Pinner: Washboards and Ruts
Pinner: A column by Kim Petersen with small, true stories from a world that is disappearing as remembered by the folks that lived them.
Vocabulary: “Pinner: A small, thin joint, often chastised or mocked for its size and small amount of marijuana.” [Leafly]
Of course it was a brilliant idea.
Moving to the West side on a long notoriously bad dirt road, with two small children, into a house that was built to conceal a large basement .
What could go wrong?
She was 24 and when you’re 24 and with two kids and the legal job you have pays $3.10 an hour, if someone gives you an opportunity you take it.
It doesn’t frighten you.
You don’t even need to think about it.
You say “Yes, thank you!”
Just like that.
The kids love it, everyday is a new adventure.
They pick huckleberries and though the intention is always that they will make something special with them, the reality is that they eat all of them.
They play in the woods exploring for hours, and as it’s not in her nature to worry overmuch she allows them a broad range of freedom. They go down to the creek, where they find treasures and harass creatures.
The first summer is exactly what they need.
It’s fun and it’s fiscally… rewarding.
They are far enough from the ocean that it’s not foggy, but not so far inland that it’s too hot.
They did have to get her first four wheel drive.
In anticipation of a muddy winter commute to the end of the road to meet the school bus each day they’d purchased a used Jeep Cherokee.
It was a square solid looking wagon with room for kids and groceries. Not at all cute. But functional, and the children loved unbuckling and monkeying around in the back while she bounced in and out the long dirt road.
As usual her parents did not approve.
It’s too far from town.
Some of the people who reside on the road have a reputation for being a little less than law abiding.
And, her parents know why she’s taken up residence there.
But everyone talks around that particular point.
Never directly calling her out, they nonetheless make it clear that they are not pleased.
It’s a constant issue. The criticism is always coming in a little sideways.
With fall approaching she is sitting at the kitchen table in her parent’s house one day, just visiting before she heads home.
The kids are eating whatever Grandma’s made for them while watching TV in the living room.
The same exact way she had, not so very many years ago.
Her mother is still cooking. Quietly sifting flour while lemon curd is simmering.
Pies are coming.
At the table though, it’s all about the cards. She and her father are engaged in the serious business of cribbage, and bickering.
The game is something she feels as though she was just born knowing. Everyone plays. The board is never put away. It lives in the window sill next to the kitchen table and there are always a couple decks of cards there.
“Fifteen two, fifteen four, and six is ten!”
She says it with a hint of evil glee as she reaches to move the little pegs around the track.
Her father sips a gin and tonic and watches her. His full black eyebrows lift up as he looks at her and lies down his own hand.
“Fifteen two fifteen four and there ain’t no more.”
He recites the sing song rhyme, his voice a deep baritone.
Picking up his bonus four cards he grins at her.
“But in this crib, let’s see… we got
Fifteen two fifteen four and eight is twelve”
His big hand deftly moves the small peg past hers on the board.
While pegging the points he decides it’s time to make a few other points as well.
“It’s going to cost you a fortune driving those kids back and forth every day.”
“Not really. The bus stop is right at the end of the dirt.”
“But you’ll use a lot more gas in four wheel drive all winter.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be that big a deal. “
She is shuffling and bridging the cards.
“That road’s in terrible shape.”
“It’s okay, you get used to it, once you know where all the really bad parts are.”
“Well, those washboards and ruts are going to beat you to death coming in and out all the time.”
“Nah, it smooths right out once you hit forty.”
She says it as she begins flicking cards over the board to deal their next hand.
This statement causes him to laugh a little abruptly.
Her mother on the other hand is not amused.
“You better not be driving my grandkids around like that!”
She doesn’t know why her statement was a problem.
She is after all twenty four, and she believes that anywhere the speed limit isn’t posted, it’s fifty five. She’s read that somewhere, and it fits the narrative she wants to believe, so therefore it’s true.
The first winter was rougher than she’d anticipated.
Making the bus run twice a day cut every single thing she did or wanted to do into pieces. Her time was sectioned. No early morning activities could be undertaken until after she met the first bus. After that, everything else had to end in time for her to meet the second bus, and only one child was attending school that year, the second was still too small.
Winter consisted of hurried grocery runs and appointments between endless mud bogging, kidney killing rides in and out on Mother Nature’s great slip and slide.
