action Girl. She didn’t need it to get to the ferry landing and thus, to work. The question was, how to get my son where he needed to be. His pre-school is on the island and not a very hard walk at all, but as anyone who has gone for a stroll with a nearly-three year old can attest, the power of the “distraction” factor is with out equal. Everything is worth inspecting with deep interest and care when you’re that age. To make matters more patience grinding, Short Stack is in the full blown “why” phase of life.

“What is that, Dad?”

“It’s a parked car.”

“Why is it parked there?”

“Because, the people who own it must have left it there.”

“But why did they leave it there?”

A quick intake of breath as I see the conversational precipice loom before me. “Well, maybe they live in the house next to where the car’s parked.”

“Why do they live there?”

“Everyone has to live somewhere.”

“Why does everyone have to live somewhere?”

I rub my brow in an effort to smooth out some of the rapidly deepening wrinkles. “We all need a place to be, I guess. Look Short Stack! Is that a robin?”

He’ll easily blow past my pathetic attempt to redirect the conversation and pulls things back to the confounding persistence of the car to remain parked there as well as the philosophical need to belong to a place. All this time, we will have moved, oh… two and a half feet if I’m lucky. I try really, REALLY hard to answer each and every question he has, but if we are attempting to actually get someplace, it would have been faster to box the two of us up and mail us than let us walk.

No. Walking there was out of the question. Plus, yesterday’s rain had turned into last night’s snow and a couple of inches of the fluffy stuff covered everything. Remember, two inches to an adult equals at least five to a three year old. If we walked, the tulips would be in bloom by the time we arrived.

Action Girl actually came up with the solution. The roads were still covered and perfect for the sled. When breakfasts were finished and snow suits donned, I packed Lulu Belle into the kid carrier backpack, hoisted her up and strapped her in. Then, we dusted off the sled. Short Stack needed little encouragement to hop in and was beaming from under his knit hat as he hugged his school bag.

“Ready, buddy?”

“YAH!”

The orange plastic sled easily scooted along and as I trudged along, we left a trail of compressed snow, happy laughter and exclamations of glee. This was the best way to go to school ever! The trip took marginally longer than it would have with the car and was defiantly more appreciated. The sun was bright, the wind low and the world sparkled with its clean, while mantle. We arrived without incident and once he was pealed out of his layers of winter clothing, he happily joined the table of other children covered in paste and construction paper. I had to actually ask for a hug and kiss goodbye.

As Lulu Belle and I tromped home, sled tucked under my arm, I looked down at the trail we had only just made. It was still flat and unblemished by footprints. The crisp outline of the track stood out strongly on the smooth snow and it made me think of times long past. Days when the roads were rolled after a snowstorm to pack it down for the horses and sleighs. When children going to school by sled was probably anything but odd and looked forward to as part and parcel of the winter season.

rolling2

It’s days like this that I really love where I live. Being in northern New England provides us with the “Currier and Ives” old world of barns and colonial era houses that I enjoy so much and island living means that traffic is thin at worst and non-existent at best. It also makes the sledding all the more satisfying.

I almost decided to keep walking when we reached our front yard but Lulu Belle was starting to flag and her crib was calling to her. It was, after all, time for the morning nap. I walked up the steps and looked back at our trail, now starting to melt in the morning sun. By the time I need to go collect Short Stack this afternoon the snow would likely be gone or at least, un-sledable. Looks like we’ll be walking after all.

I’ll be sure to pack provisions for the trek. We might be gone for a while and have to make camp.

“But why do we need to make camp, dad?”

“AAAAAAAAAAAA!”

Frog Racing

Needing to know how mechanical things work has always haunted me. I was never the kid who took the perfectly good pocket watch apart or removed the family car’s carburetor, but that was solely for fear of screwing things up and getting in trouble. If something had the audacity to actually break on me though, well then, that was a different story! I positively reveled in the excuse to bring what ever it was down to the basement and get the screwdrivers out and start the post mortem. Sometimes, I’d just get a view of perplexing circuit boards and I’d put things back as I found them. More often than not however, I’d get what ever it was, running again. Perhaps it didn’t work JUST the same way that it had before, but hey, it DID work now, right?

My proclivity for voiding warranties followed me as I grew and my patients got more and more complex. Building plastic models and fixing dysfunctional toys was fun and all, but I was looking for a challenge. If this challenge could ultimately provide me with something that I could then play with, well… so much the better! I knew what I needed. I wanted a radio controlled car.

I had owned a handful of cheap radio controlled gizmos, usually created in the image of pop culture icons of the time. There was the Cylon Raider spaceship, the miniature R2-D2 and a few others of less notable stature. These little toys could go forward and reverse and turned only as they backed up. Though appreciated, they were far from what I was looking for as I grew. When I was eight, navigating them across the kitchen floor was a hoot. As a thirteen year old, they just wouldn’t do. A real radio controlled car was a work of art. It was something to be proud of. It made your friends jealous. It also cost a bundle to get into. I would have to save long and hard for this one.

