81. Driving Lessons

81. Driving Lessons

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


Driving Lessons

Giving your son a skill is better than giving him one thousand pieces of gold.

~Chinese Proverb

The severe winter storms we remember from our childhood always seem to be noted for wild tales of ten-feet-deep snowdrifts and families trapped in their homes for a week at a time. Just how often that occurred in southern New England is purely speculative, but during the 1950s my family sometimes waited a day or two before the snowplow showed up.

We lived in the last house on a mile-long dead-end road that crisscrossed the town line. Every time there was a major snowstorm, the adjacent towns squabbled over whose turn it was to plow. As a youngster, I didn’t care if we ever got plowed out, but my father wasn’t so accommodating. He’d get angry and phone in a complaint even before it stopped snowing. That tactic sometimes worked, but at a price. The snowplow drivers usually did a lousy job, leaving the travel lane too narrow for oncoming vehicles to pass each other. This new problem only further annoyed my father.

To ease his frustrations, Dad took it upon himself to widen the travel lane by flattening the snow banks with his pickup truck. Driving at thirty miles per hour on the wrong side of the road, he’d skillfully gouge a tire path through the windrow until the truck lost momentum or a hapless motorist coming the other way ran into a ditch. The few times he got stuck were rationalized as a small price to pay for making the road passable.

One afternoon, Dad drove into a snow bank with a little more aggression than usual and flipped the truck onto its side. Dad wasn’t hurt and the vehicle suffered only minor damage, but it cost him twenty dollars to borrow a neighbor’s tractor to right the truck.

My father refused to believe that he was at fault for the accident. After all, he had been knocking down snow banks for years and considered himself somewhat of an expert. Determined to find the cause, he reconstructed the mishap by driving through the same snow bank again. Everything seemed normal for the first fifty feet (whatever “normal” is for people who drive through snow banks). Then the front wheel hit a solid object, sending the truck airborne and then, once again, flipping it onto its side.

Unhurt, Dad climbed out of the wreck and began digging in the snow to find what the truck had hit. It was the stump of an oak tree that he himself had cut down a few months earlier because he thought it was growing too close to the road.

Word spread fast about Dad’s driving escapades, and everyone joked that flipping a truck over twice in one day in the same spot had to be some kind of a record.

When it was time for me to learn how to drive, my father didn’t want me wasting money on a formal driver’s training course. Instead, he taught me. Naturally, I mastered most of his vast driving skills, especially how to knock down snow banks.

Several years later, while transporting a pickup load of firewood, I was confidently plowing through snow banks as if I were in command of an Army tank. I was doing fine until the front wheel hooked on a buried chunk of ice and spun the steering wheel out of my hands. The truck slid sideways and flipped over, scattering firewood into the middle of the road. I was a little shook up, but not hurt.

After composing myself, I began to clear the wood off the road before I caused a real accident. Two friendly men stopped to offer assistance, which I gratefully accepted. They continued to move the wood while I went to the nearest house to call for a wrecker to right my truck. I left the scene for no more than ten minutes. When I returned, the two men were gone—and so was all my firewood.

I quit knocking down snow banks after that.

~Arthur Wiknik, Jr.

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