The kids slept and ate in the car. Played and fought, sang songs, and read books.
She could shift gears and put on flawless lipstick while fanning through the mud in four high.
It wasn’t even impressive. Two thirds of the moms she knew could do at least that much.
The wear and tear may have been a bit much for the poor Jeep though.
It started to make sounds.
All kinds of sounds.
The first thing she noticed was inside the cab.
All the little components of the dash began to rub each other or rattle in new and interesting ways. First there was this little
“Eee eee eee”
A squeaking noise that you could never pinpoint. Then the glove box began to drop open intermittently.
She stopped putting things in there, and turned up the radio. You couldn’t listen to cassettes or CDs. That was a skipping situation that was just comical.
There were other things.
The doors started to rattle in the frames.
Something began making pretty impressive noise from the front end as well, but that was also cured by adjusting the radio volume. And she did caution the children against leaning on the doors. Which they completely ignored.
By the time summer rolled back around the car did have some quirks.
The mud on the road becomes a fine dust. Swirling out behind her, settling on the trees and shrubs on either side. Everything is the same color in summer, depending on what road you live on. Some are beige, some are light gray, others have shades of orange and even red. Her world is a powdery medium tan.
Some hippies have a habit of slowing down to not kick up the dust, but others prefer to arrive in a swirling maelstrom. She is of the second variety.
But actions have consequences.
It was coming on the end of her second summer, and she had gone to town grocery shopping. The back of the wagon held two rows of brown paper bags from Murrish’s filled with staples, sandwich supplies, and snacks, and one bag just filled with other bags. There is also a substantial stack of beer flats from the liquor store.
She is looking forward to seeing her friends. They will be arriving in the morning and she is ready for some time filled with laughter and the easy way they all just understand each other.
The circle is where she brings all her questions and problems.
That old “Many hands make light work” thing? It’s not just physical labor. They have been lifting the weight of her emotional burdens ever since the first time she sat with them.
Making her way home today is not even annoying. The kids are eating creamsicles and getting sticky. UB40 is on the radio and she is remembering how her grandmother owned a black velvet painting of Elvis when just as they are bouncing across the second bridge the back hatch of the Jeep pops open allowing the lift gate to begin rising and a huge puff of dust to be sucked into the car.
Both children begin yelling at her as though she wouldn’t be aware of the sudden change in the universe. And in response she stomps the brakes in surprise and irritation.
Of course the kids are not buckled and while her arm shoots out of its own volition and prevents the girl in front from smacking the dash, the little boy is flung to the floor between the front and back seats.
Her immediate fear is one her mother instilled, and she panics momentarily envisioning a death by popsicle stick, but he is fine. If somewhat enraged, and highly vocal about the stupid popsicle getting smushed.
“Get back in your seats!”
She yells at the children, because that always helps.
Her next concern is that they are on a rather makeshift bridge.
It may once have been a rail car? She can’t really remember the story but the frigging thing has these ridges that bump you along as you cross, and it’s not really the kind of place where you can get out in the middle to re-secure your vehicle.
Looking at the groceries now precariously lined up in the wide open back she barks at the children again.
“Put your Goddamn seat belts on!”
They are not slow witted, and they’ve met her.
They don’t argue and they secure their own belts. They don’t even talk for a couple minutes while she carefully drives the jeep the rest of the way across the short bridge watching her groceries bounce ever closer to the abyss.
When they do get to the road, she pulls out of the center, in case anyone else comes along and she parks.
The tense part over the kids are happy again and ready for adventure.
“Can we get out?”
She just looks at them.
The little girl rolls her eyes. The boy is sticking his palms together and peeling them apart.
She walks to the back of the Jeep and the road dust engulfs her feet in their flip flops. Reaching for the hatch she pulls it down and slams it.
The little hydraulic shocks begin pushing it open again.
She places both hands on it this time, and gives it a forceful shove. Another cloud of dust. But it doesn’t feel right and again it begins to gently lift itself.
“What the fuck?”
She begins by inspecting the mechanism embedded in the vehicle. It doesn’t even have a moving part and appears fine. So turning she looks up at the part of the latch within the door and immediately can see that it’s broken off and missing. She looks back at the bridge and the road.
Her mind is running through a variety of scenarios .
