How does an outing to look at flowers and Lego sculptures turn into a life lesson?
On an overcast, remarkably cool Friday morning after a litany of hot and humid summer days, Fourteen, Seventeen, Ninety-One and I set out for Reiman Gardens in Ames. The goal was an outing for my children with their grandmother, pursuing joy during our last summer before Seventeen leaves for college. The butterflies were magical, the Lego sculptures delighted us, and throughout the gardens we enjoyed summer blooms. My mother watched her grandchildren play even as they took their responsibility for pushing her borrowed wheelchair seriously.
The day was warming and Seventeen had a little over two hours before he needed to be at work. I went to fetch the car, climbed in and turned the key. It wouldn’t start. A light came on with the message, “service transmission.” I tried the key again. Nothing. I took the key all the way out of the ignition, turned it over in my palm, took a deep breath and reinserted it in the ignition. Nothing.
On the walk back to the entrance I did my best to hold back my frustration. When I arrived at the stones where my mother and children were seated, I pressed my hand up high overhead and said, “Okay, everybody put your arms in the air like this.” They did! “Okay, now say: ‘Plot Twist!’” Of the three, Mom’s call of “plot twist” was the most enthusiastic. Fourteen gave me her best teenaged girl why are we doing this look. Seventeen knew already something was wrong.
A volley of phone calls later, Chrysler roadside assistance had been summoned, the courtesy shuttle from the nearest Dodge-Chrysler dealer had whisked my family off to the air-conditioned waiting room, and Seventeen had both notified work of his predicament and ordered lunch to be delivered.
The next three hours tested my legendary patience. The tow truck was late, the service advisor moved at a crawl, and the car didn’t even get a bay for at least an hour. I took to walking circuits around the dealership where no one was making any deals. When the service advisor finally allowed as they hadn’t found anything wrong with the transmission but the computer spit out twelve pages of protocols they had yet to run, I said simply, “Can you get us out of here?” Suddenly, he seemed to want nothing more. With barely a glance at my driver’s license, he handed me the keys to a 7-passenger van and we were on the road to home.
It occurred to me, on the drive, that a van would make moving some furniture that I needed to move somewhat easier. Should I have the van for the weekend, I decided, I’d put it to work.
Instead, midday Saturday I got a call to come pick up my car. “There’s nothing wrong with it.” What? How could it have gone from not starting with engine lights glowing to just fine? With reservations and not a little grumbling, I drove to Ames and swapped the van for my car.
For ten days it worked fine. My grumble eased a little and I started to think, shrug. With the summer days drifting along, I knew I needed an oil change before the car left with Seventeen for the fall. I thought I’d check with my regular mechanic, with whom I had consulted from Ames, but otherwise trust that somehow we’d had a glitch not a true malfunction.
And then the call came. My son was stuck in a parking lot. The same
message was flashing, the same symptoms … and once again a torrent of phone calls followed. This time the tow truck was early, fifteen minutes ahead of the estimate. Sitting in the cab of the truck I marveled at how it rocked when the bed lowered to hoist my car into place. We were at the dealership in just a few minutes and my apologetic service advisor, who privately opined that the people in Ames may have done precisely nothing, had me on the road in a brand new 2016 Dodge RAM 1500 extended crew-cab 4-wheel-drive pickup in next to no time.
A truck? You bet I can drive a truck. I grew up driving a variety of heavy-duty farm trucks, construction trucks one summer for the county road crew, and buses for four years in Washington, DC. This truck had a spin dial gear shift, a back-up camera, icy cold A/C, and could seat six. Not waiting, we hauled two loads of furniture home from the yoga studio and seven boxes of documents for shredding over to my accounting firm’s annual event.
But the best was taking it for a spin on another outing—a nearly sunset Sunday drive up to the High Trestle Trail, one of the loveliest sites in our area. Converted from an old railroad bridge, the trail invites bikers and walkers to look out over the Des Moines River from 130 feet up. As the sun goes down the lights come up, and the architectural wonder is nothing short of magical. The peeps and I walked from one end to the other and back, and on the way home in the dark we stopped for ice cream. “Don’t eat yet,” I said, as we climbed back into our truck. A mile or so down the country highway, I found a place to pull off, backing the tailgate up to a cornfield. We climbed in the back to eat our ice cream and look at the stars.
Opportunity has a weird way of knocking … sometimes I think it sends a precursor, an experience that gets us ready to answer when the knock comes. And tonight, under the full August moon that rose glowing apricot over our last night home as a family, I’m thinking there are so many, many more opportunities ahead if we are open to them. As ever, thanks for taking the journey with me, Rxo