The first thing that set these toys apart, other than the sticker price, was that you had to build them. They didn’t arrive assembled and ready to go. Far from it. For your one hundred and fifty or so dollars, what you got was a box filled with hundreds and hundreds of parts, bits, pieces, nuts and bolts. It wasn’t, “some assembly required”, but rather, “all assembly required.” That was the point.

While I was aching for one of these cars, Mom and Dad were more than a little dubious. My track record for, “projects started vs. projects finished” wasn’t the most stellar. I have a tendency to get distra… HEY! Look! A penny!

The clincher for me was when my friends Charlie and Mike both got cars of their own. My burning desire for one of these had become incandescent. The hobby shop in town was owned by a good hearted fellow and I routinely came in to drool on the car kits and discuss the merits of each model with him and his infinite patience. It was he who introduced me to the concept of layaway. I bit at the chance and gave him my down payment. With saved birthday money and hoarded allowance cash, I picked up my very own car kit shortly after. It was called, “The Frog.”

frog-box

The picture on the box showed a tough looking dune buggy bounding into the air as it rocketed off a rise in the land with a slogan painted on the spoiler reading, “No Guts, No Glory!” The ride home from the hobby shop just about killed me with the anticipation of getting at it. When we arrived, I cleared a large spot on the floor in an out of the way room, dragged my record player and speakers down from my room and put on Van Halen’s “1984” It was time to build!

The directions, though lengthy, were no harder to follow than the average plastic airplane model and I dove in with gusto. I remember being surrounded by little piles of nuts and bolts, all arranged in order by size and type as I made a zillion trips to my Father’s bench for tools, the kitchen to forage for munchies and to my record player take off the current record and put on some ZZ Top or, more aptly, The Cars. I was in heaven.

It took me a day and a half to finish it but in the end, it was a thing of beauty. Ugly, ugly, beauty. Naturally, all the parts you needed were not included in the kit and had to be purchased separately, but I had seen to that. For my birthday, I had asked for and received a radio transmitter to control my new car and I had scraped up enough cash from piggy banks and squirreled away stashes to purchase my battery charger. The rechargeable battery itself, I had to beg Dad for. It was twenty bucks, More accurately, it was twenty bucks I didn’t’ have. I can still see his face, mulling over whether to get it for me or not. In hindsight, I doubt seriously that he would have said, “no”, but his pause and measured suck of air through closed teeth made me appreciate it all the more when he said, “Okay”. I was in business!

As it turned out, driving “The Frog” wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be. It was WAY, WAY more fun! There is something compelling building something your self and the pride that I took in the finished car made me highly protective and eager to show it off to my friends and the guys at the hobby shop. The place where I had bought my car also put on radio controlled car races every other Sunday and I did what ever I could to make it to them. Again, my Dad was an integral part in all this since the little battery pack for my Frog only lasted about fifteen minutes before it needed recharging. Since the races were outside, the only way to recharge was with the battery under the hood of the family car. I may never have taken the carburetor apart, but I did get to know the car’s electrical system pretty well! My Father would sit with a book or the paper in the running car as I carefully adjusted the load from the charger, hooked one end to my twenty dollar battery and the other to his car. I tried very hard to make sure to thank him for this. I bet he could’ve thought of a hundred better ways to spend his Sunday mornings rather than in a parking lot, waiting to watch me race. He’s a great dad, that way.

I was down in my basement yesterday and noticed a familiar shape hanging from its bumper on a beam. Its looking a little worse for wear after Lord knows how many hours of being driven at break neck speed over all sorts of terrain and then gathering dust for nearly two decades. Taking it down and cleaning it off reveled that things seemed to be in working order despite the years of neglect. I fiddled with it a bit, greasing up a part here and there and applying WD-40 as needed. As I got reacquainted with this old but hard won distraction, I realized that the only part it really needed was a replacement battery. The original was now far too elderly to hold any appreciable charge.

I ordered its new battery today along with a set of new tires to take the place of the elderly, cracking ones currently clinging to the rims. It feels like I’m thirteen again and waiting to make my last layaway payment. I can’t wait for the new parts to arrive! My son will no doubt be confused and enthralled, all at once when get it out in the snow. I’m betting that it will take about a minute and a half before he’ll want to drive it himself. That ought to be a hoot. At least I don’t have to worry about his feet being able to reach the pedals.

Back in that room, so long ago, I never would have guessed that some day my own kids would get a chance to drive my little off road buggy. You might think I’m crazy, but I hope Short Stack doesn’t mind listening to The Cars while I get it ready to run.

