Icy Road Escapade

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(HOST) Commentator Jay Parini remembers a winter morning in Vermont not so long ago.

(PARINI) My kids were reminding me the other night of one of their favorite winter memories. It’s actually one of my own least favorite memories.

My two older boys were still in elementary school, and I always drove them the mile-and-a-half to school along a winding country road. They could have taken the school bus, but we were just never quite ready when it passed at the bottom of the driveway at 7:30.

On the morning in question, the temperature had unexpectedly dropped from almost 40 to well below freezing, turning the Champlain Valley into one vast ice-skating rink.

“Get in the car,” I yelled to the boys at 7:55 or so. “We can’t be late again.” In a hurry, I threw a ski jacket over my pajamas, as I often did. I was in such a rush I didn’t even change out of my bedroom slippers.

At the time I was driving one of those gigantic old station wagons, with rear wheel drive, and very little maneuverability. The mere fact of no other traffic on the road that morning should have signaled something to me, but it didn’t.

The boys were excited in the backseat. “Is this safe, Dad? Why are there no other cars?”

“Be quiet,” I said, as the car picked up speed, going down a long hill with a turn at the bottom. We hit the curve going way too fast, and the car – to my horror – failed to turn. We sailed over the ice-crust, stopping abruptly about ten yards from the road, with the nose of the car pitching forward through the glaze into a foot of snow.

I spun the rear wheels madly, but there was no traction at all. Nothing. Frustrated, I stepped outside. My bedroom slippers plunged through the ice, and I trudged to the back of the car in snow up to my knees. My pajamas offered very little protection. I wished that I had at least remembered my gloves and hat.

I began rocking the wagon in a futile attempt to shift the monster into a position where I could get some traction. Soon the boys leaped cheerfully out of the car and began to skate toward home along the icy road on a vital mission. I told them to get their mother to call for a tow truck – as quickly as possible.

Alone, frozen, still rocking the car, I was much relieved when the local farmer suddenly appeared at my side with his huge four-wheel-drive pickup and a long chain. A big man in his sixties, he looked me up and down for a moment, in my pajamas and fuzzy slippers, and said, “I see you’re not dressed for the occasion.”

It turned out school was closed that day anyway, so the whole journey had been pointless. After the station wagon was pulled back onto the side of the road, I decided to accept the farmer’s offer of a ride home in his pickup. It was time to get dressed, and I certainly didn’t want to risk any further embarrassments that morning.

This is Jay Parini, in Weybridge.

Jay Parini, a poet, novelist and biographer, teaches at Middlebury College. He spoke from studios at the college.

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