TBT: My Car, My Step-dad, and Me

This week’s posts about timid drivers and the discussion about bad day birthdays got me to thinking about my stepdad.  Specifically, some experiences we shared while I was learning to drive.

When I turned 16, I bought a 1972 VW bug in bad need of a paint job from my grandparents.  I paid them something like $50 a month for a year.  In the months and years leading up to that birthday, I had insisted that I would take any car, ANY car, except a bug.  I don’t know why I hated them so much, but I did.  By the time I turned 16 though, an 18 year old hand-me-down bug for $600 seemed just fine, thank you very much.

Now, this car had more issues than peeling paint.  It also had a sticky throttle.  Sometimes I’d pull up to a stoplight and the engine would begin to race.  I’d have to put the car in neutral, engage the parking brake, run around to the back where the engine was, pop the ‘hood’, push the throttle thingy back down, and then race back to the driver’s seat, put it back in gear, and take off before the car behind me honked.  If I was lucky, I was transporting either my little brother or my boyfriend, both of whom had been trained to hop out and do it for me.  Sometimes I wonder how much experiences like that keep you humble.

Anyway, before I was trusted to drive around by myself or with other young passengers, a lot of time was spent driving around the neighborhood with one of my parents.  It was a manual transmission, quite different from the automatics that we learned with in my Driver’s Ed class at school.

The neighborhood had a lot of hills and I’d typically pick routes that would not force me to stop on a steep uphill incline.  I hadn’t yet mastered the (now probably lost) art of balancing my left and right feet on the clutch and gas to keep the car stationary and then gently transition to forward progress.  It seemed like a good plan to get good at that on flat surfaces before attempting hills.

My stepdad had a different view of the world though.  He was more in the tradition of “sink or swim” training.  So one day, he directed my progress and it resulted in me stopping at a stop sign at the top of the steepest of steep hills in the neighborhood.  I protested as we approached, saying I wouldn’t be able to start up again.  He said yes I would.  Shortly after I stopped, a car came up behind me.  I began to sweat.  I rolled (yes, actually manually rolled) down the window and tried to motion them to go around me.

I can’t remember now what happened next.  Maybe I’ve fused several memories into one.  I don’t remember if they went around me or refused.  I don’t remember whether I stubbornly stayed put or gunned it.  I don’t remember if I successfully (but with a really revved up engine) passed through the intersection or if I killed it or rolled all the way down the hill.  It seems like I had all of those experiences.  Obviously, I eventually left the hill.  All I know for sure is that I was irritated with him.

I doubt it was that same trip, but on one such neighborhood tour, he insisted when we returned home that I back into the driveway.  I’ve noticed over the years that most people don’t back into their driveways.  Most pull in and then back out.  Both my mother and my stepfather, however, strongly believed that you should back into the driveway and pull out.  The best explanation that I was given was that on icy days, it was easier to exit if you had previously backed in.  If I pointed out the unlikeliness of getting iced-in during the summer months, for example, I’d be told that it was important to keep good habits.

Anyway, I began to pull into the driveway one day and he told me to back in.  His car was already in the driveway and I told him I wasn’t comfortable backing in with it there.  He told me I needed to learn and to do it anyway.  I insisted that I wasn’t comfortable.  He insisted that I do it anyway.

“Fine!” I finally responded angrily.  I pulled either down the street or into the drive across from us, threw my arm over the seat, and looked over my shoulder as I began to maneuver into the driveway.  Likewise, he looked over his right shoulder to watch my proximity to his car.

“You are getting close to the Ford,” he said.  I corrected my motion some.

“You are getting too close to the Ford!” he said again.  I made another adjustment.

“You are getting too…” {{BAM!!}}  “…You just hit the Ford!”

I quickly adjusted the car and hopped out.  So did he.  We were both angrily yelling at each other about the accident that had just occurred in the driveway.  He was yelling about how he had been telling me I was getting too close and I didn’t adjust.  I was yelling about how I told him I didn’t feel comfortable backing into the driveway but he just wouldn’t listen.  My mom came hurrying down the sidewalk from the front door: “What is going on?!”

“She just hit the Ford!”

“He made me back into the driveway!”

I don’t remember anything after this.  I think they made some deal about them paying for repairing my car and painting it if I just did XYZ.  I never did XYZ.  I don’t know why.  I came to love my little bug in serious need of a paint job and a nice dent in the rear passenger-side fender.  It was a very nice match to my platform shoes, bell-bottom jeans, and rainbow sunglasses that I wore to the band’s “hippie dance”.  And it got me where I needed to go.  Most of the time.

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The Best Christmas Ever

Our Christmas tree is still up and decorated. In fact, Hal just turned the lights back on today. The first week after Christmas was spent out-of-state, visiting family. The next, out-of-town to celebrate our anniversary. The most recent was full, first with a funeral and then with resuming school and work. I am telling you this so that you understand it is still Christmas at this house, and thus not inappropriate at all for me to finally get around to blogging about the best Christmas ever. I was too busy enjoying it to write about it at the time.

Christmas 2012 did not get off to a particularly auspicious start. The 11:00pm Christmas Eve service was wonderful, don’t get me wrong. We all attended in our pajamas, including my husband in his footed smiley-face PJ’s that I had just given him. That drew a few looks.

