When I was younger, my dad had this very diesely, loud Mercedes. I still remember how the inside smelled. The perforated blue leather seats weren’t creased and stained and accidentally drawn on like Mom’s station wagon’s seats. Dad drove the car to work, and we usually reserved it to special occasions or church with all five of us in it.
We had this car until I was at least driving, before he blew the engine, nearly 200,000 miles under its belt. Everything lit up inside like a Christmas tree. Dad used to take me to Frozen Yogurt as a kid, I think to get me out of my mom’s hair as she was trying to put the boys to bed. It was great. We drove up what seemed to me a large hill, but it was just the diesel engine straining during acceleration– at anything higher than a curb.
I was allowed two flavors and a topping. In those days, I wasn’t that into chocolate, which my dad didn’t understand. I don’t think I do now either. But I liked gummy bears and bubble gum and sprinkles. Not chocolate sprinkles, rainbow sprinkles. I’d bury the gummy bears, especially the green ones, my favorite, at the bottom of the frozen yogurt, making them hard as rocks, which would prolong our outing. A few games of tabletop Ms. Pac Man or Donkey Kong were always essential. We’d sing loudly in the car, going over that hill in the slow-paced sedan.
I actually began my novel, which has never come to fruition, years ago with a drive similar to this one, Paul Simon’s Graceland playing in the background. Funny how “The Boy in the Bubble” was the song Dad and I sang so loudly. We would change the lyrics from “These are the days of miracle and wonder” to “These are the days of Miracle Whip and Wonder Bread”, and would kill ourselves with laughter.
I’ve been writing so much lately about my life between the ages of 9 and 15, why I am not sure. Nothing life-altering happened. Last night, I picked up my six short stories I wrote last summer, the six I haven’t touched since November 24th, and took the pen to them once again. There’s something so satisfying in this process. Cross out, revisit, think of new ideas, repeat. I think they are all at their stopping point, and if I choose to do anything with them, I shouldn’t tinker with them too much.
Yesterday on our way to lunch in my car, I was explaining to a friend I hadn’t seen in many many years that at times, my mom has been nervous about me sharing my writing. Most of the stories are based on truth or real situations, but not all things are true. Not everything. I think Mom worries that I will reveal some big family secret, although there really are none to be had. Maybe I do too. Perhaps she’s worried that I don’t feel things were as perfect as they truly were. I don’t think that’s it. My life for the most part has been nearly 90% perfect. That’s an A- life, not bad at all. Little things, even arguments, or big things like family fissures, even those don’t make life bad–they make life normal.
My friend’s granddaughter greeted me yesterday when I picked her up with a plate of Nanaimo Bars–an amazing treat that my Gram taught me to make as a girl. I don’t think I have had one since her death–maybe even before. I could have taken down the whole plate, I swear. But because of my stupid stomach, I had to settle on the smallest one. Let me tell you, it reminded me of Christmases, break-ups, family gatherings, college, old friends. It’s kind of like my writing–I can take the Nanaimo Bar, knowing perfectly well that they’re not perfectly suited for me and my stomach, but they bring me back to a safe, comfortable place. The good comes with consequences. Sometimes unpleasant memories make for the best stories. And there’s some comfort that we manage to come through unscathed on the other side.
I drove that stupid Mercedes once from my Gram’s home one night when I had my driver’s permit. It was just me and dad. It was dark, and the accelerator was so slow, my foot held down the gas pedal for an eternity. Merging onto 101, we were almost hit by someone with no patience. I started to swerve into the shoulder to avoid him and dad raised his voice, “No. Hold your course. He has to merge too”. That day I learned to not just be a defensive driver, but an offensive driver, that it was strategy-based. If people want to alter my plans or ideas, or interpret them as scary or dangerous, let them. But I need to hold my course. And I will.
Cool Dry Place–The Traveling Willbury’s
Windows are Rolled Down–Amos Lee
The Boy in the Bubble–Paul Simon
Whiskey River–Willie Nelson