"I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free." ~Wendell Berry

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Rearview Mirror

As we roll into 2019 today, like always, I take a look back and remember all the ones in my family that are missing and aren't rolling ahead with us. We had our first Christmas and first New Year without Nikki and the moment my thoughts turn to her or her picture pops up on my computer, I begin to cry again. The memory of the last look she gave me is burned into my soul and Bob and I both miss the routine and her constant companionship. She took a piece of our hearts with her and I sometimes wake up late at night, thinking I heard her tag from her collar clinking on the heating vent in our bedroom.
Nikki - December, 2012

I had a reprieve from her memories during the Christmas holidays while my Grandsons were here and keeping me busy for 5 days. For some reason, thinking of her today, has made me vulnerable to a flood of memories of other lost loved ones in my family. Listening to this song doesn't help matters either.
I used to think life was so hard when I was a kid, but of course hindsight being what it is, it really wasn't. The older I get, the more my heart tries to drag me back down those old, dusty country roads and while teaching our Grandsons to drive our 4-wheelers, the memories of my own driving lessons by my Grandfather washed over me like a soft, warm cloak wrapping itself around me.
I was Pawpaw's favorite grandchild - not because I was the best-behaved (I wasn't), but because my father (his son), Jack Pippin was a drunk, philandering, physically and verbally abusive man who had no clue how to be a father. So Pawpaw stepped in and took myself (the oldest of the three), Karen & Clint into his large comforting arms and protected us from my father's demented psychosis. Pawpaw made it his mission to teach us everything a real father should teach his children. And he didn't just teach us the educational stuff - A,B,C's, math, reading & writing - he taught us the very practical stuff too, such as learning to drive a vehicle.
When I was 5, 6, & 7 years old, Pawpaw would put me in his lap and patiently teach me to drive both the old John Deere tractor and our old standard-shift Chevy pickup. The tractor was fun, but it became boring, going back & forth across the same field - never really going anywhere. But in the truck it was a different story; now we're talkin' - now I'm going places!
At that age, I had to spread my arms wide, wrap my little fingers around the huge steering wheel and pull myself up so I could see over the hood of the truck. My feet still couldn't reach the pedals and I wasn't strong enough to pull the shift into the proper gear, but Pawpaw operated the clutch, gas pedal and shifted for me. It was a thrill for me - such a little kid - to be allowed to control such a huge piece of machinery, but the best part of this was knowing that the adults recognized that I was growing up and there was a bit of implied trust with this new responsibility.
Kathy-6 years, Karen-5 years, & Clint-2 years (l to r - Circa 1967).
He only let me drive on the back dirt roads my first couple of years, where I'm sure he had to grab the wheel more than a few times to ensure we stayed out of the ditch. As my skills improved, he eventually let me drive on the pavement, with him still operating the pedals. I would become terrified and start to shake when we met an oncoming vehicle, but Pawpaw somehow knew of my terror and would put his right hand on my back, providing comfort and steadying me through his touch. He would place his left hand on his knee close to the wheel, ready to grab it if needed, until they were past us. Eventually, it was no big deal to meet someone, and I even learned the finger-wave /greeting - lift the right index finger to greet the oncoming vehicle. Back then, it was pretty common to see kids in their parent's / grandparent's laps while learning to drive, so there was never any concern about getting in trouble with the law.
David-4 years, Kathy-10 years, Karen-9 years, Jack Jr.-2 years old
Eventually, my legs grew long enough so that my feet could reach the pedals with the assistance of a few pillows at my back, instead of Pawpaw. I'm sure he had mixed feelings about my new abilities. He had no idea at the time just how much of his energy it was going to take to corral me after introducing me to a gas pedal. After many trials and errors and hearing, "do NOT pop the clutch, do NOT grind the gears and back off the gas when shifting" over & over, I was finally allowed to drive the truck in the hay field. My first work assignment was to pull the hay trailer around the fields as the hired hands, some of them only a few years older than me, loaded the hay bales. I was paid $1.00 per hour for driving.
Most of the time, I could keep the truck in first gear and idle along as the men walked along and tossed the hay on. Not only did I feel like I was the most important part of that operation, but I also had the best seat in the house so I could watch the tanned, handsome young mens' muscles glistening and rippling as they loaded hay in the hot sun.
Still, I was prone to mistakes and while not in any danger in a big hay field, the men were not amused when I would accidentally pop the clutch and the hay would go rolling off the trailer. I learned a lot of different cuss words back then as they would stomp back to the trailer and reload the hay.
It took awhile, but I was determined to learn to control the clutch better; part of my determination might have come from having to spend some time on that trailer, dragging & stacking too, and learning just how frustrating it is to have to reload and stack if the driver is too busy admiring the handsome loaders. Back then, they were the smaller, rectangular bales - and I started to appreciate why you don't want to have to pick them up twice. That's when I started earning $2.00 per hour.
After a few years in the hay fields, a few more inches of growth, and maybe too much admiring of the handsome hired hands, the pillows were removed and Pawpaw let me start driving the roads, always with his accompaniment. I sometimes wonder how Pawpaw didn't have a stroke while I was driving.
I was an adrenaline junky and I loved pressing the gas pedal to the floor and flying down the road with the wind blowing in the side window vent and the dust roiling up behind us. I graduated once again to the pavement and to this day, I distinctly recall Pawpaw's stern warning, "Girl, I'll pay the overweight ticket, but you'll pay the other'un". That was his way of warning me to slow down.
Kathy-13/14 years, Clint-9/10 years, Jack Jr.-4/5 years, & Karen-12/13 years - (l to r - Circa 1975)

Out of all the driving training, getting me slow down was the biggest challenge for him. Except when people loaded up into the bed of the truck and we headed to our camp on the river. Even at the age of 12, I knew it was extremely dangerous to hit a pot hole going too fast when my younger siblings were in the back. I loved riding in the back too. It's funny - today, I can't stand all the dust from the back country roads, but back then, we didn't have a care in the world about it. Sand & dust flying all around us - the gritty stuff in our eyes and teeth - because who doesn't smile when they're riding in the back of a truck? Sometimes, if he was going slow, Pawpaw would let us ride on the tail gate - he rarely dropped one of us kids, but if he did he would stop and wait for offender to catch up - the one who obviously hadn't been listening when they were told to hang on in the first place.
Pawpaw was loving, but at the same time he was tough - he would tell you once, sometimes even twice, but after that, you suffered the consequences of your pride.
To this day, I can still drive any vehicle with a stick shift and a tractor.
April, 2014- plowing the field, preparing for clover planting.
I still have the problem of driving too fast, but I pay my dues when I do - or at least when I get caught. We had the best Christmas, as Bob and I taught our two grandsons how to drive our 4-wheelers. The labels on the bikes state, "no operators under the age of 16". We scoffed at that. As our Grandsons begged & pleaded to be allowed to push the bike from low to high gear for more speed, and wanted more control of the throttle so we could go airborne over the whoop-di-dooes, I laughed to myself as I imagined Pawpaw had probably experienced all the same thoughts now spinning in my head; "not an ice-cube's chance in hell, kid" & "I have no desire to die today".
I can't wait until my Grandsons visit again, so I can continue to teach and play with them. My son told me they're still talking about all the fun they had with Gramma and Grandpa. I hope they cherish these memories we are making long into their own adulthood, as I cherish my memories of my own Grandparents today.