Fred and I are resting today, because it’s been a trying week.
Well, I don’t want to minimize it.
It’s been a trying week and five days.
A week and five days ago…
Fred was Fred.
Grampa was Grampa with just a boring, un-bionic heart.
And I hadn’t had my trauma-ish experience on the highway, which I really haven’t had time to process because of the whole Grampa’s heart thing.
But now I’ve thought about it, and here’s the thing about the highway thing.
The chunk actually nailed my hood first (which looks like water in the photo, but the stuff that looks like foam (as in “from the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam…” (For the record, I think the rhyme of ‘foam’ is weak, but it was written in 1918 so pop phrases like “Thunder Dome” weren’t available. And Mr. Berlin couldn’t use ‘motor home’ because those weren’t invented yet (But I think – and you should sing this to get the full effect – ‘From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans accessible by motor home’ would be great (and we could work out the syllable thing later)))).
Anyway, the foam/motor home stuff on my hood is actually a huge scratch and the pucker marks must have been made by smaller chunks maybe).
Here is what I remember…
I was driving in the center lane, talking to JoHn on the phone (I have a hands-free system in the car so his voice was coming over the speaker).
We were talking and laughing. He was giving me an update on Fred (he ate his breakfast, which had been sprinkled with grated cheese, the kind you shake out of a jar on your spaghetti (he loves it)).
I was coming up on the left side of a tractor-trailer truck, and I remember looking down and I was going 73 miles per hour.
Then there was a huge chunk of white coming at my face.
And everything slowed down.
And I thought of Mrs. Trahan.
Mrs. Trahan was a teacher at the Shawsheen School in Tewksbury, Massachusetts where I grew up.
I think she taught third grade, but I used to go into her classroom at recess when I was in second grade, and once she caught me taking a piece of her good drawing paper and yelled at me, so I was afraid of her.
Then, a few years later, I was with my friend Michelle Bernatich and we walked into Michelle’s kitchen and there, at the kitchen table with Michelle’s mom, was Mrs. Trahan.
I cannot even tell you how jarring that was, seeing Mrs. Trahan in ‘real life’.
And the growl-y, scare-y monster that I thought she was because I was so horrified at being yelled at in front of the whole class?
Not even close.
She was wicked nice.
Remembered my name.
Asked me how I was liking school, what my favorite subjects were.
Even then I thought – about the paper incident – ‘maybe she didn’t yell at me as loud as I thought she did.’
I was a sensitive kid after all.
This ice chunk was coming at me.
And everything was going in slow motion.
I remember my eyes flashing to all my mirrors, to check to see if I could get into another lane.
I jerked quickly to the left, but my brain prevented me from cutting the wheel too much, and probably saved me from rolling my car.
I looked forward again and saw the chunk slam into my hood and then – and this seemed simultaneous – my windshield.
Then I remember it broke into two big chunks and sailed over my car, just like the asteroid in Armageddon when it blew apart and sailed, in two big chunks, safely past the earth (which is bad science for asteroids blown apart with nuclear weapons, but works perfectly for large ice chunks broken up by car hoods and windshields. Go figure.)
My eyes flashed to the rearview mirror in horror, thinking the smaller-but-still-big chunks would hit other cars.
They smashed safely on the highway behind me.
I’d yelled pretty loudly, and there was a massive boom, when the chunk first hit the car. I yelled to JoHn on the phone that I was okay, but I’d have to hang up (but he said he was pretty freaked until I did).
My car was broken.
But I was fine.
And, driving home with my smashed up car, I was thinking that the strangest thing about all of this is that I have a thing about things hitting my windshield.
I don’t like to drive behind trucks carrying stuff that could fall off (in my estimation), and I feel uneasy when I see people walking, or a lone person standing, on an overpass I am about to drive under.
Because of Mrs. Trahan.
I knew her, in my elementary school and as a teacher, in about 1972-ish.
In 1980, she was traveling on Route 93 in Wilmington, Massachusetts.
And someone – who has never been identified to this day – tossed a chunk of cement off of an overpass.
It crashed through her windshield, on the driver’s side of her car, and hit her in the face.
I remember fundraisers and cards to sign, and checking for articles about it in our weekly local paper each time it came out.
Mrs. Trahan lived for two years after that, and many surgeries, and countless hours of therapy and support, before dying of a heart attack in her sleep.
After she died, there was an article in the newspaper that said she was never angry about what happened to her, and that she had so much grace through so much pain and damage to body and brain.
I remember thinking that was amazing.
It was a trait that seemed otherworldly to me, at the time. My own every day focused on things that went on, behind the scenes, at home. It was an angry place, and a sad place, and it seemed inescapable.
But what Mrs. Trahan was living with, and ultimately died from?
To endure that with grace?
To not be angry?
That was astounding.
It was beyond what I knew.
It was big.
I knew that it was important for me to know.
Thinking about my own experience with the ice chunk now, after not being able to process it right away (you know, because Grampa had to go all bionic), something occurs to me.
The real heroes, the guides in life’s journey, show up in many forms and can appear at any time.
We can be closed, and ignore them.
Or be open, and look for them, and learn from them.
My car is just a broken thing in my garage, awaiting an insurance adjuster’s clipboard.
I am here, and grateful to the point of tears tickling my nose as I type.
When I was a little girl, I knew a teacher.
A few years later, after something horrible happened to her, she taught me a far more important lesson than she ever could have with chalk and books.
And she didn’t even know it.
And decades after that, on a highway in southern Maine, I was shaken into remembering her gift.
How I wish I could call her up, and tell her.
Teachers love to hear from former students.
I hope she can feel my gratitude from wherever she is right now.
Good teachers never stop teaching.
Thanks for readin’.
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