Wednesday, December 18, 2013

clutch and release

I'm at the counter this afternoon in between wood-stacking jobs, warm and cozy in my insulated overalls- or Superalls, as my mother called them. It's not the most flattering look, with wood bits clinging to my sweater, but I feel like I'm ready for anything in this weather. Cold but sunny after yesterday's snow. I'd arrived just as the wood was being delivered, and as the last piece was flung off the truck, the customer came out and said he'd ordered 15", not 17"- these were too big for his stove. Somewhere there had been a mistake. Back on the truck we tossed the wood, piece by piece. The driver had one pallet of shorter wood, meant for another customer- he released that, and I set to work. Then I had some lag time while he returned to the yard to get another load, so I went for lunch. I drove through Carmel past the location where I'd had my driver's test, exactly half my lifetime ago. I was 17. It had taken me awhile to get comfortable behind the wheel. (It had taken me awhile to get comfortable behind a lawnmower, too.) I'd failed my first attempt a few months before- the guy could tell I needed more finesse- and I was beyond determined to pass.
It was snowing lightly that morning but I'd refused to cancel. I felt my imminent success would prove my expertise. I drove an '86 Toyota Camry and my foot moved on and off the clutch as if I'd been doing it for at least a year. This was barely true. Yet you could feel safe as my passenger, whether I was merging onto a highway or maneuvering late at night through a group of deer ambling across a dark road. They had emerged, as they do, out of nowhere, but I calmly braked and eased along while they dispersed. I had panicked more when I was lurching and grinding around an empty parking lot than I did that night, and it was one of my proudest moments as a learner's permit driver. My father, who had been beside me, would recount this incident several times over the years, impressed at my levelheadedness. I would beam and hope that the weight of this triumph might balance out my many less-composed (read: hysterical) moments.
I passed my road test and drove home through the snow, elated. When I told my mother about this memory, she laughed, remembering her own road test. It was 1961 and she had learned to drive in their '55 Thunderbird convertible. The guy giving the test was so excited to be riding in that beauty of a car that he barely paid attention to her driving. But my father had taught her well, so she passed, too. I smile, thinking about this. Then I head out to my car to do the second stacking job, executing a perfect three-point turn in the road.

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