Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Driving with Dad.

Its been a while since I have driven in a snowstorm, having spent the last few winters in the Caribbean on a working vacation. 

Faced with the first snowfall of the season, I feel ill-equipped in my bright yellow VW Beetle, (who I have appropriately named Sunny), with no winter tires or snow-brush. After using my mitt-less hand to brush the snow off Sunny's back, I make it out of the back alley onto to the main road, cautiously maneuvering through the snow. At the first red light, I panic at the idea of having to stop on the unfamiliarly icy street. But memory kicks in and I pull Sunny up out of the grooves of the road onto the snow to stop. It worked: the traction on the snow is greater than on the icy road.
It was a trick my dad had once taught me.
I learned to drive in my parents 1989 Mercury Sable, Dad was my teacher. My very first driving lesson had nothing to do with actually driving, but punctuality. He was a believer in always being early (or at the very least on time) for everything. He told me that it was important to always allow plenty of time to get somewhere, to never be rushing when on the road. He taught me to factor in time in case there was a train, or if I had the misfortune of catching every single red light. When he would pick up my brothers and I up from our (many) activities, he would give a time that he would be there, and if we were more than three minutes late, (his only acceptable variance of time) he left without us. It only took one 10 block walk home from swimming lessons with wet hair in the freezing Winnipeg winter to learn that lesson.
He and I had quite the history in that Sable. When I was just five years old, Dad and I took the train from Saskatoon to Ottawa to buy the car from my grandparents and we drove it all the way back, across the country, just the two of us. At the time I thought it was so cool getting to miss a week of school to go on a road-trip just me and Dad, while my brothers were stuck at home. On the road, we had bubble gum blowing contests and played endless games of hangman & 20 questions. We ate at roadside diners, and he had no aversions to letting me order spaghetti and a rootbeer float for breakfast. He was the coolest.
The light turns from red to green, and I shift Sunny from neutral into first gear, popping the clutch is second nature to me now...
It was another snowy Winnipeg day when I learnt to drive a stick shift, I was 18. Dad and I were car shopping; he drove the car off the lot and on a nearby residential street, he taught me how to operate the manual transmission. He explained how to maneuver the pedals like an accordion, finding that exact balance, the "tipping point" he called it, that would get the car going. It took me numerous attempts, I finally got it when I wasn’t expecting and the car roared up and away… straight into a snow bank. As we were digging and pushing the car out of the snow, he couldn’t stop smiling and encouraging me that I had finally gotten it!
The snow falling outside is of the fluffy and romantic kind that makes me think of my ghosts of Christmases past and Jolly Old Saint Nick.
I was eight, and the whole family was piled into the Sable on Christmas Eve, Dad driving us all to my great aunt’s place on the other side of town. We we already running late and halfway there when I realized that we had forgotten to leave cookies and milk out for Santa Claus. I insisted that we needed to turn around and go all the way home; only to turn around and come all the way back. He reluctantly obliged, but halfway home, he lost it. He turned around to the backseat and said, “Rachelle, there is no Santa Claus, no Easter bunny and there is no Tooth Fairy!!” It was a big moment in my life. He taught me that adults, will lie in the attempt of sugar coating the world to a child. This was a big lesson at eight years old.
Sunny and I make our way through the snowy downtown streets, and in the dark or morning, I notice that the Christmas lights are up at the intersection of Portage & Main and I smile. My dad had spent his career working o the 31st floor of one of these high rises there on the windest corner in the world, as a financial broker.
Following the Santa Claus fiasco of 1991, dad apologized profusely for the harsh lesson I learnt too soon. He did this every single Christmas up until I was 22 years, which would be his last. He died of a rapid acting, rare cancer shortly after the holidays. The holiday lesson I learned that time around was of true heartbreak. In death, he was somehow able to see the positive: he cherished those final months, when we just talked and talked, like we did on the many road trips he and I had taken across the country, in between Double Bubble blowing. The cancer gave us the time to say all the things we wanted to say. He reminded us to be thankful for that gift of time, albeit it wasn’t much.

All the lessons he had taught me on those long drives, those were what I needed to take from his death: to live a full and wonderful life pursuing my passion; to always stand up for what I believe in; and to most importantly to be my most authentic self.

I had just never thought that I would have it to put lessons in place without him there to guide me.
I pull into the parking lot at school, and Sunny and I get stuck in a deep, sticky snow drift. Luckily there is a man in a big 4 x 4 truck who pulls up offering me a hand. He is wearing Sorel boots and big mitts, fully prepared to dig me out of the snow. It's as though he’s been driving around just to help those of us unprepared.

I remember my dad and brothers doing the same after a blizzard, friendly Manitobans in their finest moment.
With a couple of strong pushes from the good Samaritan, I manage to park Sunny, and I head to school. I walk into class with a sigh of relief, 8:53 am. Heck, I even have a couple of minutes to spare. I hear dad’s voiice,
“Now aren’t you happy you gave yourself plenty of time?”
Yes Dad, you taught me well

Taylor's Cookies & Milk
-2 freshly baked chocolate chip cookies (cut into quarters)
-2 scoops vanilla ice cream
-2 oz Bailey Irish Cream

-In a bowl add 2 scoops of vanilla ice cream, and pour the baileys on top.
-Top with fresh baked cookies.

Leave next to your fireplace on Christmas Eve for St-Nick.


  1. These are great memories Sis. (and for those asking, yes he did indeed say this :)

    I'm reading this one after being trapped in a blizzard on the highway. I'm driving my 1998 Sable across the mountains to my new home, San Francisco, where it basically doesn't snow.

    We're leaving early this morning, giving ourselves lots of time to get to SF.

  2. this made me so sad. :(
    but i'm glad you have such amazing memories with what sounds like a great man!

  3. Best post yet, Rachelle! Tugged at my heart & maybe brought a tear or two. Dad's are awesome, especially when we realize all they taught us.