The following is a true story. And the kind of incident that occurs frequently enough so as to prompt my sister, Becky, to say, “Why do those kinds of things always happen to you?” I’m not sure, but as a writer, I’ve been blessed with a fate that has been sprinkled with unusual and tempered with bizarre. I’m also lucky to be alive (as I’ve been told).
So I’m on my way to visit my mother and Pete in northern Michigan, my boys buckled in the minivan and deeply engrossed in a highly educational DVD. I was bored. We were in no-man’s land – my cell couldn’t get any reception, the boys weren’t fighting and even the satellite radio keep going in and out.
I became obsessed with mastering the cruise control. Keep in mind that in the ten years we have owned a Honda, I had never used this feature, located right in front of me on the steering wheel. But as you may have guessed, I am also blessed with the ability to multi-task. So, not only was I driving a 3000 lb vehicle at 70 mph with my young children and a dog in the back, I was also trying to figure out the mystery of the confusing cruise control.
It was NOT my fault, I repeat, NOT my fault
Here is my disclaimer: Even if I had seen the bale of straw sitting in the middle of the road at the crest of a small hill, it would have been too late to do anything. I hit the bale bomb with a resounding “thud”, and though it’s half the size of a bale of hay, it still packed quite a punch. The car shuddered, the boys threw off their head sets and began screaming, the dog started barking and thick smoke obscured all the windows except the windshield.
So you completely understand the decision I made, I will outline the facts.
1. I was in shock! This is important to keep in mind.
2. We were in the middle of nowhere.
3. My phone didn’t work.
I couldn’t figure out the smoke thing. My car was still running and I didn’t detect any funny sounds, but the heavy dark smoke had enveloped us. I could hear other cars honking (as if I were unaware!), but I was afraid if I pulled over, I would be stuck. I thought I should try to make the Big Rapids exit, two miles up the road.
Suddenly, as I neared the exit, the smoke instantly disappeared. I looked out my rear view mirror and saw a small fireball rolling back down the highway. It came to rest at the side of the road where it promptly burst into a large fireball.
This is where I had my ah hah moment. I had been dragging the bale of straw under my car and the friction had caused it to ignite (the smoke!) and when it burned down enough, I had shaken it loose. I was instantly relieved that we weren’t dead, but I was still visibly upset and I needed to see what kind of damage I had inflicted on my beloved minivan. I pulled off at the intended exit and headed for the only gas station, a mile down the road.
Rule of thumb – Know your Audience
I got out to inspect my beat-up car and immediately started recounting my situation to the large tattooed fellow on the Harley Davidson, getting gas next to me. Remember, I was still in shock. As I was explaining my story, I noticed a smell, a funny smell, one that I recognized from back in the day – the guy reeked of marijuana!
It was just my luck that the biker dude was stoned to the beejezus! The whole area was filled with the stench of pot but I had already engaged him and I didn’t want to appear rude or insult the dope-fiend, so I finished my story.
“Well, that explains it,” he drawled.
“What?” I asked.
“Why you smell like Cheech and Chong.” He nodded towards the van where my two boys’ faces were pressed against the window.
“Me? What do you mean?” I turned around and smoke was still pouring out from every crevice of my van. Smoldering pieces of straw stuck out from the door jams, the windows and even the gas cap. It then came to my attention that the smell of burning straw smells suspiciously like you-know-what. He wasn’t the pot-head - I was!
“I’m a responsible mother! I only did that once,” I gulped, “back in college.”
“I bet you didn’t inhale, either,” he chuckled.
Just then, a small group of fire trucks and police vehicles, their sirens blaring, passed the station, racing out towards the highway.
“Looks like you have some ‘splaining to do, Lucy.” The biker/comedian pulled his helmet on. “Good luck,” he said sincerely as he roared off.
The Walk of Shame
I slowly walked in to the gas station and announced to the two gals listening to the police radio that I thought I might be the one who started the brush fire out by the highway. They looked at each other as if they had never started a fire and handed me the phone.
Later, as the police were taking my report, the officer mentioned, more than once, just how lucky we were to be alive.
“You know,” he said as he took my registration, “those gas tanks are made outta plastic. If you’da pulled over with the bale still stuck, the car probably woulda exploded. You’re lucky you hit it straight on,” he added, “most folks would have jerked the steering wheel one way or another, coulda hit a car or veered off the road.”
So, it was a good thing that I didn’t do as common sense would have dictated. By not seeing the straw bale in time and not pulling over immediately, I may have inadvertently done something right. . . by following some crazy, shock induced logic; I may have saved my family from, well, something not good.
“I could have been planning three funerals right now,” my mother commented when we arrived safely in Frankfort. “Four, if you count the dog . . . and this is a busy weekend.”
I do hate to put people out.
My first impression of Rosemary Russell was that of a sweet grand-motherly type. She was a bespectacled, rotund lady with an engaging smile and tight curly gray hair. I later found out that it was a wig – the result of numerous chemo treatments, but at the time, she was just my new friend, Kelly’s, mom.
