Tuesday, May 5, 2009

HOW WE CELEBRATED MOTHERS' DAY (with apologies to Stephen Leacock)

"Why are you turning around?" I asked.

"There's a little road back there we're going to look at,"Justin said. Idle curiosity has gotten people in trouble before this. As I explained later to the first tow truck guy, I have an unfortunate tendency to think that my son knows what he's doing. So down the road we went; I didn't even try to stop him.

We had originally intended a picnic for that Mothers' Day a couple of years ago. After it rained for seven days and seven nights and counting, we agreed instead to drive to Rockport and walk on the beach, wondering in passing if we should lay in a supply of doves against the day when the waters receded.

Either we didn't look in the right places, or the beaches were under water. At each stop, I got out of the car in my motorcycle rainsuit and watched the Atlantic slam itself against rocky promontories, breakwaters, or rock-lined bays that might have been beaches if there had been less water. After ordering me not to climb out on the rocks, Justin listened to the radio and took pictures out the windows of the car.

From Rockport we worked our way south, observing flooded roads, fields and lawns, and people pumping water out of cellars. We found and briefly explored a beach in Manchester (did I mention that the temperature was in the fifties with a gale-force wind roaring in from Greenland?), grabbed a couple of sandwiches in Salem, and made our way back to Medford.

We were having such a good time, that to prolong it I asked Justin if he would mind continuing from Medford to Winchester (which often floods) to make sure the town hadn't floated down the Mystic River and out to sea. That was when he spotted the mysterious little road, if it can be called that: a couple of muddy ruts in the grass along the top of an embankment leading to the river.

We drove along the embankment readily enough, bad spots being notoriously easy to get into, stopping a few yards from the bank of the river. The tow truck guys said later that the car was about a hundred yards from the road. I wouldn't have thought it was that far, but what do I know? We watched water pouring into the river from a structure that looked like a bulkhead. We noticed that the trees that usually mark the river bank were now up to their knees, with water extending far behind them. We watched a woman walking a dog. Then we decided to leave.

We were all right until Justin backed just a tad off the straight and narrow. When he tried to pull ahead and correct the problem, the wheels spun and the car stopped. In reverse it did likewise, and skidded sideways a bit. He tried a few things, first with a couple of wooden blocks that happened to be in the trunk and then with some pieces of carpet that weren't earning their keep on the floor. The car moved backwards a little and sideways more, leaving the right rear tire not quite in contact with terra infirma.

A large tree near the top of the embankment stood between the car and any real danger of sliding or flipping over and rolling down into what is usually a meadow but had become part of the river. But I didn't like the look of things and elected to stand in the rain at a safe distance. After a few more tries, I declared that it was time to summon help.

The guys at the liquor store, maybe a quarter of a mile away, let us use the phone and even found me a chair. The tow truck, when it came, couldn't back in far enough for the cable to reach the car without serious risk of joining us in the mud (the last time my son and I got stuck in the mud, the tow truck got stuck, too, but that's another story). The driver generously drove us home, another quarter mile past the liquor store, and suggested a couple of companies that might have the kind of industrial-strength tow truck we required.

An hour, one long telephone call, two more tow trucks, and $500 later, Justin returned the car to its home. I wasn't there when it was extracted from the wilderness, but he said that all proceeded smoothly. The episode, he commented, might have been worth $30 or $40 for the experience, but no way was it worth $500. My husband and I split the fee with him. It is, after all,my car. He wouldn't have persisted in exploring that forest track if I had told him not to. He made the phone call and got wet and muddy, more than once. If he pays half the expenses, that's plenty good enough.

The following Thursday, I took myself back to the scene of the crime, noting that water levels were near normal but that we and our tow trucks had left ruts most of a foot deep in places, some of them on the side of the embankment where a truck had gone around a particularly slimy spot. No permanent damage, I don't think -- ruts fill in, and grass grows back -- but one doesn't like to be responsible for that kind of carnage (not long afterwards, I noted in passing that the authorities had blocked off access to the area). Walking back to the main road, I saw a State Police officer placing on the windshield of my car what proved to be a $25 ticket for parking there.

Worse was to follow. Justin dropped by that night and mentioned that as of the previous day he exhibited -- probably literally, since he couldn't stand to put much on it -- the worst case of poison ivy of his extremely susceptible life. He had anticipated consequences from the poison ivy that grew lushly all around the hole we dug the car into, but the event exceeded expectations. It was better now, he said, but on Wednesday, before the doctor gave him steroids, his eye had been swollen shut and his arm more crippled than during the week in childhood when three of his limbs were solid itches and oozes and scabs. He showed me a selection of healing but still sore lesions, adding that "there's some more that I won't be showing you, Mom, but take my word for it, it's extremely unpleasant."

The moral of the above sorry story was pronounced by the first tow truck guy as we rounded the corner toward home: "You can't go off-road with a Grand Am."