“Can I have another popsicle?”
He has waited what he calculated to be long enough for her to have settled down & he’s not wrong.
After all, they are just melting now anyway.
“I have to pee.”
“Then go pee.”
These kids know how to cure being trapped in the car during road side pauses.
The conversation with neighbors that go overlong. The unplanned bulletin board meetings.
The kids get out and she begins rummaging. Flashlight, jumper cables, towel, toilet paper… duct tape!
Not a lot but, alright it’ll do. Pressing the door closed she starts by taping along the bottom edge and wastes the first long strip. applying it to the door without cleaning the dust.
The kids are at the edge of the bridge now, happily throwing things down to the creek and don’t even look at her as another expletive escapes.
She gets the towel and carefully wipes the surfaces.
Looking at the amount of tape available and the circumference of the door. She knows she can’t do as much as she’d like. So holding the door closed, she does one longish strip across the middle of the bottom, and one down each side . She then supplements that with what she thinks of as stitches. Crossing the gap around what she assumes will be the key pressure points.
When she’s out of tape it looks hokey but secure.
Back in the car she starts off for home with one eye on the rear view mirror.
They didn’t get any distance at all. Within a minute or two of starting off the back door opened and sucked in another cloud of dust.
Once again they stop.
The kids have returned to silence. Like little weathervanes they sense incoming storms and respond by disappearing.
They don’t even ask this time. They just get out and begin to entertain each other, staying well out of the road and far from her furious repair zone.
She attempts repeatedly to force the (now encrusted) tape to stick to the hot summer paint . That works about as well as telling a woman to calm down.
Back in the cargo area again she finds one yellow rope. In the winter she had used it to yard the occasional limb or tree too big to be dragged by hand.
Assessing the situation again, she is frustrated that there is not a point on the door to secure it to. She’ll have to loop it around.
So she does, and includes one snake loop through the rear wiper attachment to keep it centered.
Attaching it inside the vehicle is another problem. Her first solution was to loop it around her seat. She secures it from the driver’s seat through the rear passenger area and pulls everything as tight as she can then uses a branch from the side of the road as a tensioner.
For a minute she is proud.
The line is tight and though the door can’t close all the way, it looks secure.
Then her imagination lights up. Inside her mind she sees her children in the car as the rope snaps.
The visual causes an involuntary response and she groans as though in pain.
Re assessment finally finds the only solution she can see.
The door is secured to the tow hitch. No ropes in the car. Again she uses a branch to create enough tension to hold the door down but it is by no means “closed” .
“Alright, let’s go.”
She’s feeling pretty good about this. She has this situation fully handled.
They begin driving up the last really long hill and the gap in the back begins sucking in dust. Not a little, but like epic dust, swirling, choking, blinding dust. The kids begin shouting and then pull in their heads like turtles. She can’t even get after them because she’s overcome. Putting the windows down seems to let some out but changing speed turning the ac up nothing relieves the relentlessness of it.
So with her own shirt pulled up over her nose and both eyes nearly shut she just continues on.
Determination overruling her every other thought.
When her driveway comes into sight she can taste the victory and though it’s dusty it’s still delicious.
The sudden noise is just ugly.
Crashing, grinding, scraping of metal. And for the second time that day she locks ‘em up.
There is no back door now.
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
She gets out and walks around to the back. The door is still tied to the tow hitch but the hinges on the top have ripped out from the body of the Jeep, stepping over the door’s carcass she calls out to the children.
“Here, take these!”
And she passes everything from the cargo area to them, where they haphazardly stack it in the rear seat area.
Picking up the still leashed door she tries to shove it into the open space but the angle and the rope makes this impossible.
The rope she has secured so very well. No amount of yanking and shoving is helping.
She says and walks back to the driver’s side.
She screams at the sky.
And they drive.
Dragging the door like a bullshit piñata.
Sucking dust. Clanging and screeching
They arrive at the house and park like nothing is amiss.
She walks in and straight to the sink. Turning on the cold water she sticks her face under the faucet. Thick streaks of brown water swirl down the drain.
“You guys get in the tub.”
The kids are in the bathroom by the time their father emerges from the basement.
When he enters the kitchen cheerful, clean, and content she is still at the sink filling a glass with water.
“Could you carry in the groceries for me?”
And that is how you get a Toyota.