Sunday, January 08, 2006

Winter White

Driving in snow

I had M and J up for dinner on Friday – it was really nice to see them both. I mentioned them earlier in my post about the choral tour, and we don’t get to see each other as much as I might like, in part because of my decision not to own a car (I should post about that sometime...) Northfield is outside of MetroTransit’s range, and is served irregularly by Greyhound, so sometimes years go by between our visits.

I met J when I was in college, and she was attached to D who was working with Dave at Dino’s – Northfield’s long-gone and much lamented greasy-spoon diner. Dave and D hit it off, and for as long as Dave and I were together, we spent a few holidays, birthdays, and other events with J and D, and D’s large family. (D, a lesbian, had been married to B, a gay man, for several years and they had a flock of children – eight total, I think. As D said often, and with a half-smile, "it seemed like a good idea at the time.") To top things off, several of her children were old enough to have children of their own, so these events were frenetic, crowded, extremely noisy, and just a ball. We always felt like part of the family, and I was always thoroughly exhausted by the time we left.

When J decided to have a baby in 1984, J and D approached Dave and me about providing the necessary chromosomes. Which, after some discussion, we agreed to do. We were living just off campus at the corner of Division and Second, and Dave and D were working often until 3 am or so. I was a college junior, so most days I didn’t have class scheduled before 10 am.

We worked out a protocol for the exchange of body fluids that went something like this: They dropped off a sterilized jar with us (yes, it was a Mason fruit jar. Yes, we did make jokes.) Near the appointed time (usually between 10:30 pm and 4 am), we’d call and say "Uh, shortly…" and proceed to make a deposit in the jar, ideally by the time they arrived in the parking lot downstairs. We’d toss the jar in a lunch bag, run it down the back steps, pass it through the window, and receive a clean jar in a brown bag for the next night. To assure viability, this whole sequence needed to happen in 30 minutes or less. (There's a pizza delivery joke in there somewhere, but I think it would be labored). We lived in fear of being busted by the local police on a suspected drug transaction, only to have the cop open the bag and find not white powder but a far different white substance. Fortunately, this never happened. The first month was a bust, but after the following month, J’s periods ceased and she started into morning sickness. After a long and difficult pregnancy, M was born on February 14, 1985.

It has been a joy to watch M grow up; albeit from a distance (she’s clearly Dave’s offspring, in case you’re wondering). We saw a lot of her when she was a child, but once Dave and I broke up, the frequency dropped, and dropped further when J and D broke up when M was 10. The big family gatherings were a thing of the past, and get-togethers now often seemed fraught and awkward.

Nevertheless, M has really grown as a intelligent, well-adjusted young woman. She’s a wonderful girl, a talented artist, a gregarious and extroverted conversationalist. When they visited this time, she gave me one of her paintings that I had admired at her high school graduation a few years ago. It’s a large abstract work, acrylic on canvas, with three bold luminous whorls floating against an azure background. Silver tendrils lace between the whorls, connecting and unifying them. Two of the whorls are larger and the third floats connected to both. The painting’s symbolism, whether intentional or not, is both simple and beautiful, and I really love this painting.

Coincidentally, I’d been cleaning out a file drawer recently, and ran across some old college papers. Among them is an English paper I wrote in 1985, which is really largely a transcription of D telling a story, lightly edited for sequence and sentence structure. D is from the south, and like most southerners (Boo included) she can really tell a story. In fact, as I recall, the interview wasn’t so much a question-and-answer session as a turn-on-the-recorder-and-nod session. J did not have an easy pregnancy; toxemia set in around her fourth month requiring her to remain almost bedridden for the remainder of the term, and she and D wound up having to drive to Minneapolis every three days to have her condition monitored and see if she would require hospitalization.

As the original composition was printed on an old continuous-feed dot-matrix (I’d grudgingly started using computers only two years before), and was largely faded besides, I retyped it (I think the original file is on a 5 ¼ inch floppy somewhere, so it’s basically useless) and gave it to her. As she turns 21 next month, and the event in question happened 21 years ago this month, I thought she might enjoy a little of her history.

Here it is:

Concerning the Weather on 1-24-85

I hope it’s nice tomorrow night; I don’t want to drive to the Cities like it was Thursday night, ever again. The snow! I got lost, this is the God’s honest truth, I got lost in the Southtown parking lot. Really! You know where that Ward’s is and there’s kind of that “L” shape center and you got that strip that comes up this way and there’s the theater on the corner? We ended up, we were parked in that Old Town Mall, we were parked right in front of the doors that go into that part, and we ended up behind the theater! On the north side of the theater in a place that doesn’t have an exit out. And You Could Not See. There were people in that parking lot, they had cars with people walking along holding on to either side with one hand, and actually walking the cars down the driveway, because if you were behind the wheel, You Could Not See. It was just incredible. It took us 25 minutes to try and find our way out of that parking lot.