Kelly had offered me a ride home from school one day in ninth grade. When her parent’s car pulled up and I saw Rosemary, my initial thought was that she was Kelly’s grandmother – she was that much older than most of the mom’s I knew – certainly mine. But Kelly had been born when her mother was almost forty-three, ancient at that time, and had an older sister, Char, who was fifteen years her senior.
I was even more astonished when Kelly opened the driver’s door and told her mother to “move your sweet ass over so I can drive.” I waited in shock for Rosemary to morph into a gargoyle and swallow Kelly’s head, but she just smiled good-naturedly and slid over. As we cruised to my house, I listened in amazement as mother and daughter carried on a less than g-rated conversation, fraught with just about every four-letter word I had ever heard. Apparently, swearing was not an issue in the Russell household.
I am not a prude. I enjoy profanity as much as the next gal, but I was much more selective in choosing my audience. Hell, when I was eight, we even had a “swear swing,” that required the user, as they pumped to the highest heights, to change the words of popular tunes to reflect every four-letter word they knew (A few that spring to mind – “Raindrops Keep #&^*ing up My Head” and “Bridge Over *$#& ed up Water”).
But my parents were never big on “potty mouths” and swearing was frowned upon in our household, more as a rule of etiquette rather than a decree of morality. And it wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I had the courage, as I was driving away in my VW Beetle, to yell out the window, “F$%# off!” to my angry parents.
What did bother Rosemary were drugs and alcohol. She was fervently opposed to any contraband and her rule was that none was to be allowed in her house. Now, I will vehemently deny that Kelly and I were involved in any alcohol or illegal substance activity, but I will give up the fact that my boyfriend, Dan was. He was a pot-smoker, and one night he left his pot pipe in the cushions of the couch after an all night party at Kelly’s that many of our friends had attended.
Kelly and I were working furiously to get the spilled candle wax out of the rug (place newspaper over the mess and use a hot iron on the paper – soaks the wax right up), when Dan knocked on the door. Rosemary, an RN, had just returned home from the night-shift at the hospital, and was relaxing on the couch with a cup of Earl Grey as she watched me and Kelly iron the carpet.
I knew what Dan had come for. The pipe was his favorite piece of paraphernalia and he wanted it back. The trick would be working around Rosemary’s imposing figure.
“Good Sunday morning, Dan. How’s your mother?” Rosemary smiled sweetly as she took a sip from her cup.
“Uh, she’s fine.” I could feel Dan’s eyes on me as he looked for support, but I kept my head down and focused on a particularly stubborn hunk of wax.
“You’re up early. Here to help with the carpet cleaning?”
“Um, no, but um, I think I left my . . . wallet, yeah, my wallet, here last night. Did anyone find it?” Again I felt Dan’s eye’s on my back. Again, I ignored him.
“Feel free to look around,” Rosemary offered. “What does it look like?”
“You know – just normal. Black I think.” Dan began to crawl around the room on his hands and knees peering under the sofa and behind the plant.
“Where do you think you left it?”
“I guess it could be anywhere,” Dan continued, as he lifted a pillow from a chair.
“Could it be in the sofa?” Rosemary said. “Could this be it!”
She dramatically reached in the folds of her nightgown and pulled out the pipe then triumphantly thrust it into the air. “Is this what you’re looking for? Is this your wallet, Dan?” She glared at him over her silver cat-eyes.
By this time, Kelly and I had sat back on our heels, absorbed in the cat and mouse game playing out in front of us.
He looked at me but I just shrugged my shoulders. I wasn’t about to get involved in this situation that would most certainly entail a protracted discussion on the evils of marijuana. He was on his own.
At that point, Dan must have decided that the best defense was a good offense. “That’s mine, Rosemary,” he said in the bravest voice he could muster.
“Not anymore, mister. You know how I feel about doing the pot. You broke my rules. It’s now my marijuana … smoking … thing …” She tucked the pipe in her ample bosom.
“But, Rosemary,” Dan protested. “That cost ten dollars. It’s my best pipe – I got it in Mexico.”
“I know dear. I’m sorry.” But she didn’t look sorry.
She waited patiently for a moment before Dan lost the stare down, then she closed the deal. “Dan, will you please give your mother my regards when you go home?”
Dan got the hint and left, mumbling under his breath, knowing that not only had he lost his best pipe, but that Rosemary had gotten the best of him.
“You girls need to finish up,” she said cheerily as she drained the last of her tea. “We need to have another little chat about the rules.”
We groaned, but knew we were getting off easily. There was so much more that she didn’t know. If she did, a lecture wouldn’t be the punishment.
After a drawn out fight, Rosemary Russell lost her battle with breast cancer and passed away when I was twenty-three. She always wanted us to remember the happy circumstances of her life, rather than the sad ones of her death. This is a Rosemary story that always cracks me up.