The Dump

When I was kid, we didn’t have curbside garbage pick up. At least, I don’t think it was an option. What that meant was that every weekend, my father would load the trunk of his otherwise pristinely clean car with bag after bag of household refuse and drive them to the land fill himself. This, on the surface, doesn’t sound so bad, but you have to know my Father to understand the ramifications. Though my dear and understand Dad is normally a very level headed and flexible individual, when it comes to caring for his cars, he’s obsessive, verging on the pathologic. His vehicles are always cleaner than clean and could double as an operating theater for brain surgery if it weren’t for the facts that first, it would be too cramped, and second, he would chase everyone out with a window scraper before they could leak brain juice on the upholstery.

His rabid defense of his cars from all things messy has always been a bit of a mystery to me. For the most part, he couldn’t care less about vehicles in general. He doesn’t lust after a Mustang or drool over Mercedes. The various makes and models just don’t turn his head much. He would (and has) however, defended the unblemished interior of both a brand new Chevrolet behemoth-mobile or a company owned AMC Eagle with equal gusto. The bottom line is, if it’s his car, it matters and it will, oh-yes-it-will, be perfect. If you ever are in the market for a used car, you want his.

This makes the dump trips all the more amazing. It must have been a teeth clenching experience for him to drive his car, with a trunk full of trash, down the muddy road and into a giant valley of garbage. These trips took place on Saturday mornings and more often than not, they happened with a little boy in the back seat. I was always game for going to the dump! I thought it was awesome!

The long, dirt road snaked down into the craterous pit and moving along the periphery, yellow monsters with massive steel wheels groaned, shifted and feasted on the stinking piles. All around us were the leftovers of thousands of homes, cast off and destined to be pawed through by some alien archeologist of the future. What ever will they think we were like?

trash

Naturally, getting out of the car was the very first thing that I wanted to do. What kid wouldn’t? Everything was fascinating to look at and most of all, I wanted to “help”. Children of a certain age are almost always up for “helping” and it is a trial for just about every parent out there. The efforts of the son or daughter are earnest and heart felt and will inevitably make the job at hand go six to eight times slower than if you could just handle it yourself. The Saturday morning dump trip had the added bonus for my Father of having his son track dump juice back into the car when it was time to go. I can only imagine what this did to his blood pressure. Being a kid and thus possessing the attention span of a squirrel on amphetamines, I would naturally forget myself and put my feet up on the seat back or pull my legs up next to me, smearing someone’s old lettuce and fish sticks on the upholstery. My dad, doing the best to be his best would remind me a gently as possible about keeping the car clean. This would happen roughly every sixteen seconds for the rest of the way back to town.

As we headed back, dutifully cleaning hands with moist towelettes that appeared magically from the glove box, we’d chat about this and that and more often than not, make a detour to a local doughnut shop and pick up provisions for a successful Saturday morning back at home.

These days, we don’t call them “dumps” any more. They are “transfer stations” and the massive land crawlers that buried our troubles in leaky pits have been reassigned to move bins of segregated household items so that they may be recycled at the proper facility. Or, perhaps buried in segregated pits far far away. Our own transfer station is a lot cleaner than the one I remember from my youth. Though we do have city pick up, this requires us to remember to get the cans out the night before; a seemingly simple task that we somehow forget astonishingly often. I pack up my less than pristine car with the cast-offs from our home and drive the short distance to the facility, my own son chattering away to the back of my head. We pull in and naturally, he wants to help. Mercifully, the various bins are far too high for his little arms to swing bags into, so I get that envious job all to my self.

Though missing the massive pit of refuse, what our dump does have are all the sleeping metallic dinosaurs that had entranced me so long ago. Short Stack likes to review them as they sit, lined up for inspection. All he needs is an officer’s hat and riding crop and it would be the perfect image of a general reviewing the troops.

“That’s a front loader. That one’s a backhoe. This one is a grader.”

It’s an instructional way to spend a morning.

Once the trash has been deposited and the battalion reviewed, we head back to the car and buckle in. His boots will inevitably wind up on the seat back and I’ll wince as I feel my seat get kicked and think of the mud. This is nothing to what my Father had to endure, however. Our dump isn’t a dump at all. Just a collection of skids and dumpsters full of neatly separated debris. There are no elderly fish sticks to trod on and bring inadvertently back home on our shoes. The seagulls don’t even seem to visit there, looking for an easy, if not rancid, meal.

There’s no doughnut shop nearby for us to stop at, but that’s okay. Action Girl might be making waffles or pancakes back in the kitchen. Into the garbage will go the eggshells and the empty bag of flour, priming the trash can for next week’s trip so we can see what’s going on at the dump.

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