Thursday, January 16, 2014

Birthdays and B-Sides

Early September 1982.  It was shortly after the first day of school of what was my 10th grade year at W-H.  It was the start of Jill's senior year.  Kara was in California having just started her second year in college at the College of Notre Dame in Belmont, which actually had a better football team in the early '80's that its namesake in Indiana.  Dad had been dead for a bit more than a year.  It was just Jill, Mom and me at the homestead two tumbleweeds past nowhere's middle - Neshanic Station. 

I needed new screw-on studs for my soccer cleats so after dinner Jill and I had hopped into Mom's little red Chevette (the ultimate automotive "B"-side) and headed off to the nearest sporting goods store.  Thirty-plus years later I have no recollection as to what store we went to - although I would suspect it was probably a "Herman's World of Sporting Goods" since I have a vague recollection of one being located in the strip mall on Route 22 East in Green Brook where the Perkin's Pancake House now stands.  Wherever we went we got what I needed and we headed home.

As we drove up Amwell Road - heading towards Wertsville Road and thereafter our house - I blurted out how much fun it would be if I could drive.  I recall making the type of argument that sounds incredibly well-reasoned in the mind's eye of a lunatic.  Given that we were the only car on the road and given that we were less than a couple of miles from home, Jill quickly ran through worst-case scenarios in her head and finding none of them to be overwhelmingly terrifying she relented.  We pulled over into the parking lot of the little church - I think it is the Neshanic Reformed Church - that was located on the right side of Amwell Road a half-mile or so before the first leg of Wertsville Road - and we switched positions in the vehicle.

Let history reflect that the first two or three minutes of my vehicle operations history were silky smooth.  Mom's Chevette was an automatic transmission and I moved effortlessly from the parking lot out onto Amwell Road and then began the climb up the little hill that led to Amwell's "T" intersection with Wertsville.  I was a natural.  No doubt about it. 

For reasons that probably help explain a great deal why as a child playing baseball I had a tendency to swing at and miss pitches a foot or more off of the outside corner of home plate, it was when I made the left turn from Amwell onto Wertsville that the wheels started to come off.  Literally and figuratively.  I took the turn a bit too wide - although not more than three feet or so - and managed to scrape the right side of the Chevette - including of course both right-side tires - along the huge, oversized railroad ties that the people who owned the home at the corner used as some sort of weird demarcation line for their property. 

Jill instantly recognized that the noise coming from beneath the right side of the vehicle was not one that a driver, experienced or otherwise, expected to hear.  I drove us not more than 50-100 feet down Wertsville Road - the technical term I believe is "leaving the scene of the accident" - so we could escape detection while assessing the damage.  The first prong of our plan was a smashing success.  No one came out of the house at the corner or any other one for that matter.  The second prong was very much less so.  I presume at some point within the past three decades some utility company has placed light fixtures along Wertsville Road.  Back in September '82 there were only three types of lighting available:  Sun, Moon and Head.  None of the three was a viable option for us.  Thus, our damage assessment was a bit "underwhelming". 

Luckily I did not flatten either of the tires, which enabled us - with Jill now calling the shots again on the bridge - to complete the trip home.  Better luck for us was seeing when we arrived home and pulled the car into the garage that it had not been dented or dinged at all.

However, it did appear as if it had been sexually assaulted by a Lincoln Log.  There were railroad tie shreds and scraps sticking out of rim around the front right tire as well as a number of other auto-fices on the vehicle's right side.  Not wanting to alert Mom to anything being wrong with the car we excised them as much as we could and then went into the house. 

The next day Jill drove all three of us to W-H.  When Mom walked around to the front passenger's door she stopped and stood silently staring at the right rear tire.  There, as big as a Sequoia in a forest appeared a sizable piece of railroad tie sticking out of the rim.  I know not how we missed it during our post-incident inspection the night before.  Clearly we had.  I was about to confess to what I had done when Mom volunteered that she knew what must have happened.  She then regaled us with a story involving a truck carrying lumber/buildling supplies on Route 287 one night the week before as she was driving herself home from work and how - although she could not remember it having done so - it must have spilled a bit of its load, which load included of course the Magic Railroad Tie.  Neither Jill nor I said a word.  I volunteered to remove it from the rim for her (having earned my Merit Badge in Railroad Tie Extraction less than twelve hours earlier), which I did without difficulty.  The three of us then got into Mom's Chevette and drove to school.

Today is Jill's birthday.  Wilma has come a long way since the night that her little brother made her an accessory both before and after the fact.  She has come a considerable distance more than have I.  There have been times however when we have walked along the same path - including college.  When I graduated from W-H in 1985 I took the advice of Horace Greeley.  This young man went West - to Boulder, Colorado - where as a freshman I got to learn the ropes from my big sister.  Jill was just starting her junior year.  Between the year I entered kindergarten and the year I graduated from college, there were but four years during which Jill and I were not students at the same school:  my final two years of high school and my final two years at CU.

I know not whether in the course of their teenage years her two daughters - my two beautiful nieces -Simone and Julia ever conspired to put one over on her.  I suspect they did.  And I suspect that having assessed the situation and come to realize it was really no big thing, she permitted them to have their victory. 

Much like Mom permitted us to have ours all those Septembers ago. 

Happy Birthday Wilma.  Love you lots. 


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