No, the service that heralded the arrival of Christmas Day was nice and the drive home was uneventful. I was worried about what such a late bedtime would do to the day, but not too much. The problems started when we got home. Hal did not want to use the bathroom before retiring to his bed and a tantrum ensued.

Once all the children were settled, I needed to wrap just two or three presents and stuff the stockings. That took well over an hour. I finally went to bed around 1:30 or 2:00 and wondered how late the children would let me sleep.

Not long, as it turned out. A serious thunderstorm moved in by about 2:30, waking Hal. I stumbled into his room to comfort him. I struggled for a long time before I got back to sleep. The wind picked up and a loud metallic thwacking sound woke me around 5:00. I asked my husband if that was the new roof coming undone.

“Probably.”

“Do we need to do anything about it?”

“Like what? I’m not going out there in this.”

He had a point. Besides, the old shingled roof was still under the metal of the new one. No way I was getting back to sleep, however. I lay there listening until the sound changed to something bounding down from the roof. And then silence.

“There,” my pragmatic husband said, “It blew off. Happy?”

Before I responded, the next strip of the crown began to rattle. Sleep was a distant memory by this point.

Things improved once I gave up on sleep, though. My husband had once again managed to slip something under my pillow undetected. He hates wrapping, so this has become our new tradition. I already knew I was getting a Kindle Paperwhite, but I still don’t know when he managed to slide it under there.

As I passed through the living room, I saw a package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in my stocking that I had not put in there the night before. So he hadn’t forgotten about my stocking either – another nice surprise. I added the toppings to the breakfast strata started the night before and put it in the oven.

Then it was stockings and presents time. Hal passed out the stockings, such a good Santa’s helper. All of them distributed gifts. Just like last year, though, there were no names. Last year were numbers and they’d have to ask me which number was whom. This year, they were letters. Perhaps this will become a new Christmas puzzle. As they heard who was each letter, I asked them what the formula was. I gave them a hint that I couldn’t put the appropriate leter on Daddy’s gifts because it was a duplicate of someone else’s. Daddy figured it out (2nd letter of their middle names). No one else did.

Jane unwrapped four nested boxes, each wrapped individually, before uncovering her mp3 player. Daryl received a used Nintendo DS, given to us by a friend to give to the kids. He immediately declared this the best Christmas ever.

And so it was, but not because of the gifts. When we were done unwrapping, we ate the strata. And then… then we just were. Most Christmases would have seen the hustle and bustle of preparing for a long trip. We would have been packing suitcases and piling into the car to travel the four hours or so to relatives in Oklahoma.

But Oklahoma was forecast to get hit by a blizzard. We had decided the day before that we would delay our trip by 24 hours. We had no idea how life-changing that decision would be.

After breakfast, we just enjoyed ourselves. We set Pandora to play Christmas music. People tried out their new electronics. We played some games and worked some puzzles and read and ate and relaxed. And shouted in excitement when we looked out the window and saw snow! Snow, on Christmas Day, in Texas. No one even changed out of their pajamas, except to go play in the snow.

I looked up at my family at one point and wondered, Is this what Christmas is like for other people? Christmas has never been a relaxing time for me, not even in childhood.

As a child, I remember opening presents at home and then almost immediately leaving the house to go… somewhere. Christmas Day usually included 2 or 3 extended family gatherings. The usual routine was to head over to my maternal grandparents’ house for lunch and Christmas with my mom’s family. At some point, sometimes before lunch and sometimes after, mom would drive us to my paternal grandmother’s house and we’d have Christmas with my dad’s family. Mom would then pick us up and we’d have dinner and Christmas at my step-dad’s parents’ house with his family.

It got even more complicated when I married. My husband brought with him Christmas obligations to his dad’s family, his mom’s family, and his step-dad’s family. Some families adjusted to celebrating Christmas on a day other than the 25th, but we usually still had at least two places to be that day, often more.

Shortly before we had our first child, we decided that we wanted to be able to attend our own church’s Christmas Eve service. That meant attending worship and then hitting the road, arriving at my mom’s house around 2:00 Christmas morning.

When the kids arrived, my husband began to agitate for change. He wanted to celebrate Christmas at our house. I wanted to avoid hurting people’s feelings. The compromise that stood for years was the Christmas Day travel. This allowed us to worship at our home church, open presents at our house, and still make it to Christmas obligations back home. I had been trained to believe that the right thing to do was to cram everyone in, jumping from one place to another, making sure we made an appearance everywhere.

This time, though, we actually found ourselves with no family meeting on Christmas Day. We still planned to travel that day, so suggested to my dad that we celebrate that night. And then we got word of the weather. There was no problem changing plans with dad. No reason we had to travel that day. No place to be until 6pm the day after. Why not stay home? It was such a novel idea for us.

The experience was ground breaking for me. Earth shattering. Tears-down-the-face significant. I sat at the table, watching my family just exist, with no place to go, no obligations to meet, no phone calls or appointments or errands, and I cried. My husband looked at me and smiled.

“Do you need a hug?” he asked. I nodded and he rose from the table.

“I’ve never had this before,” I said into his chest as he hugged me tight. “Not ever, not once in thirty-eight years. I’ve never just stayed home and relaxed on Christmas Day. This is amazing.”

We didn’t have to speak the words then or now, but we know what we are doing next year. The 26th is soon enough to travel for family. The peace of Christmas will descend on our household again. It is the only day that we can truly just be still and be together. I never understood how special that kind of time is. But now that I’ve experienced it, I am not giving it up.