And I said "I can’t drive in this, this is awful, this is ridiculous, we’ll die" - so we went over to Target. Well, Target was having a lit-tle troub-le. The snow was coming in through their vent system and it was snowing all over the floor! They were shoveling snow in the bakery and in the customer service section. You’d look around and a little snow would go whee-oooo...flakes drifting by...they were a little distressed about that!

So, we sat there awhile, y’know, and it cleared up a bit? Well, then the newscasters nearly got us. We went out to the car, and J said "Well, okay, it’s cleared up, let’s try to go" and I kept saying "Don’t you think we should spend the night" and she kept saying "No, it’ll be fine, it’ll be fine." So we went out and we got in the car and turned the radio on. And the radio was saying that the storm had passed the Twin Cities and was moving to the northeast. Well, northeast, fine, terrific; Northfield is south right? No Problem. So we got it out on the road, and it really wasn’t too bad, until we got about eight miles from that Northfield exit, and then...well, it took me an hour and 40 minutes to get from Burnsville home. That’s normally, what? Maybe a 20, 25 minute drive, took us an hour and 40 minutes. I kept saying all along "We should just spend the night," but no, they kept saying "It’s moving," and the radio kept saying "It’s moving to the northeast, it’s moving to the northeast" and it was way "up around Hopkins" and you know that’s way out of this range. It was distressing.

Oh, it was awful. There were times when it was just like somebody’d drug a sheet across the windshield; you couldn’t see. You couldn’t tell where you were. You couldn’t tell if the car was drifting; there was nothing to mark with, y’know? So we was going from one side of the road to another. And we’d go off, and the car’d feel kind of funny, and J would look out her door, and say, “You’re off on the right hand side,” and I’d go further and try to correct, and then I’d go too far, ‘cause I had no idea, y’know? And then I’d go off on that side, and I’d look down and sure enough there was grass. We were creeping along with both doors open, so we could see the grass when we ran off the road? Ve-e-ry comforting to look down and see the grass. On my side, means you’re off the the road on the left hand side, right? So I’d go back the other way a while....

At one point we was sitting there, turned sort of sideways I guess, and J said "You’re off the shoulder on the right hand side" and I looked down and I saw grass, and I said "No, I must be off on the left hand side, there’s grass down here," and she said "No. You’re off on the right hand side." I said, "I can’t be, the shoulder is right here," and I said "There’s a big ditch over here, and there’s a car in it just ten feet from us." She said "Nope, you’re off on the right hand side." So, we commenced to have this conversation about "This is the right" and "This is the left" and "The ditch is here" and "I am on the left hand side". Then I had to try and turn and get the car straight, and it was just...ooohhhh. How awful.

And semi’s kept passing us! Now, I couldn’t see a thing, and you know there’s nothing wrong with my vision. I don’t even have to wear glasses or anything, right? And these semi’s were going zoom-zoom-zoom. I mean how could they see? Y’know I don’t see how they could see any better than I could, and they were going by so fast.

Maybe headlights – I only had one at that point, ‘cause one of them burnt out! Just past Buck Hill, I lost a headlight completely, and of course you know putting the brights on is worse, ‘cause then everything glares back at you, right? So there I was with one little dim headlight. And that created something of a problem too, ‘cause not knowing what side of the road I was on, y’know nobody else did either! I’d think I was in the right hand lane, and all of a sudden something’d pass me on the right hand side and I’d go "Aaaaaack!" Then I’d stop, and we’d scratch the ground a little bit and see what was down there.

I drove home every awful, horrible step. Some guy passed us in a pickup on 35, oh, maybe just half a mile from the Northfield exit. So, anyway, he asked us if we wanted a ride, cause we was creepin’ down the road, with both doors open looking for grass, and I said "NO, I don’t want a ride, I just want to get HOME!" So he went up and waited at the exit to mark the exit for us, and then we followed him up the exit and we followed him all the way up 19 home.

And he was stopping at all the abandoned cars, I know there must have been nine, ten times we stopped, ‘cause he was stopping at all the cars making sure that nobody was in them. One of them actually had been abandoned right on the road. I assume they thought they were not on the road, but they were - they were right in the left lane. So he and the other guy that were in the truck pushed the thing off the side, ‘cause it was just sitting there, y’know?

Just incredible! I told J that if she went into labor that night she’d just have to have that baby in Northfield, cause I was not driving back to the Cities, no way, no how. And she thought she’d try not to.

Randy Wylde
English 36
Assignment 6, February 1, 1985

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