As primitive as it was, one Friday night in 1978, my kids and I made the trip to camp to spend a weekend with my parents who had already been vacationing there for a week or more. We left our house in Oakmont after I got home from work and headed north, with my 15-year old son, Mack, in the front and Joy, my 10-year old daughter., in the back seat.
It was close to a four-hour drive, and it was around 10 p.m. by the time we got near our destination. It had rained for the entire trip, and the downpour continued as our car climbed up the road on the side of the mountain. The heavy clay was wet and slippery, and the ruts were dug deeper than normal. As we reached the top of the mountain, I soon realized that in order to navigate my low-slung 1976 two-tone brown Chevy Nova down this single-lane road, I would have to balance that little car’s left wheels on the center of the hump with the right wheels precariously clinging to the sloped and greasy side. At ten miles an hour, I struggled to maintain my position as I inched my way over the soggy, rutted path. Suddenly, I felt the car slide to the left. I gave it gas as I tried to steer it back up that sloping wall of clay on the right, but the car waffled and wobbled and whipped and then came to rest with a final “whomp.” I didn’t have to get out to check. I knew its undercarriage was firmly planted on the raised middle hump with its wheels dangling and spinning uselessly in the air above the bottom of those ruts.
If I had gotten out, I couldn’t have seen anything anyway. There were no streetlights in that desolate place, and there was no moonlight either. That kind of dark doesn’t exist in Oakmont, but I didn’t panic yet. I searched through the glove compartment and came up with a flashlight. I felt relief, but when I switched it on, the beam that filtered dimly through the smudged glass wasn’t going to do much in this kind of blackness.
I bravely, but unconvincingly, told the kids, “I’m going to walk into camp to get Pap.” From the time I was a child, I had always been afraid of the dark, but this was beyond any dark I had ever feared. We were about a half mile from our destination, but with the rain and the moonless night it seemed farther. I knew we couldn’t stay where we were, but it didn’t seem safe to take the kids with me.
While I was trying to decide the best way to travel, my son bravely said, “Mom, you’re not going. You stay with Joy. I’ll go.”
“You can’t go. What if you get lost?”
“I’m not going to get lost. I know where I am. I’ll get Pap.” He grabbed the flashlight from my hand and climbed out of the car. I was frozen in place as he slipped in the mud outside the car door, got his footing, and took off through the weeds at the side of the road. I kept my lights on for a while to give him some illumination to travel by, and for a few minutes I could see his tall, thin body trudging through the rain. When my headlights no longer picked up his shadowy figure and I could no longer see the beam of that almost useless flashlight as he cut through the field and trees, I became convinced he had tripped over a bear, had then been attacked, and was now grappling in the woods trying to save his life. I should have gone. Why didn’t I stop him?
Joy and I waited tensely for 20 or 30 minutes, but it seemed longer. We remained quiet as we sat in the dark and the rain. Joy said, “Mommy, I’m scared,” and I confessed I was, too. I finally heard the grind of a Jeep engine and saw the glow of oncoming headlights. I flashed my lights briefly to show my location, and I was relieved to see Mack’s silhouette in the seat beside my father.
They stopped just short of our car with our front bumpers about four feet apart. Dad climbed out and attached the chain hook to the underside of his Jeep. His black high-buckled galoshes maintained traction as he walked the rut to my side of the car and motioned for me to roll down my window. As he adjusted his hat and leaned on the window jamb, he looked into the front seat. He smiled as he calmly remarked, “You look like a turtle stuck on a rock.”
“Just get me off this thing,” I told him. I was tired and more than a little cranky and didn’t feel like any nonsense, but I tried to stay calm. My father loved to find where my goat was tied and then keep poking it with a stick, but, for once, he must have figured this was not the time to tease. He walked to the front of the car and hooked the other end of the chain to the underside of the Nova’s carriage. He made his way back through the mud and climbed into the blue and white hardtop Jeep and threw it into reverse. He backed up slowly as the chain was pulled taut. The Jeep dragged the two-toned Nova off that hump–with the undercarriage scraping and groaning every inch of the way. As soon as he saw that I had reached a point to gain my wheels, he stopped the Jeep and got out and unhooked us and got back into his vehicle. He backed up until he could turn around, and he and Mack high-tailed it back to camp.