On the shortest day of the year, I drove home from work in a snowstorm, in the dark. I didn’t stay home long. I greeted the dogs and took them for a short wander around the yard. Then, we all got into the car to go visit a friend.
Darla rides shotgun, sitting tall in the passenger seat. Rosa Parks needs to be lifted up into the car; she settles on my lap. They don’t care for the radio, but they like it when I sing. I alter the words of old songs, so that their own names pop up occasionally. They always notice, responding with a raised ear, a quick blink or a wagging tail. They prefer bright headlights, so they can see the scene ahead. That night, with the snow whirling down, I used only the dims most of the way. I drove slowly, as the roads were getting slippery.
The Fox Lake Road north to Donnell Mor’s Lane, then around the curve onto Sloptown Road. Instead of taking Sloptown all the way to the King’s Highway, I turned onto Barney’s Lake Road. When I first moved to the island, I always took that “scenic route” to town. The cedar trees hug the narrow, curving road before it opens up onto a view of one of the prettiest inland lakes on Beaver Island. Just past the lake, there’s a sharp rise before the road levels out again.
One winter day, while driving my daughters to school, my old truck stalled out going up that hill, and started rolling backward in the snow and ice. The brakes were not working. My Dad had always tormented his children, when coming from the other direction, by driving too fast down that hill, making us think we were going into the water. He loved to hear our screams and squeals. Of course, I continued the tradition with my own children. So, having teased for years about driving into Barney’s Lake, here I was, rolling backward down the hill, pumping brakes that wouldn’t catch, and picking up speed as I went.
“We’re going to go in the lake,” my girls yelled, terror in their little voices. I cranked the steering wheel strongly to the right, and flung one arm out to hold them in their seats (I shudder, now, at the adventures we had without ever so much as a seat belt in place!). Instead of following the road to the bottom, the truck went off into the field, where the tall grasses helped me bring it to a stop. We gathered our wits about us, restarted the stalled vehicle, and continued on our way. Since then, I’ve been a little more cautious about that drive, when weather conditions aren’t ideal.
Two night’s ago, on a whim, I was once again on Barney’s Lake Road. In a snowstorm. The narrow road had not been plowed, and the deep snow scraped the undercarriage of my little car. It was slippery. There was no place to turn around. I thought about that hill.
“This might have been a big mistake,” I told the dogs who, confident in my abilities, seemed unconcerned. I just kept going…forward…slow and steady. I took the hill in second gear. The car struggled and slipped around a little bit, but got us to the top. Easy, from there. The road widens, and the curves are fewer. My friend’s house is near the end of that road. We made it without further incident.
The dogs love to visit, and always beat me to the house. Rosa Parks jumps against the door to be let in, as if it were her own home. Darla is familiar with it now, too. Treats are always provided, and that night was no exception. Some kind of cooked meat, cut from a frozen block, was happily accepted by both dogs. For me, one tall glass of eggnog laced with rum and sprinkled with nutmeg, and a beautiful sampling of dark chocolate candies.
We talked, across the kitchen table, about on-going projects, and books, and movies. Children and grandchildren entered into the conversation. Soon, it was time to say good-bye, and make our way back home (I took an easier route for the return trip!). It was a fine way to spend the evening, on the shortest day of the year.